A few months back, the Communications Commission of Kenya announced that it had plans to have all fake mobile phones switched off. This quickly became the talk of town (in Kenya that is) with so many jokes revolving around the nature of phones that would not survive the cut.
Many actually think that all Chinese made phones are fake phones yet even some of the high-end smart phones like Apple are indeed made in China. But to be fair, a fake phone is not that hard to recognise. They usually have super functions like ability to run four sim cards and often have ear-bursting ringtones.
Anyway, even before the fake Kenyan phones were switched off, the Uganda media reported that the Uganda Communications Commission was to do the same in the coming months and almost predictably our own Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority has followed suit.
According to RURA, these phones are a health hazard to users and also affect the quality of communication generally. These sound like valid reasons to have the noisy phones off for good.
In Kenya, where they pioneered the mobile money services, the key reason for having the counterfeit phones switched off was to tame fraud on the M-Pesa platform. Indeed, after September 30, this year, close to a million handsets were switched off by the different telecom operators.
My problem with all these bodies that are switching off or planning to switch off the fake phones is that to be honest, they are only punishing the poor owners of these phones. Why should RURA switch off these phones yet they are being cleared by importers at Magerwa (customs office) on a daily basis?
If indeed the government has a problem with fake phones, would it not be wiser to first ban the importation of the same? After all, these phones have a very short life span and a total ban on their importation would mean that they would wipe themselves out in a few months.
Switching them off is simply punishing the poor who purchased these phones with the objective of joining other Rwandan subscribers and to stay in touch with friends and relatives.
The fact that someone is allowed to import these phones and even pay taxes to Rwanda Revenue Authority is a clear sign that the issue of fake phones is not the making of the subscribers. They simply bought something that is legally on the market and within their financial reach.
A while back, RURA officials assured us all that they were working towards achieving a certain target as far as mobile phone subscription is concerned. Switching off the fake phones only serves to reverse this trend since a large number of those carrying fake phones may not be in position to replace them with the more costly original brands on the market.
It would be unfair to target the poor Rwandan who bought a phone from a licensed shop by switching it off without even compensating them. If goods are allowed to be on the market legally, then it is very unfair to punish the buyer. The phones maybe fake but they were not smuggled. Therefore, before RURA swings into action, it should first consult with Rwanda Revenue Authority and Magerwa to deal with the source of the problem.