Paypal ⇌ M-PESA link has changed how most of us do business online

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It is not that funny when you laugh at a person when they say their PayPal account is locked, and then you log in to yours the next day and find it is also locked. Then you call the people you remember who were really excited when it was announced in April that M-Pesa to PayPal transfers were finally possible and you find 10 of the 16 people have their accounts locked too.

Before the announcement back in April, for many freelancers, there was little we could do with money paid through PayPal. Not so many local online shops accept PayPal (not even Safaricom’s Masoko), and withdrawing cash was also a process. So you have money but you were limited in ways you could use it.

You would find for example a friend who sells watches online had some people paying via PayPal but could never access the cash to restock and had to resort to other payment options, in the process losing some international customers. Some of my friends who freelance for companies from other countries were the happiest.

Also, say I want to buy something from an e-commerce website in the US, or in China, I personally would prefer paying for the item via PayPal. Because I am assured I can easily cancel a request and get refunded. This is cool for people who fear having their card details on websites they cannot trust.

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And then yesterday for a while it seemed like it was all gone. Our accounts were locked, and if we had a balance, we would have to withdraw it all after 180 days. It was a bad day for people who were expecting payment, worse even for people who have so much money in their PayPal accounts. Being badly hit, I remember I kept frequently checking my account saying maybe it was just a bad error that had sent the notification.

PayPal are yet to say what happened. Safaricom confirmed all services were back. I hope this was a one-off issue that won’t happen again.

I remember sometime back when I was in Uni and I couldn’t travel this particular day because M-Pesa was “being moved”. The idea of a global village, though echoed for over 20 years now, is becoming a reality in many ways than one. The Internet, Mobile Money, and money-over-the-internet (if this is a term), are building a world where we can not only buy from all over, but also where skills can be learned and put to use regardless of location.