M-Pesa donations to help Kenya mall attack victims

Kenyans have turned to mobile money to raise over Khs 29 million for victims of the terrorist attack at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping complex.

Armed militants from Somalia's al Shabaab group stormed the upmarket mall on Saturday killing 68 people and injuring over 170 thus far.

Gunfire and explosions have been heard outside the mall on Monday, as a standoff between security forces and militants has continued.

The al Shabaab group have demanded that Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta pull Kenyan troops out of Somalia. The call from the al Shabaab group, which is said to have links to al Qaeda, comes at a time when Kenyan forces have pushed the militants on the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission.

But as al Shabaab has brought the civil war in Somalia to the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, mobile operator Safaricom has stepped in to help victims of the tragedy.

Safaricom, which is Kenya’s largest mobile operator, has set up a zero rated M-Pesa paybill to raise funds for the medical care of the victims. The funds are planned to be administered by the Kenya Red Cross.

Over Khs 29 million has been raised thus far in a country where the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) has said there are over 23.2 million mobile money users.

East Africa analyst for Informa Telecoms & Media Danson Njue has told ITWeb Africa that mobile money has helped fast-track donations for disaster victims in Kenya.

“This is a very convenient way of supporting the victims as it can be done anywhere and anytime,” said Njue.

“There is a no specific amount that should be contributed: people can contribute as much as 10 shillings,” he told ITWeb Africa.

The Red Cross in Kenya turned to mobile money in 2011 to help raise funds for the ‘Kenyans for Kenya’ initiative, which was launched in response to reports of famine and deaths from starvation in the country’s Turkana District.

Kenyans also turned to technology in the country’s 2007/8 elections to deal with disaster, as open source online crowdsourcing software Ushahidi helped tracked ethnic violence.

Kennedy Kachwanya, a Kenyan tech entrepreneur, has told ITWeb Africa that using technology to help with disaster in Kenya has become ‘normal’.

“This is something that I think most Kenyans are now used to,” Kachwanya said.

“It’s becoming part of life here,” he added.

Kachwanya has said that prominent government officials and even police have profiles on popular social network Twitter.

While Kachwanya has said that nobody expected the al Shabaab attack on the Westgate mall, in future Kenyans may become more conscious of using to technology to try to prevent such tragedies.

“I guess people will be more careful when they see something like that because they’ll raise the alarm, and of course the best way to do it now is to spread it through the social media and calling,” Kachwanya added.

On Monday morning, the militants remained in the mall as they threatened to kill hostages.

Authorities said on Sunday that the hostages were being held by 10 to 15 gunmen - and possibly women - inside a large supermarket.

An al Shabaab spokesman warned that the Islamists would kill hostages if Kenyan security forces, who are being assisted by Western and Israeli experts, tried to storm their position.