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African countries fight flood of counterfeit products

Mobile-phone fakes are being imported from China

As counterfeit electronic products flood Africa, Zambia, Kenya and Uganda have stepped up the battle against the fake goods, including mobile-phone handsets from China.

The three countries have increased anticounterfeit activities with the help of Chinese embassies, mobile handsets manufacturers Nokia and Samsung, the police, the Kenya Port Authority and the Zambian Bureau of Standards (ZABS).

Counterfeit electronic products from China are being sold cheaply, flooding markets in Africa and coming close to putting genuine handset manufacturers out of business.

In Zambia, the ZABS has introduced a pre-export verification-of-conformity-to-standards scheme, which makes sure that products imported in the country are first verified through physical inspections and laboratory testing by ZABS inspectors and two international companies, Bureau Veritas of France and Societe General de Surveillance of Switzerland.

"The pre-export verification of conformity to standards will help enhance competition as the scheme will root out any unfair business practices," said ZABS Executive Director Mataa Mukelabai at a media breakfast last week.

As in Kenya and Uganda, once counterfeit products are detected, they will not be allowed to enter the Zambian market.

Nokia and Siemens have been the biggest casualties of counterfeit products in Africa. Most pirates have targeted the companies because of their brands' popularity in the region.

The Zambian, Uganda and Kenyan markets as well as other markets in the East African region are flooded with a wide range of cheap mobile handsets from China with the Nokia brand name. For example, Nokia E99i- and E89i- branded, double SIM card handsets are made in China under the Nokia brand name but without Nokia features and tones and Nokia confirmation numbers to verify authenticity.

The Kenyan authorities last month seized a container full of fake Nokia products at a port destined for the Kenyan market.

In Zambia, Samsung Electronics Southern Africa is testing the efficacy of an anticounterfeit squad. The squad consists of Samsung officials, police, an Intellectual Property Unit, partners and authorized dealers. It conducts random inspections at outlets that sell electronic products to ensure that Samsung products in stock are genuine. If successful, the initiative is expected to expand to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali and Tanzania.

Chinese embassies in the region have also moved to aggressively crack down on companies and people importing counterfeit products from China. Chinese officials said in February this year that the Chinese government will start inspecting all ports in China and monitor goods from the production end to prevent counterfeit products from being exported to Africa.

Chinese company officials or nationals caught exporting counterfeit products to Africa face a jail sentence of up to 20 years, according to Zou Xiaoming, an economic counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda.


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