Kenya, east Africa's biggest economy, will switch-off counterfeit mobile phones on September 30, in advance of general elections set for March 2013, its communications commission confirmed.
Mobile networks will also be forbidden from activating new counterfeit devices bought after the switch-off deadline, which had initially be scheduled for late 2011 but had been delayed to give subscribers time to replace their phones.
Kenya's fake handset business has been a big one. Of 30 million mobile phone subscriptions in the country, 2.3 million users have been thought to own counterfeit phones, the Communications Commission of Kenya estimates. However, public awareness campaigns ahead of the cut-off have seen those numbers drop, leaving between 1 and 1.5 million users likely to be affected by the deadline, CCK's director general Francis Wangusi tells This is Africa. The switch-off is "expected to kill the market for counterfeit handsets in the country", he says.
Industry estimates suggest that Kenya loses about KSH3bn ($35m) annually in the form of missed import duty and VAT income due to counterfeits across sectors; and with mobile subscriptions soaring, the market for fake phones - often imported from Asia through the porous borders in the likes of neighbouring Somalia - has grown.
"Across east Africa, the availability and use of counterfeit mobile phones is widespread and has reached the extent where a potential mobile phone buyer cannot immediately tell whether they're purchasing a genuine or imitation handset," says Abdulla Hasayen, Nokia's brand protection manager for India, the Middle East and Africa. "While some consumers are fooled by imitations, others knowingly purchase these counterfeit phones, being drawn in by the seemingly rich feature set at a cheaper price."
The cut-off is aimed to protect users from the dangers of using fake handsets, which are not subject to quality control, are not tested for electrical safety standards, and offer no warranty protection for consumers. It should also safeguard mobile money transfers, which are more prevalent in Kenya than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as help curb political violence of the type seen after the country's last national elections.
"The country is less than six months to the 2013 general elections, and as realised in 2007/08 political violence, mobile phones can be used by unscrupulous people to incite ethnic tensions and violence," Mr Wangusi explains. "The government is, this time round, keen to ensure that those who violate the law in respect to hate speech are brought to book."
Under the government system, users are able to check the status of their handsets through a mobile authentication programme. Subscribers must send an SMS message bearing a unique number - known as the International Mobile Equipment Identifier - which checks the handset against a database of authentic phones. The system can also be used as users buy phones, to avoid purchasing fakes. To date close to 10 million queries have been made to the system, CCK says.
In a bid to help users safely dispose of counterfeits, Nokia and rival phone provider Samsung have also partnered with a local recycling company to allow users to drop their handsets at 100 recycling points across the country.
Kenya's government has worked hard to crack down on the counterfeit phone industry, waiving a 16 percent tax duty on mobile devices - which increased the cost of real devices over low-priced fakes - in 2009. "To date, an estimated 67 percent of Kenyans now have access to a mobile phone and it is estimated the counterfeit market share dropped by almost 6 percent as a result of this bold move," Nokia's Mr Hasayen points out.
However, distributors have taken advantage of the East African Community's common market to move fakes across the region, and other member countries are still plagued by fake devices.
"The region could be losing up to $200m to counterfeit products, threatening the spirit of East African Community's economic growth as a trading bloc," Mr Hasayen says. "Kenya can be used as an example of how fake products can be considerably reduced. These efforts need to be replicated across east Africa."
Neighbouring Uganda has already stated an intention to follow suit this November.