I remember it was around 2 pm on the 9th of October and I saw a message on one of the WhatsApp groups I am on. The message was in Shona so I will just translate it to English, “Guys, those using Sasai please stop using it because your messages are being sent to me. I am tired.” At the time I had no idea what was going so that I really thought this person was just joking. It was only later that I recalled this message because I did not know there was an outrage going on about SMSes promoting Sasai. I personally never received one so that was some relief, anyways, let us talk about what happened.
What Is Sasai?
For those who might not know Sasai is a chats and payments mobile app that was developed Cassava Smartech (a subsidiary of Econet Global). The app was inspired by China’s WeChat and was developed to try and topple WhatsApp as the most used instant messaging app on the continent.
The Sasai Promotional SMS
The SMS was short and simple as follows: ‘Your friend…..is using Sasai to Pay, Chat & Explore. Join them on Sasai, it’s free. Download it here. spread.sasai.mobi:8768/im’. So many people complained about receiving these SMSes with some people saying they received as many as 10 of them in 60 seconds. There was an outcry all over social media platforms with people unhappy about this form of intrusive marketing drive. The outcry was so loud that the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) ended up issuing a tweet on the 9th of October saying, ‘We have taken note of the numerous complaints and views from consumers on the continuous receipt of the SASAI SMS. We are engaging the service provider and will communicate further developments.’ We are yet to receive this promised communication from POTRAZ.
A Closer Look At Some Aspects Of The Incident
The SMS was meant to appear like a friend of yours already using Sasai invited you to join Sasai. Interestingly, it turns out that the app was accessing people’s contact lists and sending the SMS to the contacts without the phone owner’s consent. You can imagine how bad that would have been for someone to receive spam as being originating from you.
Some people engaged Econet on social media to get the issue addressed and some of their responses were quite interesting. On Twitter, they responded to someone by saying that they were investigating the matter. It was even said that Sasai Africa had been told to investigate the matter by Econet. One wonders what really is there to investigate since the sending of the SMS is clearly something that was done knowingly and deliberately.
Is POTRAZ Being Sincere?
It is not the first time that Econet has come under fire. Recently the Ecocash Agents issue was topical and even led to agent line cash-in and cash-out transactions being banned. The ban has since been lifted and a ZWL$100 daily limit has been enacted. However, there have been so many issues where Econet has been found wanting where POTRAZ did not do anything definitive. For instance, there are countless numbers of Ecocash users, self-included, who have lost money on the Ecocash platform through over-deductions, incomplete but charged transactions and so on. Even the stepping in of the RBZ on the agents’ issue was long overdue so it is not surprising why people are questioning the sincerity of POTRAZ on dealing with Econet.
Why The Desperation?
I guess this question is relevant because I do not recall a time when there was such an aggressive SMS promotion of an Econet product or service. I am thinking Econet might be desperate because the Sasai app is not receiving the resounding reception they were hoping for. The introduction of the Sasai app was riddled with a claim that the idea had been stolen but well, that is a debatable issue I am not interested in recapping here. The major issue is that Sasai was introduced at the wrong time – at least that is how I see it. In fact, their aim to dislodge WhatsApp is not an easily achievable feat because people are so accustomed to WhatsApp. So this thing of aggressively sending people SMS promoting Sasai seems like desperation to me. I suppose they are noticing that the app is not taking off as they expected. The irony now is that this recent development is already causing fallout that is going to further drown any efforts to charm the locals into embracing the Sasai app.
Overall, the behaviour exhibited by Econet was not acceptable. It is commonplace that daily they bombard you with promotional SMSes but this time it was just too much. I even liked what Kuda Musasiwa said on Twitter when he remarked that there is a reason why Facebook never texts to promote Instagram or WhatsApp or vice-versa. That all is on point and I think the extent to which Econet sends promotional SMSes to its subscribers needs to be looked at. For what it is worth other mobile network operators do not always send numerous promotional SMSes to its subscribers.