How customers were left stranded in Mpesa glitch

A Safaricom subscriber using the Mpesa App for payment. [File, Standard]

Thousands of Kenyans who rely on the M-Pesa service for their daily payments found themselves stranded when Safaricom's mobile phone-based money transfer and micro-financing service experienced a downtime.

The service was inaccessible on the M-Pesa app, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD code), and SIM card tool.

During the rush to get students back to school, hundreds of businesses and individuals faced disruptions due to the outage of mobile money transfers on M-Pesa.

Parents and their children were left stranded in shops and eateries as the leading mobile service provider failed to process transactions.

Safaricom's M-Pesa system unexpectedly failed, causing disruptions to thousands of transactions in eateries, petrol stations, supermarkets, school uniform shops, bookshops, and public sector vehicles.

Kilifi residents expressed inconvenience, considering M-Pesa's integral role in daily financial transactions across the country.

Kelvin Njai, a parent, found himself stranded at Naivas supermarket in Kilifi town while purchasing back-to-school items for his children.

"Someone who was ahead of me did not have Sh60, and I gave it to him, knowing very well that I only had just Sh1000 with me.

"I talked to the lady who was behind me and asked if she could take my details and pay for me. We had to slash some items that were not necessary at that time," said Njai.

Njai said he sent back the money after the M-Pesa service was restored.

Another resident, Janet Katana, said she was forced to spend almost an hour with a boda boda rider at her house after the rider refused to leave without his money.

"I was not aware that there were interruptions, and I boarded a bodaboda from Kilifi town. Upon reaching my house, M-Pesa was not working, and the bodaboda guy refused to go without his money. I had to sit with him in my house until the services were restored," she said.

However, the residents blamed Safaricom for not alerting Kenyans before the service was interrupted, causing untold inconveniences.

"M-Pesa and Safaricom caused us trouble. It's unbelievable that a whole country can be stranded for over an hour because of downtime on a weekday," protested James Omondi, a patient who was stranded at the Kilifi County Hospital after the failure of M-Pesa to facilitate payment of his bill.

John Kamande, a parent, said he tried several times to pay for services as his children got ready to return to school.

Speaking in Murang’a, Kamande said his children were in Nairobi when the outage occurred while buying textbooks.

“It was a nightmare as the children and their mother remained in the queue for hours, waiting for me to complete the transactions before the goods were packed for them,” said Kamande.

Jane Wanyoike said she remained at a supermarket in Murang’a town, unaware that the system had collapsed.

“There was a long queue as only those making cash payments were served at a different counter, while those using the phones were asked to wait,” said Wanyoike.

In Nyeri County, most M-Pesa shops remained closed as business came to a standstill across the county.

Anne Waithaka, a M-Pesa shop attendant, mentioned that she had deposited her funds in the morning with the expectation that it would be a busy day due to back-to-school transactions.

"I had to close my shop at 1 pm because many clients were disappointed, and there was no way to assist them," she said.

Ian Nyambane, a manager at Weaver Bird, said most customers were unable to complete their transactions following the delay, which has affected their sales.

The uniform shop, which was a beehive of activities as learners went back to school for the first term, Nyambane said the users were inconvenienced.

[Report by Marion Kithi, Purity Mwangi, Boniface Gikandi, Yvonne Chepkwony and Mary Imenza]  

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