OPINION: Take on CCK’s fake handset switch-off fiasco

The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) is just about to take the bold step of switching off all counterfeit mobile handsets, looking to rid Kenyan streets of black market phones.

The big question however is compensation: who should pay it and how? Kenyans would be ready to part with their ‘fake’ phones as long as they were guaranteed a refund.

The position of the CCK is that counterfeit phone owners will not receive a refund.

“It’s not feasible for us to compensate the phone owners because the turnover of those phones is high. Many people do not use them for more than three years. Consumers should replace the phones before then,” Francis Wangusi, the CCK director general, said.

Mobile users should not be blind to the benefits that the operation will bring to the Kenyan market. The government will finally be able to reclaim its lost money in tax revenue, and manufacturers will reap monetary benefits thanks to fair competition.

However, it must be asked how so many counterfeit phones even got to the shelves in the first place. By plane, ship and road, where government authorities man the entry, would be a half witty answer. Shall the ‘poor’ Kenyans who innocently bought readily available and affordable cell phones take the blame? Or maybe the plush government entities such as the Kenya Anti Counterfeit Agency (ACA), whose mandate is to combat counterfeiting, trade and other dealings in counterfeit goods in Kenya in accordance with the Anti-Counterfeit Act 2008?

The CCK, according to Wangusi, is not to blame for the entry of counterfeit phones into the market.

“One of the reasons why the CCK did not put a hand on the importation of these handsets is because most of them came in through the Kenya-Somali border. Very few handsets were brought in through the ports,” he said.

With this move, Kenyans stand to lose billions of shillings. If we average the cost of a phone to be KSh4,000, and multiply it by the over 2.5 million fake phones in the market, it makes the cost of the switch-off to Kenyan consumers KSh10 billion.

As an alternative, it would have been possible to allow users who had bought their phones before September to keep them and then block any fake phone switched on past the deadline date. If this is not to be the case, then a refund for every phone that is switched off should be in order regardless of whether there is evidence of a receipt or not, as the phone must have been vended via an outlet.

As HumanIPO reported, the Private Sector and manufactures such as Nokia and Samsung have already launched recycling schemes. Do they expect to get the phones for free even if they argue its for the environment? Serious issues need to be addressed and not just ignored.

What qualifies a phone to be fake? Is it Chinese origin, as many people perceive, or the fact that it is from from a little known company working off the grid?

A number of these fake phones, especially in the Kenyan market, have been sold at fairly affordable price with features that any high-end user would get from a high-end shop. The psychology here was economy, and if only we could track the money that changed hands we might find that some of it was probably that of MPs and ministers.

The switch off is worthwhile, but not before Kenyans are assured of compensation or good will. It could be in monetary form or phone exchange. Whether they decide to claim after that would be up to them.

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