Safaricom launches M-Pesa in Ethiopia amid civil unrest

Thursday August 17 2023

A woman withdraws money from an Mpesa shop. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG


Safaricom has braved ethnic tensions in Ethiopia to launch M-Pesa operations in the Horn of Africa country three months after receiving a mobile money licence.

Safaricom Ethiopia’s Mobile Financial Services, the company that will be running M-Pesa, was unveiled on Wednesday as it seeks to replicate the success that has been seen in Kenya.

“We are excited to go live with M-Pesa in Ethiopia and start providing mobile financial services to our customers,” said Stanley Njoroge, interim CEO of Safaricom Ethiopia.

Read: Safaricom eyes 2 million M-Pesa clients in Ethiopia by March

“We will continue to broaden the services our customers receive from the M-Pesa platform that will improve the quality of life for our customers.”

The telco was on May 11 granted a licence for mobile money in Ethiopia after paying investment fees of $150 million (Ksh21.6 billion).


Revenue from the mobile money operations, added to that from the telecommunications service that started last October is expected to boost Safaricom’s quest to get a return on the estimated five-year capital investment of $2 billion (Ksh288 billion) in Ethiopia. 

Safaricom said the launch comes after a rigorous three-month pilot and testing that saw it complete technical readiness, secure key partnerships with banks, recruited, trained, and on-boarded M-Pesa agents.

Ethiopians using M-Pesa will now be able to send money within the country and receive money from within the country and abroad and pay merchants. 

They will also be able to buy airtime and transfer money between their bank accounts and mobile money wallets.

The launch is amid a new conflict in the Amhara region that previously marshalled its troops to help Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in frustrating an attempt by rival Tigrayan forces to topple him.

Read: Flights cancelled after clashes erupt in Ethiopia

Ethiopia was just emerging from a two-year civil war that had seen Tigrayan forces advance towards Addis Ababa in 2021, disrupting businesses, including Safaricom, which had to withdraw its staff at some point.

Safaricom plans capital expenditure of between Ksh40 billion and Ksh45 billion on the Ethiopia unit in the current financial year compared with Ksh55.6 billion spent in the financial year ended March 2023.

The Ethiopia unit had between October last year and the end of March added about three million customers, built a distributor network of over 114 outlets and covered 22 regions using about 1,300 network sites.