Home away from home: Reflections on MTN Homeland.
Last week, MTN Group announced the launch of its mobile money diaspora service, MTN Homeland. Needless to say, we at MFS Africa are extremely proud to be powering the service. As the congratulations messages were rolling in, I could not help but reflect — both as an industry practitioner and as a member of the diaspora — on what this means in the bigger context of making borders matter less.
I left Africa for educational and professional opportunities in Europe in 1996. Back then, when I wanted to speak to my parents, I had to call a neighbour with a phone, ask them to tell my parents when to expect a call, and then call at the appointed time. And when it came to money transfer, the process was even more cumbersome.
In both cases, the European system drove options for the African user. We called landline phones set up by colonial companies, we sent money via money transfer companies literally named after “the West.” Not to name names.
Back then, I would never have imagined that an African brand would launch a service to Europe, leveraging Africa’s superior technology. But that’s just what MTN Homeland has done.
Decades ago, the African migrant story was primarily one of struggle and separation. Students and workers made the devastating choice to leave their families and communities in search of better economic opportunities, sacrificing so much for survival. Accepting that they might go weeks, months, sometimes years without speaking to or seeing their families.
Today, communication makes it easier for those living in the diaspora to feel connected to home. Through mobile telecommunications, social media, and (cheaper) air travel, today’s diaspora doesn’t have to choose between pursuing global opportunities and staying connected to home.
To be sure, the migrant story of sacrifice and survival still applies to too many people. But there is another African diaspora whose story doesn’t get told as often. It is the diaspora I feel I belong to. Today’s world is smaller, and our worlds are more global at the same time. And just as communications and transportation have evolved, so have the options for migrants to send remittances back home.
Our mobile phones connect us to home in more ways than ever. These little handheld devices are where we see what people are talking about back home, our friends’ pictures of their daily lives, our nieces and nephews growing up. And in Africa and increasingly around the world, mobile phones are our access point to financial services.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with mobile money, an African innovation that has revolutionized financial services across the continent and beyond. For years, mobile money has made remittances to and within Africa more affordable, secure, and accessible. Now Africa’s leading mobile network is bringing the convenience and real-time delivery of mobile money to the diaspora through MTN Homeland — powered by MFS Africa. Beninois citizens who have known and enjoyed MTN Mobile Money at home for nearly a decade will be able to enjoy it abroad through MTN Homeland.
Today’s young diaspora is probably used to seeing Wizkid on MTV, Djimon Hounsou in blockbuster movies, and Noma Dumezweni on West End stages. So hopefully they won’t even find it remarkable to see an African brand offering financial services to Europe, through the Apple App Store or Google Play. I can’t tell you what it would have meant for me, at age 20, to arrive in France to see a familiar brand from home offering me a cutting-edge way to stay connected to my family.
To me, Homeland — the name as well as the app itself — captures the idea of making borders matter less. As a Beninois citizen now residing in Mauritius, with family in the United States, in Europe, and across the African continent, technology and smart partnerships allow me to participate fully in the payment ecosystem at home, the same way I seamlessly participate in social discourse and family life. We are so proud of the partnership that created MTN Homeland, and may it indeed give the African diaspora a sense of being home, away from home.