Hearthholds of Mobile Money in Western Kenya

Sibel Kusimba, Yang Yang, and Nitesh V. Chawla
Science Advances, 3(2):266–279,2016
Publication Date: 
June, 2016

Kenyans use mobile money services to transfer money to friends and relatives via mobile phone text messaging. Kenya’s M-Pesa is one of the most successful examples of digital money for financial inclusion. This article uses social network analysis and ethnographic information to examine ties to and through women in 12 mobile money transfer networks of kin, drawn from field data collected in 2012, 2013, and 2014. The social networks are based on reciprocal and dense ties among siblings and parents, especially mothers. Men participate equally in social networks, but as brothers and mother’s brothers more often than as fathers. The matrilineal ties of mobile money circulate value within the hearthhold (Ekejiuba 2005) of women, their children, and others connected to them. Using remittances, families negotiate investments in household farming or work, education, and migration. Money sending supports the diverse economic strategies, flexible kinship ties, and mobility of hearthholds. Gifts of e-money are said to express a natural love and caring among mothers and siblings and are often private and personal. Consequently, the money circulations of the hearthhold avoid disrupting widely shared ideals of patrilineal solidarity and household autonomy.