On December 8, Safaricom’s M-PESA services were subject to an outage that lasted for a couple of hours. The loss of service for the insanely popular mobile money product happened again the following Monday (for a couple of minutes, but inconveniencing nonetheless), a setback that also preceded issues with M-Shwari, the telco’s mobile micro-saving and loans product. As of this writing, the services are fully operational, but the cause for the outage is still being investigated by teams from the Communications Authority (CA).
Several pointers emerged from the network outage, including the need to pursue the competition clause and exploration of checks and balances by relevant authorities to ensure that Kenyans are not held hostage by loss of service in the future.
In line with these developments, the Government of Kenya has revealed plans to launch a new mobile money product in 2019 that will ensure that mobile financial services are fully interoperable.
According to The Standard, the new product, will be managed and owned by the CA. However, the CA has not revealed whether its launch will replace the existing initiative that went live earlier this year. What’s more, the plan to launch the system implies that the interoperability case is not commanding the numbers expected, which is not a surprise owing to the investments people have made with M-PESA. In fact, Telkom’s T-Kash and M-PESA struck an agreement that saw the two services charge the same fees for transactions (T-Kash pushes it further by refunding users transaction fees, and adds airtime incentives if you top up from its service), but it appears that such deals are yet to make a notable impact.
The CA’s Director General Francis Wangusi agrees that mobile money interoperability has to be seamless. However, he did not shed more light on the specifics of the product besides ongoing discussions with the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) in addressing some aspects outside CA’s mandate.
It should be noted that the CA is still encouraging more mobile money service providers to join the interoperability initiative, although it is becoming clearer that Kenyans are yet to make a marked transition to competing services for obvious reasons.