Is Okoa Jahazi Illegal And Manipulative?

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Some Safaricom clients are unhappy about the telco’s Okoa Jahazi service, which is why they have sued the company for breaching banking laws.

Okoa Jahazi is an emergency airtime service that was rolled out in April 2009 for Prepaid customers to access airtime in situations they couldn’t purchase talk time or emergencies. The service has since grown to include Okoa Bundles as well as Okoa Stima, a solution that enables households to access pre-paid power tokens on credit in collaboration with Kenya Power. At its inception, Okoa Jahazi users could access KES 50 of airtime, but the credit amount has gone up to KES 1000.

The suit, which was filed by Eric Kithingi and Arshford Koome on 17th May at the High Court in Nairobi, in addition to other 843 subscribers, argues that that Safaricom does not meet the requirements of a credit institution because it not a licensed lender. At the same time, the suit insists that Okoa Jahazi is not regulated by financial laws.

The plaintiff originally filed the petition against Safaricom and the Ministry of ICT in early February 2017 to voice their concerns against Okoa Jahazi. Afterwards, another complaint was forwarded by Mutwiri Arimi & Company Advocates, which questioned the viability of the 10% charged on Okoa Jahazi as interest. For instance, requesting for KES 50 of Okoa Jahazi nets a user KES 45, and so forth. In essence, the rates are synonymous to what banking institutions charge, which is why the suit needs to ascertain whether or not Safaricom is breaking the law.

What’s more, the suit demands Safaricom customers who have used the service be compensated because 1) the interest is illegal and 2) it’s a breach of the customers’ constitutional rights, citing that the telco rolled out the service without publishing terms and conditions, which made unsuspecting customers victims of unknown charges.

Safaricom, which generated most of its KES 45 billion net profit in its 2017’s financials from M-Pesa and Data services (incoming calls and SMS registered a drop in revenue), could foot a mammoth bill to cover the aforementioned accusations if the suit finds the local telecommunications giant guilty, and if they go to trial in the first place.

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