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Book Review: Digital Kenya — Bitange Ndemo & Tim Weiss

Book Review: Digital Kenya — Bitange Ndemo & Tim Weiss

This is a must read for anyone curious about the evolution of the ICT scene in Kenya. It beautifully highlights the nuances of the Kenyan “techpreneurship” space. The book has a number of different contributors with diverse expertise from policy to business, tech and government.

While quit a lot has changed in the industry since it was written a few years ago, and some of the success examples might have already failed and faded, it still packs invaluable information.
I was mostly impressed by how what is now obvious and indispensable like MPESA and the fiber optic cable were highly contested by even well-intentioned people in the beginning. But then again hindsight is 20/20.

It’s clear that Silicon Savannah might have been overly romanticized, but it’s new territory and it’s a learning process. There’s a high failure rate of startups in Kenya, and little to show in terms of profitable ventures but we can’t dismiss the sector and say it’s not going to work. What needs to happen is to appreciate the uniqueness of our problems and develop solutions that work with the local context without borrowing too much from the other silicon valley.

4 Ways Safaricom Can Improve Their MPESA Daraja APIs

Safaricom last year launched their much lauded new APIs that were aimed at making integrations faster and exposing additional endpoints to enable businesses to do more with MPESA services. I’ve interacted quit a bit with it and I can bet my Facebook data on its impact.

Getting started involved just signing up and filling some riff raff data and in a few minutes you could be running test in the sandbox environment. Of course paybill applications is different issue but the API integration is not the dragged out process it used to be with monstrous MS Word documentations and unfriendly XMLs.

It’s almost all sunshine and rainbows, but not quite. Here is a couple of things I think would greatly add to this progress:

  1. Retrieve Transactions: There should be a way for users to retrieve C2B and B2C transactions and filter by by date among other parameters. At the moment the only way to access historical records is by manually going to the MPESA portal and viewing/downloading CSVs.
  2. Retry Callbacks: What happens when a C2B or B2C callback doesn’t get to you? At the moment, apparently nothing. A simple retry mechanism when the third party is not available or hasn’t properly acknowledged a callback would go a long in ensuring business complete their transactions in time.
  3. Name Verification: It would be great to be able to the name under which a phone number is registered. This could be particularly helpful for doing B2C transactions where you want to confirm that you are paying the right person before the completing the transaction.
  4. Other minor comments are possible use of better chat support channels. What is there at the moment doesn’t live up to Daraja’s standards. Connection timeouts mean starting all over again, entering your info, query and probably getting a random support person. There’s no chat history. Something like Slack or Intercom would work very well, and ensure everyone’s happiness for many more chat support sessions to come.

Otherwise, Daraja is an amazing set of APIs and among the best APIs in the FinTech space that I’ve worked with.