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The MasterPass App Had No Place In Our Market, Ecobank Wasted Resources Importing Back An African Innovation From America


Africa is a market, the best kind: a market that feels so inferior that it buys whatever you are selling as long as you are not coming from Africa. We always assume that whatever comes from outside our continent particularly from the West is a good deal and we need it.

I was disappointed to be at a Zimbabwe government meeting with an Indian delegation some time ago. Our officials were not prepared, they were just ready to be awed by the delegation. They thought the business people who had come had come to help them instead of realising that they were here for business. Every business person is a sales person, not a benevolent patron who wants to help.

The result of this disposition by our government and to be honest our African governments in general results in our countries buying a lot of stuff we don’t need. Do you remember that the Zimbabwean road authority once bought snow moving equipment instead of earth moving equipment to fix roads? NetOne Cellular once bought wrong transmission equipment. Hwange Colliery also bought wrong equipment just because it came as a loan.

What does that have to do with Masterpass?

MasterCard has announced that they will be killing the Masterpass QR app. I am not surprised. I think the Materpass QR was to Ecobank what snow graders were to ZINARA: a waste of resources.

When Ecobank launched their Masterpass QR I got excited. I thought the service was for scanning QR codes on products as you shopped such that you didn’t need to check out of the supermarket or something. Nope, the app was supposed to be for paying merchants in a similar way we pay merchants via mobile money except that instead of having a merchant code, you would scan a QR code specific to the merchant.

What’s wrong with that?

We had quite the debate a couple of weeks ago regarding this Ecobank Masterpass QR. I was saying it should never have been launched in Zimbabwe and possibly in many other African countries but a colleague was saying paying via QR codes was faster than mobile money merchant codes.

Maybe my colleague was right but that didn’t matter. The rule to launching and winning with a product in a market that already has something that works is that your offer must be at least 10 times better than the current solution. If not, customers will not bother to switch from what’s already good enough. This is called the 10X rule.

I didn’t see anything 10X about Masterpass for the African continent.

Mobiloe money an African innovation

The payments ecosystem in Africa was not as developed as that in the West at the turn of the millennium. However, that position led to an innovation that we now call mobile money. When mobile phones began to fill every pocket on the continent, it was a matter of time before the ubiquitous devices would be used for payments.

This did not happen in the West because they had a cards system that was good enough. Mobile payments were not 10X from were the West was. Trust me, paying via mobile is better than using a card for a number of reasons but if you already have a working system of cards switching to mobile payments is at best just being an early adopter geek.

In Asia it was QR codes

Mobile payments in Asia particularly in China utilise QR codes more than anything. They were also coming from a place of having no proper payments infrastructure and so like us they leapfrogged cards.

The West tries to catch up

Innovations like the Masterpass QR were attempts by big Western payments companies like MasterCard to adopt the interesting mobile payments revolution happening in Africa for their own markets. These companies were late to the party when it comes to mobile payments.

It’s then amazing to me how they then turned around and started selling this innovation to African companies. Even the way MasterCard introduced Masterpass QR was insulting in that they talked about how they were going to change so many lives in Africa for the better:

Mobile technology has changed the face of Africa, and by 2020 it is estimated that there will be 700 million mobile phone users on the continent. How can this technology be used to empower millions of citizens? The Ecobank Group is working with Mastercard to introduce Masterpass QR, a mobile payment solution, in order to reach 100 million new customers by 2020 across 33 countries. To give you some perspective it would take 1,055 of Africa’s largest football fields to accommodate this many people.


Is this about business or charity? It’s high time that as Africans we start refusing these documentary type adverts that show how global businesses are helping us catch up. They are not helping us catch up, they are exploiting us as a market.

There is nothing wrong with that of course. What’s wrong is our disposition that as long as they are selling we need to buy. EcoCash payments in OK supermarkets worked just fine thank you very much MasterCard.

Ecobank should have known that.


EcoCash is a mobile money transfer facility which is run by Econet Wireless Zimbabwe. The facility has grown in leaps and bounds since its inception and is arguably the largest mobile money transfer agent considering the huge sums of transactions that the platform is said… Read More About EcoCash

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