“In our day, the responsibility of handling money left to the man of the house. Ours was to cook, clean, raise children and ensure the household was well kept. It’s interesting to see that right now, women can run businesses, open shops, buy cars and land without having to borrow permission from their husbands.”
This was the highlight of my conversation with Mama Mike, my favourite go-to mama mboga in my neighbourhood.
Some years back, when it came to managing how money is handled in the household, it would automatically land on the male figure to break down how the money would be spent. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in a country where more than half of the country’s GDP relies on the agricultural sector and more than half of that workforce is run by women, they needed a more intricate solution on how to handle their finances; this solution has so far been M-PESA.
Mama Mike has been in the Mama mboga business for close to 20 years now. When I finally caught up with her, her hand cart guy, mostly known as Willy, had just dropped off several gunias containing sukuma wiki, spinach, terere, tomatoes and other vegetables. She then asks me to give her a second as she wips out her phone and sends him some money via M-PESA.
In a click of a button, she manages to do what would have taken her a lot of unnecessary effort in the past.
She says that before she had M-PESA, the challenges facing her business were endless. To get capital, which she requires on a daily basis and at odd hours since they’re up as early as 3 a.m, she had to borrow money from friends and colleagues.
What about bank loans I ask?
She says that as much as banks would be beneficial, they’re only open at hours when she is at work and she couldn’t leave her business since she has no partner.
She also added that before banks and saccos revolutionised, as a woman, she would have to go through more hoops and hurdles to get a loan, which isn’t new information.
In some countries around the world, women still face restrictions on opening of bank accounts, gaining access to loans and benefiting from certain financial services. In Kenya however, Mama Mbogas like Mama Mike are setting a precedence in how they run their businesses.
According to Patrick Njoroge, Central Bank of Kenya Governor, Mama Mike will most likely borrow money to buy her goods from her mobile money. A third of mobile money loans are taken up between 3 am and 5 am & are repaid by evening when the stock is done. In the year ending December 2016, a total of 6.3 million loans worth 9.9 billion were disbursed through KCB M-PESA.
As much as most of this biashara is done in cash, the security of not having their cash in M-PESA is a worry they prefer not to have. For Mama Mike, this is a huge plus for her since she gets to control how she spends her money
She also gets to save some of that cash on M-Shwari for when rainy days come. Before, her savings all went to paying for her children’s education, now that they’re all grown up and working, she’s thinking of setting up a cereal shop where customers can get their maize and beans for their githeri and fortified unga for their porridge. Personally, she’s a fan of the millet, cassava and sorghum mix which she can only get at the Kirinyaga flour mills near the Fire Station Roundabout.
“Building this store might not look like much to some but it’s a dream come true for me. This will be something built with my own hands and I cannot take it as ordinary, just as how M-PESA has changed how we use our money. Kitambo bank ingekaa na pesa yangu sana, lakini ata nikiamua kujenga iyo shop leo naeza amua kuchukua loan ya M-Shwari. Ni rahisi, ni faster, ni M-PESA. (Before, it would take me some time before I got my money from the bank, but now, if I decided to build my cereal shop today, I could easily get a loan from M-Shwari. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s M-PESA)