Whatsapp turned seven this past February and indeed it has been a phenomenal journey. Even more impressive is how Whatsapp tends to listen and address the needs of the people. A few months ago we were complaining about how we could not send documents through the application and like a magic trick, we woke up one day with a Whatsapp that could send documents. Now they say they are “putting an even greater emphasis on security features and more ways to stay in touch with the people” we care about.
We are hoping that means video calling and more video calling. However, there is a catch that is particularly bad news for Africa.
After giving us the good news and the dust to glory story of the Facebook-owned company, they then had to say, “By the end of 2016, we will be ending support for Whatsapp Messenger on the following mobile platforms:
- Blackberry, including Blackberry 10
- Nokia S40
- Nokia Symbian S60
- Android 2.1 and Android 2.2
- Windows Phone 7.1
Forget the people who claimed the world would end in 2012, 2016 is the end of life as we know it in Africa. With the growing internet usage, Whatsapp had satisfied a niche in the African society, replacing old text messaging which at a point was $0.09 (USD) for one text in Zimbabwe. Now we do not even know the charges because no one cares about texts anymore. It is Whatsapp’s world and we all just live in it. The move to phase out the Nokia phones particularly has a drastic effect on an Africa that has always loved the brand. It has been the brand of choice particularly for its low pricing and user friendly interface. Just about anyone across the board can use a Nokia phone and phasing them out is quite a way to cut off Africa from the application of choice. Why, why, why, Whatsapp, when we have been so loyal to you? The worst part is the solution they offered, “we recommend upgrading to a newer Android, iPhone or Windows Phone before the end of 2016 to continue using Whatsapp.” I doubt if people could already afford those changes they would remain stuck in old technology.
It is sad for African businesses that were now hinged on Whatsapp and for the small business person in rural Africa, business is about to get a little harder. All those orders he used to send for on the buses and communicate with the supplier through Whatsapp and all the customers that were told of the new merchandise will be a thing of the past. We estimate the figures of customers to be lost to be in the high hundreds of thousands. What is Whatsapp saying then? That the poor do not deserve cheap communication? That is preposterous logic Mr Zuckerberg, you should know better! The people who can afford to buy the high range cell phones will probably be able to afford the more expensive texts, emails and phone calls. Locking out that sole trader from Africa is locking her out of business. Surely Whatsapp could have come up with a double barrelled approach to keep the loyal not so affluent clientele happy as well as helping those with capable phones to get enhanced functionality. It would have been a bad business decision, maybe? This therefore asserts that any corporation is not a friend of the poor. Never ever.
So what now? Let us save up for the more advanced cell phones. The dealers must be rubbing their hands in cartoonish comic anticipation of huge profits. Sorry to burst the bubble gentlemen but in between sending kids to school and getting food, the generality of Africans will not afford a high-end cell phone that is not a Blackberry. The Pew Research in South Africa showed that the majority of mobile phone owners have “dumb-phones”. This can be extrapolated to represent the rest of Africa.
Whatsapp is not a monopoly, it is going to be time for us to move on to the next thing meant for our pockets. It has been quite a ride but WeChat is rising, Hike and many other relatively new and cheap applications are coming to the party. Or wait, why don’t we, as Africans create our own applications tailored for us and our situations lest Whatsapp forgets that some Africans cannot afford to take its recommendations seriously if they want to have food on the table in 2017?