8 December 2018

Kenya: Jambopay - Quick Rise Firm Draws Scrutiny

Mr Danson Muchemi, the CEO of JamboPay, traces his business acumen to lessons learnt early in life, breeding and selling rabbits.

When he sold his first herd while still in primary school, he made Sh80.

SMALL START

His story, as narrated to various media, is that of an entrepreneur at every stage of his academic life -- selling digitised notes to university students who missed lessons and starting JamboPay soon after college in 2009 with a start-up capital of less than Sh100,000.

His first office? Two leased computers at a cybercafé for which he was paying Sh4,500 per month.

While Mr Muchemi, 34, says his first break came when a bank agreed to use JamboPay as a payments solution, the year 2014 appears to have been a defining one in the trajectory of the business registered as Web Tribe.

In April, he signed a deal with Nairobi City County to automate payment of parking, rental, permit and land rates. Four months later, he controversially signed a deal to offer payment services to NHIF.

In both cases, the astronomical commissions -- between four per cent and 4.5 per cent of collections -- paid by the public entities raised the eyebrows of watchdogs, including Auditor-General Edward Ouko.

Both Mr Ouko and the Nairobi County Assembly have called for cancellation of the deal because of procurement flaws and high fees.

COMPETITION

The deal, which was defended by former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, was pushed through despite other reputable service providers, Virtual Mobile and Craft Silicon, having offered to charge 2.5 per cent of collections in fees.

The county will have paid JamboPay Sh767 million by the time the contract expires in April next year.

In the year ended June 2017, Nairobi County said it collected Sh10.9 billion in fees.

Seven in every 10 shillings, it added, were collected through JamboPay.

It is not clear how much was collected in the year ended June, with the county putting the figure at Sh8.2 billion and JamboPay at Sh14.6 billion.

County acting Finance and Economic Planning executive Charles Kerich said the JamboPay system was not transparent and the devolved unit was considering other payment options when the contract ends, including a stand-alone system.

Boasting of billions

MANY CLIENTS

When it signed the deals in 2014, Web Tribe boasted of 1,500 institutions as clients and of processing Sh5 billion in payments.

Mr Muchemi himself was said to be worth Sh400 million by some accounts. The company now boasts of 1.2 million users and 10,000 merchants.

Born in Nyandarua in 1984, Mr Muchemi went to Gikeno Primary School and later Nguviu Boys Secondary School in Embu.

After a diploma in Management Information Systems at Strathmore University he pursued a bachelor of science degree in Telecommunications and Information Technology at Kenyatta University.

The idea of JamboPay, he says, came out of frustration when he wanted to start an e-commerce shop only to realise there was no reliable pay-gate then.

Now he has to invest more in safeguarding the reputation of a company that is increasingly under scrutiny.

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