Ingabire braved a drizzle last week as she went around Kigali’s Central Business District to buy a new mobile phone. Her first stop was a popular electronics shops in town. When she inquired about the price of a of an HTC brand, the dealer quoted Rwf180,000 for the phone.
As she turned to move to next shop, an attendant at the adjacent shops approached her and showed her a similar phone. It is the same model and similar look, but it is not as heavy.
“Our HTC phone costs far much less,” the seller said.
With excitement, Ingabire forked out Rwf60,000 from her purse, paid and headed home. Unfortunately, her happiness would not last for long. The phone developed mechanical problems barely a week later.
How serious is the problem?
Zahara Kayitesi, a resident of Kabuga, went through a similar experience a month ago. Kayitesi says she bought a Samsung smartphone at Rwf40,000 a month ago, but the device suddenly stopped working after a few weeks.
“I had been recharging the battery when the screen went blank. I tried to restart it several times, but in vain.
When I took it to the technician in Kigali, he told me it wasn’t compatible with the available Samsung software. He said it was a fake phone,” she explains.
Like Ingabire and Kayitesi, many customers have their excitement cut short by fake phones on the market.
However, some dealers say the practice is perpetuated by unscrupulous traders, adding that the majority of electronics dealers are genuine despite the few rogue ones.
Dealers speak out
“If you are looking for a phone, I explain to you (with honesty) all its properties and how they work. Depending on your financial muscle, you can choose from our range of brands and models,” James, a trader in Downtown Kigali, says.
He explained that most cheap phones are genuine, arguing that users cripple them by “uploading all sorts of software on them”.
James adds that even for mobile accessories such as headsets and batteries, there are those that are more expensive compared to others simply because of quality.
“When you come asking for a battery, I will show you the one for Rwf4,000 and another that costs Rwf8,000. Obviously, one is more durable than the other,” he adds.
Standards watchdog, RURA maintain strong stance
With the number of Rwandans who own phones going up, more people could be fleeced by unscrupulous dealers. For instance, active mobile telephone subscriptions were at 8.93 million subscribers at the end of June, but grew to over 9.02 million users in July. This represents an increase of 1.5 per cent, according to Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) July statistics.
But RURA, the watchdog, and other stakeholders are working to ensure substandard electronics, including phones are not imported into the country.
“We examine things, like the phones’ serial numbers, to find out whether they are genuine products,” Dr Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe, the director general RSB told Business Times.
Bagabe added that when it comes to registration for certifying electronics; RURA has the right to register in ISO and ITU and to give international codes and all the electronic issues. RURA also regulates the sector; when it comes to electronics, traceability and regulation, the regulator uses its strong partnership with Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) to ensure that fake gadgets do not enter the local market.
On whether RURA plans to switch off fake phones in the near future, Patrick Nyirishema, the director general of RURA, says the watchdog would, for now, continue strengthening measures to prevent fake devices from entering the country.
“In our case, we have been doing type approvals to ensure that phones which enter the market meet the minimum requirements.
“Right now, we are assessing to see whether we need to change this approach. However, all imported phones are subjected to quality tests,” he explains.
Nyirishema, however, warns that should East African Community (EAC) countries see the need to address the problem of fake devices collectively, RURA would co-operate, arguing that most devices are interchanged across the borders.
“We need to work together as part of East Africa since some phones are used across the region, especially by business people and other travelers... So, we don’t want to have some sort of dumping in the country or region,” warns, Nyirishema.
He notes that even at the regional level, “we have been working together to devise the best ways to contain such challenges”.
Beware of dealers who do not provide warranty cards or user manual. So, never be in hurry when you go buying a mobile phone next as the market is flooded with counterfeits, with vendors enticing customers with low prices.
Fake dealers make a killing
Though there are several measures to block fake phones from penetrating the local market, somehow many, including latest designs from popular brands, make it to the shops.
Quack manufacturers are quick at duplicating the brands to keep at par with the genuine makers in the lucrative phone industry.
A recent report by the International Telecommunication Union shows that close to 700 million people use mobile phones in Africa.
In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phones play a crucial role in financial services, with the region and countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, topping in mobile money usage on the continent and globally.
However, after realising that fake phones are both a security and health problem, some countries banned their importation. For instance, some 1.2 million fake devices were disconnected in Tanzania, after the government banned importation of counterfeit phones. Other countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Nigeria had already taken similar moves. Some East African countries, including, Uganda and Rwanda, are cognisant of the problem, but are yet to switch off fake phones.
Kenya is also working towards finding a solution.