Register SIMs or face blackout, Gabon regulator warns

By Issa Sikiti da Silva

Mobile telephone users in Gabon have until 31 March 2015 to register their SIM cards or face the reality of seeing them being cancelled.

The warning comes this week from the regulator, l’Autorité de Régulation des Communications Electroniques et des Postes (ARCEP), which primarily cites the issue of national security and financial losses incurred by the state and mobile companies.

Gabon, which has of population of about 1.8 million and a mobile penetration of 109%, appears to boast  many unregistered users in its cities, towns and villages, according to the latest ARCEP audit.

But the warning has quickly turned into a political scenario, with some residents accusing the state of wanting to politicise the issue to escape the real problems of the moment.

Tensions are mounting in Gabon and tempers are flaring after after the state prohibited a protest march organised recently by the opposition.

Opposition parties are pushing for President Ali Bongo to leave Gabon and go back to Nigeria after a book written by a French author claimed that he is not a Gabonese, but was adopted in Nigeria by his late father and dictator Omar Bongo.

“I wonder why they are bringing this issue now. Where was the regulator all this time to warn the people?” Alice Ntoutoumé said in the capital Libreville.

Some observers have suggested that the government wants to ensure that mobile phones do not become tools of political violence in the heat of the moment.

“The whole truth about all of this is to make sure that many people who hate the current government are quickly cut off from the rest of the world. Certainly there are many unregistered users among the members of the opposition,” Jean-Christophe Ngoma argued.

But the regulator insists that the SIM registration show must go on, putting its focus on those whose SIM cards were activated before 16 October 2014, and prohibiting operators to activate any SIM card without prior registration at their authorised sales points.

"After 31 March 2015, users must verify from their operators if they are effectively registered. Because all unregistered SIM cards will be systematically cancelled after this date," the regulator said.


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