For the uninitiated or those who have not been to Kenya in the past decade or so, Mpesa is phone banking. Now many of you learned folk will say who cares and I have been using it for a few years. Well here in Kenya, Safaricom has been at the forefront of this before any of your North American or European banks even thought about it.
It is the lingua franca of business here since 2007. So much so that hardly anyone, be they small dukas (shops/kiosks) down the end of our street, Uber Chap Chap, Uber XL, gas stations or the large supermarket chains Carrefour and Nakumatt carry change anymore. Or at least that is what they told me last week when the kids and I were taking an Uber Chap Chap to Junction Mall to see a movie.
It would be so bad but the ATM machines all cough up the new 1000 Kenyan Shillings notes (~$10 US).
Our UBER Chap Chap was only 280 KSH (~$2.50 US to Junction Mall but as become the custom here, I asked the cabbie if he had change of a 1000 KSH–the standard reply–“No”.
“No” because everyone pays by Mpesa except silly me, but that is because in order to get an Mpesa acct on my phone–I would have to have a Kenyan ID and since I am not a Kenyan resident–I am not entitled to one.
So what to do as all I had was a 1000 KSH bill.
Hakuna mtata (no problem) we would go up to the dukas at the end of the street surely they must have change. We went from one small shop to another–no change. Then the cabbie told me I would have to buy something. Ok, so I opted for a single banana–about 10 KSH (10 cents US). But the fruit seller guy had no change for my 1000 KSH–he had to go to another shop but no luck. Then I tried to buy a phone top up card for 100 KSH but still no luck.
The cabbie said the gas station en route must have change.
We pulled in to the Shell station, but the attendant said he had no change too.
We finally got to Junction and I had a small bills and had forgotten that I had some coins but not the required amount–still 10 shillings short.
We were going to contact Aunt Mary to see if she could pay it through her Mpesa but then I showed our driver my small bill and the coins and he said it was OK that we were 10 shillings short. For us to have gone into the mall to find change would have cost the driver an additional 50 shillings for parking.
Later, after our movie, we went into the nearby Nakumatt supermarket to buy a few things–I thought that I would surely get change of another 1000 shillings bill here.
We only bought a few things and I went to the under 10 items Express cashier, went to pay her and then asked if she had change of 1000 shillings and before ringing up she said “No”. I was quite pissed off as I wondered how does a cashier, any cashier for that matter, any fruit seller, gas station attendant not have a float.
So I took my items to the regular cashier and she rang them through then I asked if she could change another 1000 shillings bill, she said “No” too.
However, she said the next cashier had some change, but I had to buy some AA batteries first.
I finally got some change for our ride back in Uber to our apt complex.
Barring some UBER Chap Chap guy actually having change–upon withdrawing money from the ATM, you would then have to go inside the bank to get change from the tellers. This involves a musical chairs routine because Barclays and other banks have not found out about the taking a ticket number gizmo–so you have to shift seats to the front of the queue before it is your turn.