Mobile Operators Are Not Ready to Switch-Off Fake Phones

CCK has written to the four Kenyan mobile phone operators to switch off the un-recognised devices in their network. The devices whose IMEI cant be registered by the network are mostly fake devices but some are also real but with duplicate IMEI. The duplicate IMEIs comes mostly from the gray market phones or the phones which are stolen and then their IMEIs flashed by the criminals so that they could not be tracked. The CCK directive is set to come to effect on September 9th.

The four mobile phone operators are said to be very reluctant to disconnect the over 4.4 million users with un-recognised devices on the networks. Safaricom held a media briefing on Monday 22nd Spetember arguing that it is not ready to switch off the devices because it does not believe that it is the mistake of the clients who buy most of the phones in shops which they think are genuine.

Kenya Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) put the number of fake devices at 20% of the 22 million mobile phone subscribers in Kenya. When asked what ACA doing to curb the counterfeit menace, the ACA deputy director in charge of research and awareness, Dr, John Akoten says that the agency has not powers to proactively act on the counterfeits and also even if they had the power, they would need training from the handsets manufacturers to be aable to identify fakes. This prompted me to ask Dr Akoten if that was not indirect extortion since the agency has done nothing to show that they are serious in dealing with the menace of counterfeits. Why would a government agency need training where they are just looking to be taken to hotels and paid allowances to listen to the vendors while the government has all lists of genuine products in Kenya. At the port of entry, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) verify all the imports for quality and authenticity. All the telecommunications equipment used in Kenya are registered with Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK).

So is it not wrong for ACA to demand training holidays from the mobile phone vendors claiming that they are not aware which is fake and which is genuine? In March 2011, ACA nabbed traders with fake phone batteries worth Ksh 2.4 Million. That is one figure ACA officials brandishes wherever they go.

The CCK September 9th directive has seen the operators call for a consultative forum meeting where they would argue their case. It is not clear why the operators really would want profits and revenue above even the health of Kenyans. The counterfeit phones do not meet even the most minimum of health standards. We have had battery explode on the ears of the users and the amount of radiations emitted from the handsets are just beyond the maximum level allowed by WHO.

ACA estimates that up to 3.2 Billion shillings in tax revenue are lost annually due to the counterfeit menace. Safaricom has more than one million counterfeit products on its network. Safaricom Director of Legal and Corporate affairs, Nzioka Waita, says that “the consumer is already affected and so they should not be punished when they are victims already”.

Already Nokia is quoted elsewhere engaging in double speak. Nokia Communication Manager in East, Central and Southern Africa, Dorothy Ooko, is quoted in The Star newspaper saying that switching off would not work since you might end up blocking the genuine ones. That is not true because the operators can identify the genuine from the fakes through CCK and KEBS. It is just that the vendors of handsets like Nokia, Samsung, LG and Huawei are also gaining from the problem of piracy. One manager of a mobile handset manufacturer claimed how the “level of counterfeiting of a particular product” also helps in determining the popularity.

Samsung’s Robert Ngeru intimated how the company plans to tackle the menace of counterfeits head-on. ACA managers present became agitated warning Samsung that they have no mandate to raid any premise. Robert assured them that Samsung knows what the law says and it would just use the law to carry out the operation using law enforcement agencies. ACA was just telling Samsung, “please don’t do for us our duty”. They claim they can’t act and they don’t want other agencies to act.

Then there is a briefcase organisation called Cofek whose owner is Stephen Muhoro. He owns many of such organisations including Kenya Alliance Residents Association. They are mainly formed to eat where the consumer is most active and never to look at the welfare of the consumer. If that is not the case then why is Cofek not arguing about the health implications on the consumer? So when they see a child playing with un-detonated grenade, they would say that nobody should take the grenade away from the kid? What a waste!! Cofek has dismissed the CCK directive saying that it is the government agencies which allow for the importation of the counterfeits. Yes they allow but don’t Cofek think that the counterfeit phones are dangerous to the users.

When the government asked the operators to switch off the phones whose owners could not register the lines, they refused. Now this again is going to be a problem. There are times when operators must put the consumer first and in this case it is the revenues first and the consumer last.


Written by Robert

Respected Kenyan blogger, tech evangelist, and social justice activist. Robert is known for his hard-hitting articles and opinions disseminated through his Twitter handle @RobertAlai or Facebook page (

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