Mobile Application Promises Easy Living for City’s Slum Dwellers

Umande Trust launched a mobile phone-based information system to help Kenyan under-served communities access clean water at competitive prices last week Thursday in Nairobi’s Kibera estate.

The application named M-Maji, Swahili for mobile-water, will offer water vendors a free space to advertise their services on mobile phones. The buyers would then have to access M-Maji database to find affordable, clean and nearby water vendors using their phones. Residents of Kibera slums — one of Africa’s largest slums with an estimated 1 million occupants — have had to walk for miles in search of clean water.

Sangick Sunny, one of the M-Majis developers told HumanIPO the application is currently in its 6-month pilot project phase in three villages in Kibera slums.

The phase, a trial stage set to use M-Maji as a tentative model for future development of the application, will determine whether the application could be used in other informal settlements across Kenya and eventually Africa, according to Sunny.

“The plan is to learn from the experiences gotten from the pilot phase to expand to other areas, as well as see if the app can be in cheaper SMS bundle form instead of USSD which is very expensive,” added Aidah Binale, Umande Trust’s Monitoring and Evaluation officer.

The application uses Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) whose application involves a three-step process. Water vendors would have to notify M-Maji of their service via USSD interface as well as input prices and location. Water buyers would have to initiate a USSD session. They would then receive location-relevant listing of water vendors as well as their (vendors) location, pricing, rating and last purification date.

To register location and pricing, the vendors would have to dial *357#. Buyers have to use the same code to find instructions.

The application funded by Stanford University took 8 months to develop, according to Binale, is currently available on Safaricom mobile network only, and is free of charge.

“This information is free since Safaricom is paid to provide the code for the pilot period. All costs are catered for by Stanford University. We are looking at ways of making this sustainable beyond the pilot phase,” concluded Binale.

M-Maji is an effort of Umande Trust, an non-profit organization based in Kibera that addresses water and sanitation issues, Weza Tele, a technological firm in Nairobi, and Stanford University’s students of design.

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