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Financial Inclusion, Fintech Exclusion, and National Development in Kenya

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Digital financial systems are often positioned by their advocates as imperative to everyday life in Kenya, but inclusion practices embedded in national improvement programs seem to fracture local identities, intentionally and unintentionally creating or exacerbating exclusions even within racial and ethnic groups by defining the conditions of inclusion. This dissertation examines the social consequences of techno-optimistic adoptions of fintech and financial inclusion, which aim to “improve” the international image of the nation through widespread access to formal financial services as part of a National Development Plan. This ambition aims to unite people under financial inclusion and fintech developments. My findings, however, show that entrepreneurs and users of mobile finance solutions feel consistently unsure of the financial inclusion agenda’s expectations, consequently leading many to be financially excluded through various fintech platforms. My study shows how underlying social segmentations—which can be traced through political history and ethnic economic enclaves—are reproduced or exacerbated by the forced adoption of these systems. Financial inclusion may create channels for prosperity and improvement; yet these platforms may engineer debilitating and sometimes precarious financial circumstances for users, borrowers, or entrepreneurs. While financial inclusion and the “fintech revolution” may enable consumers to enjoy greater and more efficient access to financial services, it is important to ensure that inclusion practices do not further financial hardships. Rather, fintechs must generate evidence that their practices are not, in fact, simply rewriting the terms of financial exclusion in their outcomes via alternative means.

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This item is under embargo until May 31, 2028.