People living in South Sudan now have the ability to send and receive money using their phones. The mobile money system is an attempt to help the country’s economy after a five-year civil war took an estimated 400,000 lives.
The companies m-GURUSH and Nilepay began providing mobile money service in August. Both have partnered with Zain, one of two mobile service operators in South Sudan.
In recent weeks, the streets in the capital city of Juba have been filled with advertisements urging people to start banking from their phones.
The companies hope people already using mobile money in neighboring countries, like Kenya and Uganda, can persuade locals that it is more financially secure than carrying cash.
Darius Mobe is director of the Nilepay service. He said more than 80 percent of money in South Sudan is not kept in banks since most of them are based in Juba.
He added, “Mobile money should make access to funds easier for people in rural villages, creating more financial inclusion.” He said this means people can have a bigger part in the economy.
However, many problems need to be overcome before mobile money becomes widespread. Many people in the country are unable to read. And, many do not have identification documents needed to register with the service.
Government officials say only 16 percent of the population has identification cards. Because of this, people can receive money; but they are charged more to withdraw it and are unable to send cash.
Another problem is a weak telecommunications network.
Years of civil war damaged or destroyed half of Zain’s cell towers, said marketing official Ahmed Hussein. Before fighting began in 2013, Zain covered nine out of 10 states with almost 400 cell towers across the country. Now it has less than 200.
Zain is trying to increase coverage starting with major cities such as Juba, Aweil and Bentiu.
Some local people worry about trusting telecommunication networks. Last year Vivacell, a popular mobile company, was closed without warning, locking out hundreds of thousands of users. South Sudan’s government said Vivacell was closed for not obeying communications rules.
Ladu Wani Kenyi is director general for the national communications authority. He said the government wants to set up a system that directly gives telecommunication officials and the Central Bank records. That way, they would not have to depend on companies like Nilepay and m-GURUSH to provide the information.
However, some South Sudanese are unwilling to use mobile money.
One citizen, Rhoda Fresa, shook her head when asked by a mobile money agent if she wanted to register for the new service.
“My people are all in a refugee camp in Uganda,” she said of her family. “Who am I going to send money to here?”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Sam Mednick reported this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.
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authority – n. a government organization that has control of a specified activity or area