By Namugerwa Martha

Kenyan mobile provider Safaricom will launch an e-commerce portal early next year, as it looks to build on its market advantage with the world’s leading mobile money platform, M-Pesa.

The portal which will be dubbed Masoko, will offer a selection of products like from electronics, makeup, and food and provide a space for merchants to trade goods on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.

While speaking to Bloomberg, safaricom executives said that the company is in the process of testing the portal before it goes live in March 2018.

The key advantage for Safaricom in e-commerce will be its hugely successful mobile money platform, M-Pesa. It means Kenya’s No.1 phone company already has significant consumer insight and experience with operating a digital payments platform. One of the key challenges with building e-commerce operations in African countries has been that credit card penetration is still very low relative to more advanced economies.

However, Bob Collymore the  CEO of Safaricom, said that merchants will go through a vetting process before gaining access to Masoko, adding  that the mobile operator will also coordinate with logistics companies to reduce delivery times on goods given the lack of a national addressing system.

M-Pesa already enables almost 30 million people (mostly in Kenya) to pay for everyday goods and services, access loans, and send money all over the world. Around  $ 28 billion flowed through it in 2015, equivalent to around 44% of Kenya’s GDP that year. The service has spread to 10 countries, including Uganda, Albania, Egypt, Romania, Lesotho, and Tanzania. Its success at the forefront of the disruption of cash usage has helped support a local technology startup scene in Kenya and attracted international partners, making Nairobi one of Africa’s leading tech hubs.