Just weeks after the government banned the production of airtime scratch cards, the parliament has asked the telecom companies to reinstate their sale as soon as possible. When the ban in the scratch cards was implemented, there was a huge outcry form the public but the ICT ministry insisted that this move was good for the technological advancement of the country.
As upset about this new ban as I was, I felt the government was onto something. I have been one of those that have criticized the government for not putting tech as a priority so, naturally I was at a but of a crossroads. I therefore sat down to try and understand the impact of this decision, Was it a good move for technology’s sake or was it a bad idea Yey! for Tech 😎
First off, Africa is quickly adopting the cashless system that the western world has embraced for a long time. A cashless economy has been tested and its pros so far outweigh the cons. Therefore putting the ban on scratch cards advances the cashless agenda and this is awesome for any economy trying to develop its tech prowess. This means that in part, the ICT ministry was into something when they implemented this ban but for reasons that they probably did not consider or simply over looked, this ban was just a disaster waiting to happen. This was a disaster 🤦♂️
As I mentioned above, its possible that the government officials that imposed the ban did not think it through and here is why I think so.
For starters, the alternative to the scratch cards that was proposed was a mobile money, re branded as easy load for the sake of airtime. If you wanted airtime, you would buy it from your mobile money account or that of an airtime agent. This in its essence is not a bad alternative but most of the nation is still healing from the imposition of the 1% mobile money tax. Many people had held back on the mobile money transactions either in protest or in fear of having their hard earned money taken by what many consider to be greedy individuals. The reduction of the tax from 1 to 0.5% had not sank in when the ban on scratch cards was implemented and therefore the fear and rebellion were still in the air.
Besides mobile money, the other alternative is the electronic payment portals such as PayWay or the several bank swipe card agents. This alternative is pretty simple and very effective but the only problem with this is that there are not so many of these around Kampala leave alone the rest of the nation, therefore it would become difficult to find an agent or a self service payment portal which would lead most to the alternative I mentioned in above with its problems.
Finally the reason I most thought that this card-less strategy would fail was the convenience of the people living in the rural areas of the country. For anyone that has been upcountry will not notice that the network signal is not as strong there as it is in Kampala, therefore imagine one is in an emergency where they need to make a call and do not have airtime, one runs to an agent to buy credit and they are hit with the news that there is no network reception. The consequences of such a disaster are better left to the imagination. And this for me was the reason I believed that much as the idea was good at heart, it was not thought through well enough to make it plausible.