Al Jazeera Blogs


Africa

Zimbweans find novel way of using mobiles

A system that allows people to use phones instead of cash while shopping is gaining currency.
Last modified: 12 Mar 2013 21:18

In Zimbabwe people are slowly beginning to pay for goods and services using their mobile phones - part of what's being called a micro-banking revolution.

A lot of people think it's a great idea, but finding someone who is comfortable and using it regularly is hard work.

Today is one of those days in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, when mobile phone reception is not too bad. I can access emails and make phones calls fairly easily. There have been days when it's been annoyingly slow.

Many shops have stickers on the door, window advertising the fact that people can pay using their mobile phones – and I walk into one just as Tichaoana Karisa is using his phone to buy the tools.

He punches in a special code that the shopkeeper gives him. In a few seconds the money, already loaded onto his phone, is deducted - 4 US dollars.

It's the first time I am seeing this being used in Zimbabwe and I am pleasantly surprised it worked. I was expecting something to go wrong.

I take a few photographs of Tichaona using his phone and walk to the commuter taxi rank nearby. I'd heard you can pay your taxi fare using your mobile phone as well.

But I bump into a very frustrated Tendai Shumba.

"I used it once and that experience just disappointed me," he says walking away from me.

Network problems

Undeterred I ask someone else. Emmanuel Moyo says the eco cash system is a good idea. The trouble is that for it to work properly, the phone network’s infrastructure has to be upgraded. Right now Zimbabwe lags behind other African nations in terms of connectivity.

"If the network is down everything is down," he says. "It would be good for Zimbabwe to improve its networks, because it will improve the way people do business. If the network is down the whole country comes to a standstill."

People can spend or transfer up to 1,000 dollars a day using their phones.

John Sibanda is another ecocash user standing at the taxi rank.

"If you want to send someone money in another town, I don't have to get on a bus to deliver the money. I can use my phone. It's quick it helps us a lot," he says.

The transport sector is how most people get around. It's hoped it too will one day become a cashless sector.

Mobile money transfer services have stimulated the economy in other African countries, especially in East Africa. Economists say if money can be transferred faster, it boosts trade.

The truth is most Zimbabweans still prefer using cash to purchase goods. But if the technology gets better that could one day change.