This month a number of Kenyans who will be turning eighteen will be the first group of a generation that has grown up without knowing life without mobile phones.
Just 18 years ago, making calls in Kenya was a preserve of a few people. It was not just expensive to make a call then. It also required high levels of time management and planning. Receiving a call especially from a phone booth was just as an art as it was hilarious.
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To call, you would need to have communicated with the recipient on exactly what postal office phone booth they would receive their call. And most importantly what time. To be sure, most people would block the day off to wake up early enough and to go to wait in line for the magic ring.
And if you were broke or did not have your own landline phone in the house or office, and here is where the majority of the population was, there was a different solution that worked just as well as the current please call me short message request.
At the booth, the operator would call the recipient and ask if they would want to pay for the call through what was known as reverse call. You would then wait patiently on the other end of the line until the recipient would accept to be billed before the call would be put through to you.
At times you would wait on the line at the appointed time until the phone rang and you would run to receive it once your turn came.
But in case someone else received it on your behalf they will shout your name from the booth and you would bounce out of the line to pick it, often with a huge smile. Few things were as pleasurable at the time as your turn in the booth. But that was just 18 years ago. Today so much has changed until such tales sound like from the Stone Age period.
It would have been impossible imagining at the time that Kenya would in under two decades be a trail blazer in innovations and stand out as a shining star on the continent and export innovations to the rest of the world.
But as the new adults celebrate their birthdays, having attained the legal age to have national identity card and receive the privilege of voting as well as registering SIM cards in their own names, they will have walked the same distance with East Africa’s biggest mobile operator which is turning 18 on October 23 this year.
Its journey is synonymous with Kenya’s mobile revolution that started in 1997 when Safaricom was hived off from Telkom Kenya, which was running the telephone booths around the country. It inherited about 17,000 customers to go start its journey.And in 18 years, the company morphed into the biggest communication company in East and Central Africa, with over 29 million subscribers, 200,000 touch points for its customers and over 100 different products under its portfolio.
The firm, which is now listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) boasts of annual revenues in excess of Sh150 billion.
But it has not always been easy. To get here has come with heavy investments and sacrifices in infrastructure.
This year alone, Safaricom is pumping Sh32.13 billion in infrastructure to better its coverage.
But it is the launch of Mpesa that pushed Safaricom to the most profitable and innovative company in the east African region while placing Kenya on the world map.
Here is the story of Safaricom.