On the continent usually known for M-Pesa in the payments world, not all citizens are equipped with mobile money. On the contrary, cash is still the most popular payment tool for most Africans. Alas, getting access to it can sometimes be extremely time consuming and costly.
For example, highly densely populated countries like Nigeria can be equipped with only a couple of ATMs per city, as in the case of the Lagos suburb of Okearo. This forces citizens to wait in long lines without any guarantee that there will be money in the machine once their turn comes up. They rarely have the option to go to a bank as distances can be too great, and the roads unpleasant. The only remaining option is to get cashback at a local shop, but this can be costly as retailers practice exorbitant fees – amounting to 10-15% of the value withdrawn.
Ghana is living a similar scenario as the country with the lowest number of ATMs per capita (only 72 per million residents!). There have been improvements (the number of ATMs has doubled since 2012), but the efforts are still far from sufficient to satisfy demand.
And although mobile and alternative payments advocates are pushing for greater adoption of their services, change will probably take decades. It is clear that there’s an urgent need to encourage greater deployment of cash machines across the board, potentially proposing ones that are more sustainable and that require less maintenance. But these efforts must also be part of a greater national effort, as is in the case of Ghana where, as part of its financial inclusion initiative, the government is planning on expanding its ATM base by 6% a year until 2020.