Reporters on the Job

Paper or plastic? While perusing the local press in Nairobi, Kenya, the Monitor's Abraham McLaughlin noted a small blurb on the growth of credit bureaus (this page). "It appealed to me because there is an assumption that African economies are basket cases," he says. "This is an example of how transporting some of the basic rules of more developed economies to less developed ones can get them rolling in much the same way."

The convenience of the cards in a society that has depended on cash transactions is changing both consumer and merchant attitudes, Abe says. "Elizabeth Otieno told me she used to be suspicious of the cards. But now, if she walks into a boutique and can't use her card, she tells them she'll take her business elsewhere. So merchants are eyeing that - they've tended to look at the card-swipe machines as an expense, but now they have to meet demand."

That could have positive ripple effects: "Nairobi has regular blackouts, so this might increase pressure, even if slightly, to improve the power supply," Abe says.

Of course, with credit cards comes marketing. Ms. Otieno is already getting calls to sign up for more plastic. "Barclays is pushing a designer model: It's red, and features part of the Manchester United soccer team logo," says Abe. Just the thing to be seen plunking down - but Otieno remains unmoved.

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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