Vodafone has transferred most of its ownership stake in Safaricom – the provider of Kenya’s mega-popular M-Pesa mobile money transfer service – to Vodacom, Vodafone’s South African affiliate.

Banking Technology‘s sister publication Paybefore reports that under the plan, Vodacom will issue $2.5 billion in shares to Vodafone in return for a 35% interest in Safaricom. Vodafone will retain 5% interest in Safaricom, with the Kenyan government maintaining a 35% ownership stake. The remaining 25% of the company is owned by various other shareholders.

The shift is a bid to streamline UK-based Vodafone’s African businesses, according to the company – as well as an opportunity for Safaricom to expand M-Pesa into more markets on the continent. The feature phone-based money transfer service has become ubiquitous in Kenya since its 2007 launch in the country, helping drive Safaricom’s share of the Kenyan mobile telecom market past 70%.

But while M-Pesa has enjoyed success in other African markets such as Tanzania, take-up has been slower elsewhere.

In South Africa, the service struggled to gain a foothold after being launched by Vodacom and Nedbank in 2010, partially due to the country’s relatively high proportion of banked consumers. Last year, M-Pesa was discontinued in South Africa.

But Vodacom does much business outside of its home country, operating mobile networks in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Lesotho and providing business services to customers in more than 40 African countries overall – a wide base for potential future M-Pesa expansion.

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