Those who use Econet would have realised that it has not been at its usual best for the last couple of days. Interruptions in voice, data and Ecocash have been the order of the day. Even Telecel subscribers have had their fair share of glitches. But, it is Ecocash whose effects have been more debilitating all round.
Over-reliance on Ecocash
After a few days of slow internet connectivity and difficulty in making or receiving calls, things got worse on Monday 4th March 2019. Transacting on Ecocash became almost impossible. Never mind those who ordered and ate food in restaurants but were unable to settle the bills, there were many who intended to buy essential medicines at pharmacies. For them, it became a matter of life and death. Many businesses lost out big time. Customers could not buy anything if they intended to pay using Ecocash. This overreliance on Ecocash is somehow scary and leaves us vulnerable now more than ever. Just spare a thought for the rural folk whose only modes of payment are cash and Ecocash. It means nothing happened for them when Ecocash went down. What about those who wanted to buy electricity tokens? They were simply left in the dark. It was a shutdown of some sort.
Overreliance on Ecocash is not the underlying problem, however. Econet has not told us what caused the interruptions yet but without official communication, we are left to speculate. It is a fact that telecommunications companies have not been prioritised when foreign currency allocations were made before the Monetary Policy Statement. Now, they have to fend for themselves when they need forex to buy spares or replace old equipment but forex shortages are still a sad reality for all even via the interbank market. This tends to cause delays in the procurement, repair and maintenance of aging equipment. As a result, the infrastructure becomes less robust and this may have caused our nightmare. There are also others who feel that mobile network operators have been lobbying government to allow them to increase their tariffs. So, slowing down services will push government to see the justification in hiking tariffs. Or, it may just be a coincidence. Whatever it is, the problem has led us to discover that we owe all our businesses and private dealings to Ecocash.
Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Energy Mutodi posted on Twitter saying, “There is intermittent breakdown of internet services and mobile telephone access today. Please note that government is equally disturbed by the breakdown and hope normal services will be restored as a matter of urgency.” Just in January, government shutdown the internet as they tried to manage protests that had gotten out of hand. This time around, the Deputy Minister is saying government’s hands are clean.
To its credit, Econet sent out smses to subscribers saying, “We sincerely apologise for the intermittent disruption of Voice, Data and Ecocash services. Our engineers are working flat out to restore service.” This message reached my phone at 1807hrs. On Twitter, Econet were responding to enquiries by assuring subscribers that they were working on the problem. The problem is that their response in the form if smses to subscribers was rather late. By the time they came, many were already disgruntled. Unfortunately, changing service providers is not much of an option since Ecocash enjoys more than 90% market share in the mobile money business. Netone’s One Money and Telecel’s Telecash are distant competitors.
What this tells us is that there is need for more competitive solutions in the mobile money space. That way, if one service provider experienced hiccups, we are not left stranded.