Remittances and digital payments

Dr Sibel Kusimba, American University, Washington DC

The digital finance revolution in Kenya has been grounded in the importance of domestic remittances. The payment channel is now a conduit for services and financial products, ranging from digital credit to sports betting to water and electricity. In the rural areas, however, money transfer remains the most important financial tool people use. An agent network for cash in-cash out remains vitally important.

In this paper I will examine the relationship of remittances to the technological and social infrastructure of digital payment, based mostly on my field work in Kenya. Following Clapperton Mavhunga in his book Transient Workspaces, I define technology as skilled practice and as ways of doing, and I view users as designers and engineers, as builders of projects. From these perspectives I will examine how practices and cultures of remittance sending have built the digital payment infrastructure in Kenya.

In particular, I will focus on how users (as engineers and builders) are creating pathways and networks, shaping their participation in different kinds of groups. I will describe their projects focusing on the following:

  • Belonging and presence in the rural home and the natal home, and creators of new homes.
  • Funerals and rituals of the life cycle.
  • Love relationships.
  • Savings groups and informal finance.
  • Harambee (community self-help) and fundraising.

I will then discuss the implications of social/financial network formation for Kenya’s future. As a kind of distributive politics, what will these new pathways and networks mean for the goals of inclusion and solidarity? What barriers to belonging and citizenship will these new groups create?

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