Another M-Pesa hitch grounds users

An M-Pesa outlet in Nairobi. Millions of Kenyans rely on the service to send and receive money as well as paying for essential goods and services. [File, Standard]
Safaricom subscribers found themselves stranded on Saturday night after an outage on the M-Pesa network made it impossible to send and receive money or make payments.

The outage persisted for several hours during the peak period for mobile money transactions, rekindling the debate on the need for a robust regulatory system for the mobile money sector.

Complaints from frustrated subscribers began flooding Safaricom’s social media accounts from 8pm Saturday evening and as at midnight, users were still reporting inability to settle payments and send or receive money.

“We regret to notify our customers and partners that M-Pesa services are currently unavailable due to a database degradation leading to loss of service,” said Safaricom in a statement confirming the outage. The telco did not provide further details, saying engineers were working on restoring services “as soon as possible”. In another statement issued yesterday afternoon, the firm said the outage had recurred at 7am but was resolved within 34 minutes.

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Payment platform

This is the second time in as many months that users have reported inability to get access to M-Pesa services, and this has caught the Government’s eye.

“The ministry has instructed CA (Communications Authority of Kenya) to liaise with CBK (Central Bank of Kenya) and investigate the cause of this outage and forward a report to Government, including remedial measures that Safaricom will take to ensure this outage does not happen in the future,” said ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru in a statement.

Safaricom and Airtel are already in trouble with the regulator for recent glitches that could see them fined millions of shillings. CA Director-General Francis Wangusi said last week the two operators recorded the largest outages reported by mobile users in the country over the past year and that the authority was waiting for detailed reports before making a ruling on the penalties to be paid

Other Government officials have in the recent past also warned that heavy reliance on M-Pesa as a payment platform by millions of Kenyans each day posed a significant fiscal risk. Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich recently reiterated that the growing reliance on mobile money by the Government and individual Kenyans posed a significant risk.

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“Owing to the success of mobile money, various financial products have been leveraged on this payment channel increasing the inter-linkages between this technology and the banking sector,” said Mr Rotich in his budget policy statement earlier this year. CA has come under scrutiny for not enforcing measures to prevent a recurrence of the outages.

M-PesaSafaricom