On a serious note, Safaricom competitions should be banned

It is exactly two months since this article by Eugene Kaana was published. If the article skipped your attention, kindly take a few minutes to go through it, then come back we reason together.

Welcome back, but before we continue it is important to also know that Safaricom acknowledged the content of that post to be true and wrote an apology which partly read:

 … we have established that the social media activation was compromised by one or possibly several of tech-savvy individuals who deployed “internet bots” to increase their chances of winning in the competition.

We accept the fact that we should have been more vigilant in identifying the use of these “bots” by unscrupulous persons and we apologize unreservedly  for any inconvenience that those competing fairly in the said online promotion may have suffered.

I read through that apology and thought, “holy crap! Unless Safaricom thinks we have some chicken head transplants…”

First, the promotion was run under “rules of the game”. Thus, even if “one or possibly several tech-savvy individuals … deployed ‘internet bots’ to increase their chances of winning”, the very first natural step Safaricom ought to have taken before announcing a winner is to go through verification of compliance procedure. Whoever was selecting the winners should have asked the question, “did the winner follow, strictly, all the rules of the game?”

Secondly, social media profiles of those winners ought to have been checked to verify if there is fairness or collusion in their responses – same thing Eugene did. Or, how lazy is Safaricom’s social media team?

If any rule wasn’t followed, then the win was to be nullified immediately. Of course Safaricom explained that they were not as vigilant as they ought to have been, not in the verification of compliance procedure, but in “identifying the use of these bots”. That’s silly. In that particular promotion, it didn’t matter whether bots participated or not – there were rules that were not followed… yet Safaricom went ahead to announce the ‘bots’ that didn’t follow the rules of the game as the winners.

That was not the first time Safaricom was rewarding ‘bots’ with prizes. Back in 2012 Safaricom ran a promotion on Facebook that I did not care to follow, but my wife did. After participating in answering a few questions, sometimes being the first to give the correct answer, she gave up having realized that the winners were people who had just joined Facebook – most of them having zero to ten friends.

Two possibilities exist: either Safaricom create fake social media accounts so that they do not reward anyone as winners, or their staff collude to reward their friends, relatives and associated, or even reward themselves.

On March 9th 2015 Kahawa Tungu published an article titled How Safaricom Employees Gift Themselves through FAKE and REAL Competitions. Part of the article reads:


According to two employees based at Safaricom’s call centre along Mombasa road, key supervisors know the existence of accounts run by Safaricom employees either to win prizes or simply fool competitors that Safaricom is awarding big prizes while in real sense, they are giving out none.

The network of fraudsters are said to be coordinated by individuals based at the call centre and some based at the Squad Digital premises along Brookside drive in Westlands

Kahawa Tungu also alleges that the fraudulent schemes are not just limited to online competitions but the big competitions are also compromised as “Safaricom changed its algorithm which selects winners that anyone spending more than Ksh 1,000 per month of airtime will NEVER win in the promotions.”

Before the so called “internet bots” saga happened, I could have dismissed Kahawa Tungu as mere and baseless hearsay.

Betting Control and Licensing Board is dead

If a publicly verifiable online-public competition like #SafFunFriday could be compromised, how can we trust Safaricom to run a genuine, transparent, open, free and fair offline-private competition such as Bonyeza Ushinde na Safaricom? Offline in the sense that bonyeza, tetemesha and the others are not run via Internet; and private in the sense that we the public are not privy to the list of participants and how winners are selected.

We may say that BCLB always ensure that the law is followed whenever the offline-private competitions are run, and that they monitor each and every step of the competition. Probably yes.

But who is BCLB? This article by Mbugua Njihia written in 2009 explains to us what BCLB is and its mandate and goes ahead to give us the contact information of the body, but sadly the website www.homeaffairs.go.ke provided as the online place where one can learn about BCLB does not exist today.

Other than the article by Mbungua (which contain extinct contact information), there is no way you as a citizen can lodge a complain to BCLB via Facebook, Twitter, or Email from the comfort of your home if you suspect that something is wrong with #SafFunFriday or even Bonyeza Ushinde.

My conclusion is this, BCLB is as good as dead.

Even if BCLB is active in the underground, we know that this is Kenya, a country where the watchdogs such Parliament and EACC are facing serious integrity issues yet they are the guys who are supposed to stop the very “integrity issues” from occurring.

A thorough audit of all past Safaricom competitions should be done

Even before Safaricom competitions are audited, it is imperative for the board of BCLB to be dismissed with immediate effect. One of the core functions of BCLB is “to create awareness and public confidence in Betting, Lotteries and Gaming”.

Today, the public exist on the Web, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Today, many Kenyans gamble online and use online platforms such as SportPesa to bet. Today many companies offer online competitions via social media. Yet, today, a key government institution charged with controlling, regulating and licencing betting, gambling, gaming and lotteries is completely missing online. Isn’t that body as good as dead?

Since the current board members have failed to put BCLB online 20 plus years after Internet arrived in Kenya, the best thing we may ask of them is to leave office.

After BCLB has been reconstituted, Safaricom should be audited before they are allowed to run any competitions again. Part of the audit should include requirement that all top winners (those who have won 100,000 plus) in the past five or so years, be followed up and grilled on whether they actually won the said prizes or not.

The rumors going round that some of the so called winners in Safaricom competitions such as Bonyeza Ushinde are paid anything between Shs 20,000 and Shs 50,000 to appear on TV and claim to have won whatever amount they have purportedly won, could be mere speculations… or not. According to a commenter in the article by Eugene, the media is not interested in investigating the rumors as Safaricom is one of the biggest source of revenue for the media in ad placements.

Someone should go to court

For Safaricom competitions to be banned, a mindful Kenyan, or even Cofek, ought to move to court in public interest with a petition seeking to bar Safaricom from participating in any competitions until issues raised against them are amicably resolved.


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