Family Networks of Mobile Money in Kenya

Sibel B. Kusimba, Yang Yang, Nitesh V. Chawla


This research examines the interplay between social networks and mobile money remittances in Western Kenya. Research was conducted in Kenya’s Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia counties in 2012, 2013, and 2014, involving 12 family networks of between 8—70 people. Using small and frequent digital money transfers, relatives provide for household and emergency needs, contribute to ceremonies, and help pay school fees and medical bills. We find that digital money transfers follow and reinforce preexisting forms of emotional support and social relationships. In these families, the transfers strengthen maternal kinship ties as well relationships among siblings and cousins. Money networks are reciprocal, such that senders are also receivers, and individuals have many connections through which to access resources. Some individuals are “central” in networks, having more connections; others broker flows of e-value from one group of relatives to another. Mobile money strengthens social bonds but can also disrupt social relationships as when hiding digital value and remittances from in-laws or spouses.

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