Talk by Kevin Donovan, University of Edinburgh, on Knowledge/Seizure: Data, Debt, & the Parastate in Kenya

The Center for Information Technology and Public Policy (CITAPP)

International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIITB)

organized a talk titled

Knowledge/Seizure: Data, Debt, & the Parastate in Kenya


Kevin Donovan

University of Edinburgh

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm on 14 January 2020 (Tuesday)

Venue: R106, IIITB campus

26/C, Electronic City, Hosur Road, Bangalore

About the talk: Kenya is a central node in the global financial technology (‘fintech’) sector. Upwards of fifty firms are busily collecting data from mobile phones, translating it into credit scoring models, and issuing loans to middle- and low-income Kenyans. This talk examines the political economy of fintech, focusing specifically on those digital debts issued by the country’s dominant telecommunications and finance firm, Safaricom. Rather than seeing digital lending in terms of financial inclusion — where the focus has been on the capacity of digital data to eliminate credit risk — I examine how Safaricom’s infrastructuring of the economy allows it to ensure repayment through nudges, pressuring, and outright seizure. So many Kenyans enter into expensive loans because fintech has been able to capitalize on the routine cash shortages that characterize the Kenyan economy–a formation I call the ‘zero balance economy.’ Financial inclusion that is just and accountable will require addressing this twofold context through decommodification and cooperative provisioning.

Speaker Bio: Kevin P. Donovan is a Lecturer at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh. An anthropologist and historian, his research examines the technopolitics of digital infrastructure and finance, including mobile money and fintech in Kenya. In addition, he has studied topics such as surveillance, biometric identification, and economic regulation in east and southern Africa. More information is available at

CITAPP at IIIT Bangalore is an interdisciplinary think-tank set-up to focus on the policy challenges and the organizational demands made by technological innovation. Of particular interest to the Centre is how technological advances, along with institutional changes that harness the legitimacy and the powers of bureaucracies and market, address the needs of underserved communities.