Zambia SIM reg starts on a low note

By Edith Mwale, Lusaka, Zambia

Like many other countries in the region and around the world, Zambia has commenced mobile phones SIM card registration with the aim of combating crime and fraud with the use of mobile phones.

The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the country’s telecoms sector regulator, embarked on the SIM registration exercise to enhance security in the telecom sector and to protect subscribers from criminal activities.

However, the exercise has commenced in the capital Lusaka on a very slow note, reflecting what may also be happening in other towns across the country.

A survey conducted by Biztechafrica on Thursday around Lusaka revealed that although the exercise has commenced, very few subscribers are taking time to have their cards registered in designated outlets. Records seen at MTN outlets also show that only few people have far registered their SIM cards.

SIM card registration, ZICTA believes will make it easier mobile operators to track the SIM card if stolen or lost and to track down those using mobile phones to commit crime as all personal details including residential address are provided during the registration.

Biztechafrica visited almost all the designated outlets in Lusaka and found only a few people registering their SIM cards. If what was seen Thursday is something to go by, then the exercise is headed for failure or may take the whole year to be completed. This may explain why ZICTA has not announced the deadline for the exercise.

So, what has gone wrong with the exercise?

There are two answers to that question that are clearly written on the wall for everyone to see and read.

First, ZICTA did less campaigning, if any, to educate subscribers on the importance of SIM card registration, resulting in the misinformed view of the whole exercise.

Kalasawa Banda, a Lusaka resident who is on the Airtel network, told Biztechafrica in an interview why he and many others are not interested in registering their SIM cards: “This government wants to be tracking down and punishing those that speak against it. Why are they interested in knowing our residential addresses and National Registration Card (NRC) number?”

He added: “It has never happened in the history of this country except under the current government.”

Even the elite in the opposition political parties think the ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF), is up to no good with the registration exercise.

Charles Milupi, the president of the opposition Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD), said the registration of SIM cards was a “way of using registration details to pursue political opponents.”

Second, the country’s three mobile operators - MTN Zambia, Airtel Zambia and Zamtel - have not made rigorous efforts to inform subscribers about the outlets where the registration is done.

The author of this article subscribes with MTN and Zamtel and can confirm that the two operators have never contacted their subscribers to let them know about the exercise and why the exercise is being carried out.

However, the PF government said it has only been in the office for a year and found the process that was initiated by the previous administration-the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) that ruled the country for 20 years.

“It is malicious for Milupi to claim that the PF government has introduced mobile SIM card registration so as to capture information about opponents and use it to silence or intimidate them,” said Chanda Mfula, Media and Publicity director of the PF party.

Chanda said consultations on SIM registration date back to the time the MMD was in government and Milupi himself was in parliament.

On the afternoon of 18 November 2010, Chanda said the former Minister of Communications and Transport in the MMD government, Professor Geoffrey Lungwangwa delivered a ministerial statement in Parliament on “Infrastructure Development and Policy Interventions to Grow the Communications Industry”, in which he announced government’s intentions to introduce SIM card registration to enhance the security of the mobile phone GSM technology systems.

However, the debate as to why Zambia has joined other countries in registering SIM cards still rages on and many subscribers are holding on to their personal details for fear they may be victimised.

It remains to be seen, however, how ZICTA will handle the situation and whether or not the exercise will be a success.

A look at Zambia's SIM registration goals.

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