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Africa fintech: How do pirates take payments?

In Africa, digital payments are still the future, not the present.


In 2009, the MV Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship travelling from Salalah in Oman to Mombasa in Kenya, was hijacked by Somali pirates a couple of hundred miles south east of the ancient port town of Eyl in Somalia.

Four pirates stormed the ship, eventually capturing the captain, taking him away in a life boat and demanding a ransom in exchange for his safe return. Inside the ship, there was $30,000 kept in a safe, which the pirates managed to seize. 

A few days later, the US Navy came to the rescue, saved the captain, killed three of the pirates and took the fourth into custody. The cash, however, was never found. In 2013, the story was made into a film starring Tom Hanks that grossed $218.8 million.

Today, however, pirates are more likely to demand a secure transfer to an offshore account than bother with looting a safe.

Africa in particular has leapfrogged the developed world’s reliance on cash in favour of mobile money. M-Pesa is the obvious example here, but many others exist: MTN Mobile Money, Orange Money and Tigo Cash, to name a few.

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