On Saturday evening, millions of Kenyans went wild across social media platforms after M-Pesa went down.
Millions of Kenyans could not send cash, receive cash or even pay for services and products through Lipa Na M-Pesa.
Believe it or not, the economy literally came to a standstill. People could not purchase. People could not sell. It was havoc all over the country.
Personally, I had to “rescue” a friend who had been “detained” in one of the restaurants in town, having eaten but could not pay via M-Pesa and she did not have cash on her.
This is the second time that M-Pesa experienced a major nationwide outage holding millions of Kenyans at ransom in the process.
With more than 20 million customers who solely rely on M-Pesa for the day-to-day transaction, for the platform to go down without any prior warning is something to be terrified of.
The misfortune that befell M-Pesa users on Saturday brought to the surface just how Kenyans have allowed themselves to be dependent on only one service provider when there are other major service providers such as Telkom Kenya with their product T-Kash and Airtel with their product Airtel Money.
The truth is when a service such as important as M-Pesa goes down, it is the consumer that suffers the most.
Why not try the alternative service providers? In fact, some of these alternative service providers, actually, transact at a lower rate than M-Pesa and rarely do they fail but as they say, we are Kenyans and always stick to what we think is the best.
But what happens when what you think is the best fails you at that time that you need it the most?
Since the start of 2018, Kenyans have been having a debate about dominance in the telecommunications industry.
The majority of the stakeholders refuted the claims saying that what is currently in Kenya’s telecommunications industry is competition and not dominance.
Sharing the sentiments of Telkom Kenya’s CEO Mr. Mugo Kibati, “At the end of the day, it is about ensuring that the average Kenyan who has little disposable income to spend, has the best, affordable and quality service possible and competition is the best way to do that.”
What happened on Saturday does not show competition but shows a giant who rules over others without letting them to bloom.
I am not trying to blame Safaricom for the mess millions of Kenyans were in on Saturday. There is no doubt that Safaricom has the best products on the market but time has come for people to think outside the box, not to replace Safaricom but for a service that will complement it to avoid a vacuum in case of a failure.
Technology is prone to failure. That is a fact that we must acknowledge. Technology fails sometimes, and most of the time, it fails when we need it the most. So, what happens when one fails? Do we have an alternative that we can run to? And how can the alternative work with other players so that services can cut across?
In the matter that happened on Saturday, the blame lies squarely at the doorstep of the regulator. The regulator pushed for the introduction of mobile money interoperability. This was a good move that meant mobile money service providers transacting across without overburdening the consumer with costs and without the consumer having to miss a service.
The same regulator, upon the materialization of the mobile money interoperability, came up with some stringent requirements that have kept many out of becoming agents.
For instance, to become a T-Kash agent, one is required to have at least 100,000 shillings as float and if the same person wants to double up as an Airtel Money agent, he or she is required to pay another 100,000 as float. Why?
What happened on Saturday should inform policymakers to change some of the rules and regulations. For instance, why can’t just the regulator allow agents to transact across platforms from one wallet? Only if this is done, mobile money interoperability will have meaning.
Kenyans should also drop the habit of depending only on one service providers. There are other amazing service providers. Why not try them? Why not have a backup so that when one fails, the other saves you out? Now that mobile money interoperability has started working, still not effective but it is working, why not diversify?
Other alternative service providers are also partly to blame for the mess Kenyans are in. Some of these service providers have not presence across the country.
There are some service providers if you start looking for their money agents, you will take the whole day looking. Why not spread their services across the country?
Already the Ministry of ICT has ordered the Communication Authority (CA) to urgently probe what led to the countrywide failure of M-Pesa and come up with recommendations on alternative solutions for the future.