Ugandans Demand Action on Counterfeit Phones

2394 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
In shops around Kampala URN came across corrupted inscriptions like Nckia and Nokla which can easily be seen as Nokia and Samsong which can be mistaken for Samsung, among others. There are also a collection of other phones that are fixed with adhesives which peel off with time.

Mobile phone users in Uganda are crying out to the communications commission to end the importation, sale and use of substandard phones and accessories on the Ugandan market.

They argue that often, traders dupe them into buying fake gadgets which have a fair semblance to the genuine handsets.

In shops around Kampala URN came across corrupted inscriptions like Nckia and  Nokla which can easily be seen as Nokia and Samsong which can be mistaken for Samsung. There are also a collection of other phones with trademarks fixed with adhesives which peel off with time.

Such phones, medical experts warn, expose users to radioactive emissions and health related complications. A cross section of consumers who talked to Uganda Radio Network confirmed that they have fallen prey to such antics, yet they have no chance for post-sale recovery.

The phones and their accessories, according to communication and IT experts, are not tested for safety, efficacy and ability to meet international standards for exposure to radio active emissions. They have in the past been linked to incidents where mobile phone batteries have exploded and injured people.

Justus Asiimwe, a mobile phone user URN found on the streets of Kampala shared a bad experience he had with a phone disguised as HTC. According to Asiimwe, the phone would heat up so fast and freeze often times.  The phone did not last beyond two months.

However, despite the nasty experience, Asiimwe could not return the phone to the point of purchase. He says that the only way Ugandan phone users can be protected is if the phones are blocked from entering the market.
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A counterfeit phone is one whose International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is not legitimate according to the Global System for Mobile Association (GSMA) database. Also classified as counterfeit are mobile phones associated with an IMEI that is genuine but which the GSMA has not assigned to that particular mobile phone.
Emmanuel Nkurunziza, another phone user who talked to URN demanded that importation of counterfeit phones should be banned based on guidelines issued by the Global System for Mobile Association (GSMA). He adds that consumers will continue to purchase them as long as they exist on the market because they are relatively cheaper.
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However, although many acknowledge the need for standard phones and accessories, they argue that genuine phones are way too expensive. Jonathan Katana, a trader in Kampala notes that most Ugandans may not afford the cost of phones if counterfeit phones are banned.

Julius Bukenya, a phone dealer in Kampala says that they often trade depending on the buyer's need. "Sometimes we tell the customers, if you want a stronger battery is 20,000 Shillings, but some of them have 10,000 Shillings, so we sell mostly according to what people want," he says.

The debate on the ban of counterfeit phones comes in the wake of a recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, an expensive device which was later found to be defective causing some units to overheat, catch fire and sometimes explode.

The Note 7, which hit the market mid-august, was eventually recalled forcing the South Korean Manufacturer to ask all users to shut down their phones for safety reasons.

The Uganda communications commission later said the phone had not been approved for the Ugandan Market. However, dealers say they had already sold out a number of handsets to Ugandan buyers. Each handset was sold at 3.8 million Shillings. 

In June, neighbors Tanzania switched off 630,000 counterfeit mobile phones following a government ban on using fake gadgets.  Tanzania joined Cameroon, South Africa and Nigeria in efforts to boost security and health measures by disconnecting the phones. Tanzania reportedly had 1.2 million fake phones in use. 

But the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) said it lacks a legal mandate to disable such gadgets. The commission says that the failure by government to enact a policy that would form a legal basis for the task has jeopardized a decision initially planned four years ago.

A draft policy which would empower the commission remains stuck in parliament yet the switch-off would have far-reaching legal implications for the country if it's not supported by law. The draft policy was submitted to parliament in 2012.


About the author

Alex Otto
“Journalism that changes lives is my goal,” Alex Otto has said on more than one occasion. That is his career’s guiding principle. Has been since he was a radio journalist in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu in 2009.

Otto passionately believes his journalism should bring to the fore the voices of the voiceless like the shooting victims of Apaa. Otto tries in his journalism to ask tough questions to those in positions of authority.

Based in the Kampala bureau, Otto is especially interested in covering agriculture, politics, education, human rights, crime, environment and business. He has reported intensively on the post-conflict situation in northern Uganda.

A URN staff member since 2014, Otto previously worked with The Observer Newspaper from 2012 to 2013 and later the Institute for War and Peace Reporting IWPR based in Gulu.

He was the URN Gulu bureau chief 2014-2016.