The government last night through Information Secretary Nick Mangwana decided to suspend all forms of mobile money. Now the reasons behind that decision aside, what does it mean for all of us who rely on EcoCash or OneMoney?
A lot of the people were unbanked before the advent of mobile money. Many relied on physical currency to buy goods and services. The cash crisis Zimbabwe endures means that physical money is hard to come by.
Mobile money brought the convenience of a transaction to being a couple of button presses away. In stores, on the streets, and even from home or wherever anyone might be. People were able to go beyond what they could because the facility to start it all was in their mobile phones.
The reach of banking services was extended. All it took to start a business, to receive or send money was a cellphone and a SIM card.
Now I am not saying the system doesn’t come with its problems, service gets disrupted or goes down altogether. It’s unfortunate, but it is all part of any system used by millions of people. It should be said that the operators have usually able to get the system back up, in part or completely.
The operators even made improvements on the service opening it up to all sorts of payments. Electricity, school fees, airtime and other payments could now be done from wherever.
What makes it worse is that the Government encouraged us to go cashless and to utilise facilities like mobile money to ease banknote dependency. The impression that everyone received was that this was to become one of the key facets our economy was to run on.
Ok… So what now?
Well the panic it has caused can’t be taken back. Zimbabweans are more on alert than usual. We had very little financial security to begin with. We have been standing on uncertain ground for what seems like an age. I can’t find the right metaphor or term to quite caption what it feels like.
What happens to the informal traders? The quarantine left them without a means to earn, and then after that, they get back to work they get this?
What about all those who don’t have a bank account and have all their money in a mobile wallet?
What about all the businesses who have the entire business models centred around mobile money?
These are among the things I thought would have been weighed before coming to the announcement we received last night.
I can’t even begin to imagine what other Zimbabweans in a number of different situations must be thinking or feeling.
The Reserve Bank (at the time of writing) hasn’t yet made a comment or issued any statement. All interest parties, companies and operators will be sure to contest this no matter what the RBZ says. Econet’s statement this morning alluded to that.
Now we must wait… again… Uncertain of how this will all unfold.