INTERVIEW: Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa (pictured) argued Covid-19 (coronavirus) had galvanised the operator’s efforts to transform into a technology company, though acknowledged it was still in the early phases and continued to face barriers around access and affordability.

He explained Safaricom’s first priority when lockdowns were imposed in 2020 was to maintain connectivity to benefit society, with 1.7 billion transactions on its m-Pesa mobile money service being provided for free.

But the circumstances were also “an opportunity for us to start thinking about the future,” Ndegwa told Mobile World Live during the recent MWC Barcelona 2022.

“The way we are thinking about it is we have been a very successful telecom business, with a…successful payment platform. Now we have to be a successful technology company”.

Ndegwa identified healthcare, education and agriculture as key opportunities arising from digitalisation.

The Safaricom chief argued agriculture is the most important for Kenya, explaining improving farmers’ access to markets and agronomy provides opportunities to create “a business ecosystem that supports the country”.

Regardless of the vertical, Ndegwa conceded there remain challenges in terms of the cost of devices and data, with two-thirds of Kenyans still unable to access mobile internet services.

He noted Safaricom is offering a pay-as-you-go option to cover smartphone purchases and is exploring ways to educate consumers on the benefits of mobile broadband.

“My dream is that in three years we will have 80 per cent of Kenyans having a smartphone.”

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