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Coalition wants Safaricom’s monopoly for Likoni toll stopped

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[MUHURI Rapid response Officer Francis Auma being whisked away by police at the Likoni channel. Photo/Ernest Cornell].

Economic rights lobby Okoa Mombasa has urged Kenya Ferry Services (KFS) to revoke its deal with Safaricom, which requires all tolls at the Likoni ferry crossing channel to be paid via the company’s M-Pesa service.

Under the deal, cash and payments by other electronic means are no longer permitted, meaning users who do not have a mobile phone with a Safaricom SIM card cannot ride the ferry.

The situation has resulted in many non-M-Pesa users being turned away.

Tolls are required for cars, motorbikes and handcart pushers, while pedestrians ride for free.

Public participation

The monopoly deal was reached and announced without public consultation, despite KFS’s status as a public organisation.

The ferry operator has also failed to reveal details of the bidding process that led to Safaricom being selected as the sole processor of payments.

Kenya has three other major mobile phone network operators, all of which operate mobile money services that compete with Safaricom’s M-Pesa.

Okoa Mombasa believes the KFS-Safaricom deal infringes on Kenyans’ right to access information, equality, consumer choice, and freedom from discrimination.

“KFS’s decision to require all payments via Safaricom’s M-Pesa was as surprising as it was inexplicable – ferry users did not ask this, and there is no legitimate reason for it,” said Uba Suleiman from InformAction and an Okoa Mombasa Member.

She blamed the government for making decisions without consulting the Coastal people or ferry users.

Cash system

“We urge KFS to resume accepting cash and other electronic payments immediately,” She added.

She demanded a suspension of the current monopoly payment system until there is a structured public participation process that helps create a more inclusive system.

According to research by Okoa Mombasa member Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), Safaricom earns between Sh8 and Sh100 per toll, depending on the size and weight of the vehicle crossing the Likoni channel.

Around 6,000 motorists use the channel daily, plus numerous more motorbikes and handcart operators.

The 500-metre Likoni channel is the preferred route between Mombasa Island and the mainland side of Likoni, a mostly residential area.

Victimisation

Separately, Okoa Mombasa has called for charges to be dropped against MUHURI chairman Khelef Khalifa and Rapid response Officer Francis Auma, who were arrested for protesting the KFS-Safaricom deal on February 18, 2021. They face charges of “causing an obstruction.”

The pair were arraigned and charged in court without witness statements, which forced their hearings to be adjourned.