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Uganda to follow Kenya in switching off counterfeit handsets

Fake phones have been flooding into the country

After an initial reluctance, Uganda will now follow Kenya by blocking counterfeit mobile handsets from accessing telecommunications networks.

Citing a loss of tax revenue and the lack of safety standards on fake phones, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has moved to block counterfeit handset effective in November. The UCC's hand has been, in a way, forced, since counterfeit handsets that have been banned in neighboring Kenya have been flooding the Uganda market.

Major handset manufacturers including Nokia and Samsung have for long lobbied governments in Eastern and Southern Africa to ban the counterfeits mobile handsets.

Kenya's ban of the handsets came into effect at the beginning of this month. Slightly more than a month ago, Uganda was yet to make a decision on the counterfeit handsets.

In a press statement, UCC said it will soon make it technically impossible for counterfeit phones from being used on the country's existing mobile telecommunications network, as a way to stop imports of the devices into the country.

"We will not de-activate the already active sim-cards being used in counterfeit devices because we are still in discussions with industry players on the way forward. But no new ones will be activated," Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of UCC, said in the statement.

Months ago, Kenya, which is Uganda's biggest trading partner, directed operators to switch off all SIM cards being used in counterfeit handsets on their networks.

A counterfeit phone is one whose International Mobile Equivalent Identity (IMEI) -- the serial number signature imprinted on the inside of the device's battery compartment -- is fake and is not recognized in the databases of genuine mobile phone manufacturers.

All mobile phone devices can be authenticated by a user when one feeds in the imprinted IMEI signature.

The UCC intends to provide users with a short code that can be used to send in IMEI serial numbers to verify whether devices are counterfeit.

Imported counterfeits mostly come from China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan, as well as African countries like Nigeria and South Africa.

The decision of Kenya and Uganda to ban fake phones means they will likely flood markets in Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and eastern DR Congo.

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