Like many of its 20+ million odd subscribers, I learned the hard way that even the super successful and behemoth that is Safaricom is NOT immune to Murphy’s Law which states that ‘anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’. Indeed, not being able to make phone calls or M-Pesa payments as well as not being able to get online for the better part of yesterday was nothing short of a nightmare – made real. Indeed, all sorts of conversations were happening on social media in Kenya (with some lovely memes to boot) and one can only imagine that Safaricom’s competitors made a tidy sum (if only for one day?) as everyone had to use their back up Airtel and Orange lines to get through #SafaricomMonday.
Through it all, it occurred to me that if there ever was a moment when Safaricom’s market dominance became apparent, it was yesterday. The fact that the whole of Kenya came to a standstill (of sorts?) due to one mobile network was made glaringly obvious by the outage that lasted 6+ hours or so. For me, I had a chance to see just how intricately the Kenyan ‘way of life’ and Safaricom are intertwined to the extent that its probably unhealthy when things do go the way of Murphy’s law. From my observations, here are five things we learned from Safaricom’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Monday Outage:
- Cash Still Works – Yes. Seriously. Cash still works. I needed to make payments yesterday morning, first via M-Pesa and that didn’t work. Then I tried doing it via a POS and that didn’t work either since the POS devices at the establishment used guess what for connectivity? Safaricom. This lead me to borrowing cash from someone to cover the bill I had so that I could leave (imagine that!). It was a more than a little unnerving, I felt so hopeless. You know you have mobile money and money in the bank and yet you cannot access it because one mobile network is down. So, indeed, cash still works and as they say cash is still King.
- ATMs Still Matter – I had to go to an ATM to get some cash. It worked in one go. I have to confess I rarely go to ATMs these days since we have debit cards and mobile money (read: M-Pesa) that can be used pretty much anywhere and everywhere you may need to make transactions in Kenya. So, I topped up with lots of cash at the start of the day to get the basics done like fueling the car, buying lunch, etc. ATMs are still your friend when Safaricom goes fishing.
- Orange & Airtel Work Really Well – It was kind of bizarre but since I use both my Orange and Airtel mobile numbers as back up lines for my Safaricom line, I actually had to use them yesterday instead and guess what? They worked just fine! I got through the day. I made calls and received calls. I was able to get online. I was able to live a semi-normal life without Safaricom and all its trappings for a day. When my Safaricom line started to erratically function later in the day, I did not feel that much relief? I was doing just fine, thank you.
- 4G Is Much Faster Than 3G – The other downside to not having Safaricom 4G is that when one used their Airtel or Orange lines to get online its only 3G. This may sound completely normal and acceptable but when you get used to 4G as part of your day to day normal things, 3G for an extended period feels really slow. Honest. I was able to function yes for sure but the relief of getting back to Safaricom 4G was amazing! Who could have guessed that something like 4G could seem like a basic human right for hyperconnected mobile subscribers in Kenya!
- Social Media Breaks The News In Kenya – Indeed, it was not the mainstream media but rather social media where the news broke that Safaricom was having a fit. Indeed, the news feeds on Twitter and Facebook were clogged with everyone complaining that something was wrong with Safaricom’s services and it trended for a good number of hours until normal service started to resume. I am impressed at how much was shared via social media and also the numerous updates that just seemed to go on and on. It was only later in the day that mainstream media seemed to pick up what was going on.