OPINION: Kenyan government ought to crack whip on unregistered SIM card vendors

Kenya’s government, through its communications regulatory body the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), needs to come up with rules and regulations that bar SIM card vendors from selling non-registered cards, in addition to formulating stiffer penalties for lawbreakers.

Recent reports suggest the CCK is now planning to switch off unregistered SIM cards, after paralyzing more than 1.4 million counterfeit mobile phones earlier this month in what it hoped would streamline security and communications standards.

All SIM cards should be registered by December 31, according to the communications industry regulator. CCK’s director general Francis Wangusi said close to 80 percent of Kenyans have registered their SIM cards.

The announcement comes ahead of the country’s general elections slated for March 4, next year. According to the CCK, registering the SIM cards is aimed at regulating crimes such as hate speech that can be committed during next year’s general elections.

In Kenya, SIM card vendors can be found in the most unexpected corners of city streets, at bus parks, at mall entrances, markets and even on sidewalks. As soon as one walks into any Kenyan town, in less than a minute vendors selling Safaricom, Airtel, Yu or Orange SIM cards offer their wares at a throwaway price.

In 2010, the CCK started a serious SIM card registration exercise for existing users and new ones. It vowed to disconnect those who did not adhere to the new rules and regulations. Despite the move, several vendors still sell SIM cards without registering subscribers’ details.

Kenya can follow in the footsteps of Nigeria, whose government has been keen on fighting such vices, leading to a partnership between mobile network operator MTN Nigeria and Nigeria’s communications regulator to curb illegal sale of pre-registered SIM cards, coming up with stiffer penalties.

Earlier this month, NCC officers arrested suspected illegal SIM card traders and tracked down unsuspecting subscribers who had purchased at an overpriced rate.

Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) officials also confiscated the machines used by the sellers to pre-register the SIM cards. The affected parties comprised firms including Correspondence Ltd, Zeph Associates, Glovic Communications and Connect Ground Towers in Abuja.

Earlier on, 14 people were arrested on allegations of SIM card fraud after Nigeria’s communications regulator intensified the campaign against the vice in the capital of Niger State Minna, Markudi, Benue, Wurukum, Modern Markets Lokoja and Kogi state capital.

The process of SIM card registration involves coding full names, physical, postal addresses, date of birth and alternative contacts to their respective mobile network operator.

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