Could MTN Offering Cross Border Payments do more for Intra Africa Trade than the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement Payment Platform?

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MTN, Africa’s leading mobile telecommunications company, has a significant footprint across the continent, with operations in multiple countries including major economies like Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa. With an extensive subscriber base of 290 million and 60 million active monthly Mobile Money (MoMo) wallets, MTN is a pivotal player in Africa’s digital and financial landscape. Putting this in context according to the GSMA, there are 234 million active 90-day mobile money accounts across Africa. Now I suspect the market share percentage would be higher if we took out Mpesa Kenya (only one country which has 38.4 million as of  2023

Leading mobile money operators in Africa as of 2020, by number of countries in operation

To offer a more detailed analysis with economic estimates regarding the impact of MTN enabling cross-border payments in Africa, it’s essential to consider several economic parameters. These include the potential increase in trade volumes, cost savings on transactions, and the overall growth impact on the continent’s GDP. Here’s a structured approach to estimate these impacts:

  1. Projected Increase in Trade Volumes

MTN’s implementation of cross-border payments could significantly reduce transaction costs and barriers, potentially increasing intra-African trade. Currently, intra-African trade is low compared to other regions, comprising only about 16% of Africa’s total trade (UNCTAD, 2020). With transaction costs being a significant barrier, a reduction in these costs could lead to a substantial increase in trade volumes.


  • If cross-border mobile payments reduce trade costs by 5-10%, intra-African trade could increase by 10-20% based on elasticity estimates from economic literature on trade costs and trade volumes.
  • This could translate into an additional $70-$140 billion in trade volume, given that Africa’s total export was about $760 billion in 2019 (World Bank).
  1. Cost Savings on Transactions

Cross-border payments often come with high fees. According to the World Bank, the average cost of sending $200 across borders in sub-Saharan Africa is about 8.2%. MTN’s mobile money solutions could potentially halve these transaction costs, given their more streamlined and localized operational structure.


  • With MTN reducing the transaction costs to around 4%, the annual savings for consumers and businesses could be significant, especially considering the growing volume of remittances and trade payments.
  • If $30 billion is remitted yearly within MTN’s network (a conservative estimate given the diaspora and business transaction flows), savings could amount to approximately $1.2 billion annually in transaction fees alone.
  1. Impact on GDP Growth

The increase in trade and reduction in transaction costs are likely to have a positive impact on GDP. Enhanced trade efficiency and reduced costs can stimulate more business activities, leading to higher productivity and economic growth.


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  • According to a study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a 1% increase in trade can raise a country’s GDP by 0.5%.
  • With a potential increase of 10-20% in trade volume, the continent’s GDP could grow by an additional 0.25-0.5%.
  1. Impact on Financial Inclusion and Long-Term Economic Development

Increasing financial inclusion through mobile money can have profound long-term economic benefits. Greater financial inclusion can enhance individual and business productivity by providing more people access to financial services.


  • Studies suggest that increasing the financial inclusion rate by 10% can lead to a 0.3% rise in GDP growth rate in developing countries.
  • Given MTN’s potential to increase financial inclusion through cross-border mobile money services, there could be an additional 0.1-0.2% increase in the GDP growth rate across the countries where MTN operates.

Competing with Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS)

PAPSS, developed by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), aims to facilitate instant cross-border payments in local currencies between African markets. While PAPSS has the institutional backing and potential for broad adoption, MTN’s existing customer base and operational reach across the continent could position it as a more immediate and accessible option for millions.

I don’t doubt that this is something MTN has not thought of, but I can bet real money the barriers largely lie with regulation .

MTN Is currently making many strides in the intra Africa border payment with its  recent of launch of remittance in MTN South Africa to 10 countries , but it seems like this targeted at foreign workers in the country and is only one way .[happy to be corrected on this ]

In 2018 Orange Group and MTN Group, announced a joint venture, Mowali (mobile wallet interoperability), to enable interoperable payments across the continent. Mowali makes it possible to send money between mobile money accounts issued by any mobile money provider, in real time and at low cost. I however have not being able to find any updates in this project



Now, If you haven’t guessed it , I have being using MTN as an example to make a wider point. The support for mobile money cross-border payment capabilities, assuming full regulatory approval and widespread adoption, could have a transformative economic impact. It can not only foster more robust economic ties across African nations but also significantly contribute to the continent’s broader economic goals under the AfCFTA. These guestimates provide a framework for understanding the scale and scope of potential impacts, highlighting the critical role of digital financial services in Africa’s economic future.