Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has said it will deactivate more than 2.5 million counterfeit phones, but only after elections in 2021.
Speaking to Daily Monitor yesterday, Mr Ibrahim Bosa, the UCC spokesperson, said the central equipment identity registry has been interconnected to all telecom operators’ system and a picture has been drawn of how many counterfeit phones are on the market.
“We expect that any deadlines to do with deactivation of counterfeit phones is going to come right about after elections. Counterfeit phones are now in the region of about 2.5m, those are the ones which would go off if we deactivated right now,” he said.
New counterfeit phones after the system has gone live will not connect or be able to make any calls.
“You will receive a message asking you to visit your retailer,” he said.
However, it is not the first time that UCC has been threatening to switch off counterfeit phones.
Last year Parliament asked UCC not to switch off counterfeit mobile handsets already in use but instead work with Uganda Revenue Authority and Uganda National Bureau of Standards not to allow more imports of sub-standard mobile phones.
Mr Bosa said Parliament’s argument was valid and that is why UCC had decided to give Ugandans time.
This, he said, is especially necessary because of the undecided fate of the contentious scientific “virtual” campaigns for the 2021 elections.
Mr Bosa also said there were parallel discussions, especially in security circles about switcihing off counterfeit phone.
“Security personnel are having challenges when it comes to tracking counterfeit phones and fraudsters take advantage,” he said.
In the meantime, Mr Bosa said, UCC will roll out a sensitisation drive to different stakeholders such as the traders and phone users among others.
“We are in the process of hiring an agency that will work with us. The awareness is countrywide but we are taking it in piecemeal …,” he said.
All talk, no action
Deactivating counterfeit phones is a seemingly impossible task for Uganda, since the plan has been tossed around since 2012.
In the region, only Kenya and Tanzania have switched off fake mobile handsets.
Kenya switched off 1.4 million handsets in 2012 and soon after, Tanzania switched off about 630,000 mobile phones in 2016.
Mr Bosa said UCC had been held back lack of the legal instruments to support the process such as the CEIR regulations, which have since been passed by Parliament.
Dr Fred Muhumuza, an economics lecturer at Makerere Univeristy, however, criticised UCC’s intention to deactivate counterfeit phones after elections if there are security concerns.
“Why would you allow insecurity to continue just because there is a benefit of elections. If it were because of security concerns, then it should take precedence,” he queried.
In addition, Uganda currently has an influx of phones on the market feed to a population that is not aware of which fake and not.
Dr Muhumuza said disconnecting counterfeit phones already in the market is casting blame on the public where government has failed to enforce standards.
“The point of control should be at the importation level. It is being unfair to users of these phones because of government failure in the beginning,” he said.