Two of Africa’s largest mobile operators and mobile money providers, Orange  and MTN Groups, on Thursday, launched Mowali, a mobile money wallet which makes it possible to send money between mobile money accounts issued by any mobile money provider in real time and at low cost.

The mobile wallet interoperability, as the joint venture is technically known across the African continent, is expected to immediately benefit from the reach of MTN Mobile Money and Orange Money, bringing together over 100 million mobile money accounts and mobile money operations in 22 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 46 markets.

Mowali will also enable interoperability between digital financial service providers beyond MTN and Orange operations and markets, to support the existing 338 million mobile money accounts in Africa.

So what’s Mowali?

Mowali is a digital payment infrastructure that connects financial service providers and customers, and functions as an industry utility, open to any mobile money provider in Africa, including banks, money transfer operators and other financial service providers.

The signers of the new deal say the objective of Mowali is to increase the usage of mobile money by consumers and merchants as Mowali enables money to circulate freely between mobile money accounts from any operators in all countries.

From the customer’s point of view, this means any customer can pay or receive money anywhere from any mobile account regardless of their operator.

Such a system will automatically and dramatically unlock further innovation in the digital financial space within the continent.

According to Stéphane Richard, Chairman and CEO of Orange, “by providing full interoperability between platforms, Mowali will provide an important step forward that will allow mobile money to become a universal means of payment in Africa”.

“Increasing financial inclusion through the use of digital technology is an essential element in furthering the economic development of Africa, particularly for more isolated communities,” Richard said.

“This solution embodies Orange’s ambition to be a leading player in the digital transformation of the continent. By joining forces with another of Africa’s market leaders, MTN, we aim to accelerate the pace of this transformation in a way that will change the lives of our customers by providing them with simpler, safer and more advantageous services”.

For Rob Shuter, Group President and CEO of MTN, “one of MTN’s goals is to accelerate the penetration of mobile financial service in Africa”.

Mowali, he said, is one such vehicles “that will help us achieve that objective”.

“Furthermore, co-operation and partnerships that help us accelerate the pace of development and overcome some of the scale, scope and complexity of challenges that society faces are key”.

“This partnership with Orange is therefore an important step in helping us play a meaningful role in supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals related to eliminating extreme poverty and enhancing socio-economic development in the markets we operate in and beyond. Thus giving our customers access to a bright, digital future.” 

According to Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA, which supports the Mowali initiative, there are over 690 million mobile money accounts around the world.

“Mobile money services have become an essential, life-changing tool across Africa, providing access to safe and secure financial services but also to energy, health, education and employment opportunities”.

“The creation of Mowali will help to further transform mobile financial services throughout the African region. It demonstrates the mobile industry’s continued leadership and commitment to driving financial inclusion and economic empowerment through industry collaboration. The GSMA is proud to support its development,” Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA, added.

According to Kosta Peric, deputy director of Financial Services for the Poor, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome, in support of financial inclusion. With Mowali, Orange and MTN deliver a solution that will enable them, and other companies, to scale digital financial services across Africa, faster, to everyone—including the poor”.

“This is a signal that a new wave of innovation, which can help alleviate poverty and drive economic opportunity, is coming. We’re pleased to see an implementation of Mojaloop —an open source payment platform available to operators across the sector—help achieve that.”

Simon Ateba

Simon is a renowned international journalist, founder and publisher of TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C.

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