How Mobile Credit Is Expanding Mass Surveillance Of Ordinary Kenyans

Written by Staff
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Mobile credit: In 2014, aged 19, Wilson* found himself in need of cash. He saw an easy solution in his smartphone — credit at the touch of a button. Wilson took out loans from two Silicon Valley-based mobile lending companies: Branch International and Tala Mobile (then known as Mkopo Rahisi). The loans (2000 Ksh and 1000 Ksh) amounted to roughly $30. The process was easy: he downloaded an app, filled in some basic personal information and agreed to the terms and conditions. The money arrived in his M-Pesa mobile wallet almost instantaneously.

Since its introduction to Kenya in 2012, digital lending has surged, attracting millions of customers. Today, around 50 mobile lending apps are available in Kenya. Yet as digital credit grows more popular, so do the soaring ranks of debtors and defaulters.

Story from Rappler. Story by Keren Weitzberg.

Just a few weeks after applying for credit, Wilson was receiving calls and texts from Branch and Tala representatives about late payments. Unable to repay his loans, Wilson ignored the increasingly menacing messages. “I didn’t know what a CRB [Credit Reference Bureau] was back then,” he explained. Tala and Branch soon reported him to the CRB, a relatively new institution that had come to Kenya in 2010.

When I spoke to Wilson, now 24, he did not know how much he owed, or how to get a credit report. Wilson’s poor credit rating, which he had previously shrugged off, had “become bothersome.” Now the owner of two retail kiosks, he wanted to access more credit to grow his businesses.

Proponents of digital and mobile nano-loans view them as a means towards greater financial inclusion for the world’s poor. Melinda Gates has praised Tala’s founder and CEO for transforming lives. A recent report by Mastercard Foundation and the International Financial Corporation extolled digital financial services in Africa as “revolutionary.”

But ironically, many Kenyans are finding themselves excluded from financial services after failing to pay loans equivalent to only a few dollars. Around 2.7 million Kenyans have been blacklisted by CRBs in the last three years – 400,000 for defaulting on loans of less than $2. And as is often the case in rapidly expanding and poorly regulated markets, tech has outpaced consumer protection and civic education.

Read more at Rappler.