On Saturday I had to leave Sipili early to get back to Nakuru, so couldn't get a lift with my colleagues. Instead, I got my first ever matatus. Like lots of other countries without adequately functioning public transport systems, Kenyan towns are connected by lots of private minibuses that pick up passengers along the way. The matatu, with their sound systems blaring hip-hop and their painted pictures of Jesus and Lil' [sic] Wayne, are a bit of a staple of westerners' blogging about East Africa. So I won't bore you with the description of my journey, except to say that matatus seem a lot calmer and more comfortable than the hysterical descriptions by guidebook writers and travel journalists would suggest. Maybe I just got on some really boring ones. These were my two travelling companions on the front seat for the second leg of the journey. The little girl was called Esmerelda. I'm not sure what the chicken's called.

The matatus, almost all imported second-hand Japanese minibuses, bump along untarmacked roads that were often better in the fifties than they are today; they operate pretty efficiently, but they're necessarily slow. They also replace a decrepit state postal system – for a small fee you can send a letter or package on a matatu, and then call the recipient with the matatu's numberplate, so that they can go and pick up the package at the other end.

Amid this neglected state infrastructure, though, in even the tiniest village there seems to be a stall selling cellphone top-up cards. Apparently sidestepping sclerotic government and donors, mobile phone companies (the biggest being South African – Safaricom, Telkom/Zain – Orange has only recently arrived) have established a dense, well-functioning mobile phone network used by about 35% of the population (a high penetration for a country with Kenya's GDP). From where I'm sitting I can count 26 mobile phone masts. Mobile phone networks are filling gaps in other ways too: terrestrial dial-up internet, and even nominal broadband, crawls at a snail's pace; but mobile broadband internet is available almost all over the country now – 'dongle' modems for your laptop cost about £50, and unlimited broadband internet is then about £15 a month. Out of the reach of most Kenyans, of course, but pretty cheap for middle classes, businesses and organisations. Much more important for most Kenyans is the M-Pesa and similar systems: mobile phone credit systems where, for a small fee, you can send up to 35,000 shillings (about £300) to any other mobile phone, which can be cashed at any of the M-Pesa booths dotted around every tiny town and village. Vastly cheaper and more widespread than, say, Western Union, the state post office is just starting to catch up, developing its own mobile phone credit system for larger sums. In Laikipia I met an immaculately be-suited Safaricom salesman travelling around setting up new M-Pesa distribution points in the countryside. He said he said he thinks that all Kenyan banking itself, except for the super-rich, will soon be done entirely through the mobile phone networks. It's salesman bravado, but I think he may be right.

I know people write endlessly about the miracle of mobile-phone telephony in Africa – Somalia, for instance, hasn't had a functioning government since 1991 but has two relatively widespread mobile phone networks. It is amazing, though, that although I can't get drinkable water (or often any water) out of a tap, in the middle of nowhere in Kenya I can get better, cheaper mobile internet, and send money faster, than I can anywhere in the UK.

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