19 April 2017

Uganda: Don't Stampede Ugandans On SIM Card Re-Registration

Photo: The East African
A mobile phone subscriber surfs the Internet.

The enforcers of the ongoing re-registration and verification of SIM cards should not stampede the country for their failure in harmonising critical national databases.

As Mr Sam Watasa of Uganda Consumers Protection Association, insists, the re-registration of SIM cards should not be declared a mere one-week deadline event, but should be treated as a process. Here is why Mr Watasa is spot on.

Today, the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card has grown into an indispensable infrastructure for Ugandans. The SIM card is not just that small removable smart card for a mobile phone that stores service subscription information and saved data such as phone numbers.

Nowadays, SIM cards have developed several value-added services. The SIM card carries mobile money, agribusiness and health services, and many more. But tomorrow's scheduled switch off deadline for unverified SIM cards risks a frightful disruption of these inflows and outflows of services through the SIM card.

As a first step, the security and data management agencies should learn to put first things first. The agencies should have kicked off the re-registration with identifying and segmenting target holders of SIM cards, then design and package requisite messages, educate the masses on need for SIM verification for effective buy-in and ownership and finally set a deadline.

Regrettably, the ongoing SIM card re-registration has not sought any of these best practices nor answered the various queries. Worse, even previous registrations have invariably followed the same sloppy execution. Moreover, millions of Ugandans are questioning why they should re-register their SIM cards after the August 30, 2013 compliance deadline.

Currently, every national data registration and management in the country is done on an ad hoc basis without harmony between information databases for the Driver's Permit, Passports, and now National IDs.

Precisely, this is why from this muddy exercise, the managers of critical national data must draw lessons and close the gaps in several data management points.

Understandably, this ultimatum for SIM re-registration comes hot on the heels of the brutal killing of AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his driver, and bodyguard, last month. But it comes off as a knee-jerk reaction.

Without a doubt, it must be a nightmare to our security agencies that they cannot trace in the telecom databases suspect phone numbers linked to the killing. But the quick-fix proposition to re-register all SIM cards through the National IDs, comes off more as a disincentive than an incentive.

Overall, our proposition is not to dismiss the SIM card re-registration, but rather call for harmonising of core national databases without stampeding Ugandans.

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