Although mobile money has become the leading transaction platform in Zimbabwe, its weaknesses came into focus this week after the dominant EcoCash network in Zimbabwe went down for two days, and left many consumer businesses floundering in an already difficult economy.
EcoCash, which competes against smaller platforms run by state controlled telcos NetOne and Telecel Zimbabwe, has more than eight million registered users in Zimbabwe and allows for remittances from expat Zimbabweans in South Africa and Botswana.
But in the past few days, the EcoCash platform experienced glitches, which Econet blamed on “scheduled maintenance” of the system that powers the platform, with just about all of the service options under EcoCash down, heavily impacting business transactions in Zimbabwe and adding to the country’s ongoing forex and economic difficulties.
Shoppers had been stranded in supermarkets and other stores for over two days, but the situation has since improved. Econet has been at pains to explain the glitch was caused by a scheduled system upgrade and that it is now back up running. But frustrations have been running high, with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter largely giving a window into the raging angst against Econet.
As much as $23 billion has been transacted through EcoCash in the past six years, say officials, making it a significant revenue stream for billionaire Strive Masiyiwa’s Econet Wireless which runs it. Like Kenya’s better known M-Pesa, Zimbabwe’s EcoCash allows for payments and transactions ranging from bill payments, merchant payments and micro insurance to banking services under an interlinked platform with most of the country’s financial service companies.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe also says digital payment means, led by mobile money, accounted for over 90% of the $97.5 billion in total value transactions for Zimbabwe in 2017. Of one billion financial transactions processed last year, more than three quarters, at 754 million payments, went over mobile platforms. In terms of value, mobile money platforms handled as much as $18 billion, significantly up from $5.8 billion in 2016.
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