I'm Back!

A few weeks ago, I made my way from Nairobi to Kampala, stopping to see a family of lions sleeping soundly after ravaging a water buffalo on the banks of Lake Nakuru.  When I arrived in K'la, I wasn't sure how long I'd stay or what I would do.  Some interesting work has come about. More details soon, but here are the themes: (i) the Africa internet infrastructure; (ii) mobile software;  and (iii) internet & democracy.  And, of course, the latest news from these three fronts.

In London, the Economist covers SEACOM, the first submarine fibre cable to be lit in East Africa, raising the hopes of cheap and fast internet across the region.

In Boston, my colleagues at the Berkman Center write in a WaPo op-ed on the limits of reading Twitter in Tehran.

In Orlando, Hash writes about the keys to running a successful mobile social networks.

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M-Banking Progress in Kenya

It's not every day that you put on a conference [in Africa or anywhere else] and see immediate results. Last month, I help organize in Nairobi, along with my colleagues from The Fletcher School and the Central Bank of Kenya, the M-Banking 2009: Balancing Innovation and Regulation. The idea behind the event was to get banking regulators, network providers and bankers in the same room to talk about how mobile phones can be leveraged to bring more access to banking services to more people.

Last week, Finance Minister and Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta, who opened our conference, published a bill to allow branchless banking and open the door to more appropriate mobile banking regulation. Today's Sunday Nation (Kenya) reports:

Mr Kenyatta noted that despite of the progress the country had made in the banking, many Kenyans remain unbanked due to deposit-taking institutions’ limited reach. “ In this regard, I propose to amend the Banking Act to allow banks to extend their footprint through agencies with wide distribution networks,” he said. Recent innovations like mobile telephony firms Safaricom and Zain’s M-Pesa and Zap have deepened the banking services while expanding the outreach to the previously unbanked population.

However, the expansion of the services have been held back by the lack of a legal and regulatory framework to monitor and arrest crimes like money laundering and terrorism. Players in the banking sector last month held an international conference in a bid to draw experiences and expertise from the various parts of the world in order to craft relevant laws.

It feels good when conferences help lead to useful outcomes.