The NALA app in action on Tanzania Day in London

By Freddy Macha

I walked around chatting and greeting other Tanzanians. It is rare to be surrounded by so many compatriots in one place, abroad. It was Tanzania Day, London, from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturday July 16, 2022. As we rarely conjugate, converse and relax, it’s common to remember each other’s names and what we’re up to. We Tanzanians are friendly by nature – our forte. No one minimizes this.

Lo and behold, I noticed those incredible chalk teeth and glowing eyes. After seeing Ben in photos and hearing his dream outline at a Zoom performance last year, I recognized the 29-year-old entrepreneur instantly. Just like he did.

“Shikamoo…”

We chatted and remembered connecting through the Mwana group. Mwana is a growing brand driven by Jackline Waziri. Created during the Covid 19 pandemic, it stimulates opportunities in business, arts and education. Mwana is also the title of a book written by Jackline Waziri, great-granddaughter of legendary Kiswahili writer, Shaaban Robert. Mwana was particularly crucial during the lockdown period, when most relied on online communication. Subsequently, then Mwana made us aware of NALA.

Wikipedia says: “Benjamin Fernandes is the Founder and CEO of NALA, a Tanzanian digital financial services platform that allows people to access their financial accounts in a single app while allowing them to make money payments mobile offline (free internet)…”

So what happened last Saturday?

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Sending money to people back home is considered life abroad from A to Z. Forty years ago we relied on registered letters which most of the time were picked up in the mail. Throughout the 1990s and pre-internet days, it was THEN revolutionary and expensive Western union and shilingis were swinging at the recipient’s fingertips within hours.

Today, apps like WAVE and WORLD REMIT have triggered things faster. No charges. No wasted time. All you need is a valid phone number and address. NALA joined this caucus; though, with positive agreement. Best shilingi rates for foreign currencies. Ayo TV was the first to highlight NALA’s pole position.

A few months ago this column whispered about a NALA advert on one of London’s red buses. The looming single poster shouted:

“Born in Africa, built for you. Send money home with confidence.

Well posed, nonetheless.

How do you prove that this new channel is what it promises on paper, red bus ads and mobile screens?

Answers?

…briskly, stroll, via Tanzania Day, 2022. Came across Benjamin Fernandes. After a few minutes, he quietly wondered, “What was the problem that was bothering your NALA application?”

Before I responded, other people came up to him with issues that he quickly resolved. Took pictures. And we were talking again and…

SO MACHA, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM YOU HAVE WITH THE NALA APP?

Frankly? I had forgotten. All I remember is trying to send someone money a few weeks ago and failing. I showed him a screenshot of the started transaction. He advised me to visit Mama NALA. Mama NALA literally translates to customer service. Which some bigger apps like Instagram and Uber don’t really bother with.

Ben took my phone. Deftly typed on it. Asked me to login. I couldn’t remember my password. He asked me to open my NALA email. Bingo, we were on the page.

“Have you changed your credit card?

Yes. We looked and yes the last four digits were visible.

“Is your residential address the same as the bank address?”

And that was the problem. We tried to send pesas to someone. Successful.

It was excellent.

Proved why this Tanzanian man-child succeeded. A few months ago someone from the NALA WhatsApp group complained about something. A hacking rumor. Within minutes, the NALA team was on the case. It was like trying to invade a beehive. Bees are effective insects.

Career-wise, Mr. Fernandes was the first Tanzanian to attend both the American Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government. He also worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He also struggled with television as a presenter and is now a strong driver of tourism in Tanzania.

One of Benjamin’s frequently spoken mantras is his passion for promoting Tanzania and Tanzanians. The kickoff, NALA, had a lot to do with it. To advance his native country.

Hopefully this love of hard work and Magufuli-like skill will endure and help make Tanzania what it has always been. A country potentially rich in sunshine, glory, opportunity, peace and hope.

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