The pain suffered by some Kenyans at the hands of kidnappers and mobile phone fraudsters has been well documented, prompting public outcry over the issue that now looks set to be at least partly addressed through ongoing handset and SIM card registration.
The mobile phone user registration effort spearheaded by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) is commendable, given that Kenyans had already suffered enough at the hands of criminals that the state appeared helpless to apprehend.
As early as July 2009, President Kibaki had directed that all mobile phone SIM cards be registered but the process has been delayed for more than three years due to the lack of a clear legal framework to back the process. The delay in registrations has only emboldened the criminals, some of whom perpetrate their con games from within prison confines.
The mobile telecommunication companies have been most unhelpful in this saga, appearing to place profits before the common good by concentrating on legal niceties rather than suggesting credible solutions to the crisis.
According to the permanent secretary in the ministry of information and communications, Bitange Ndemo, new penalties for mobile phone companies that fail to register their subscribers are set to be gazetted soon.
The rules prescribe the liabilities that would befall the four operators — Safaricom, Airtel, Orange and yU Mobile — if fraud, extortion, kidnapping and hate speech are traced back to their customers’ unregistered lines. This is a sensible legislation that will compel the telecommunication firms to implement the law without bending it backwards to accommodate more subscribers.
The unregistered lines, estimated at about six million, represent about a fifth of the 30 million lines currently in use.
The switch off will no doubt mean substantial revenue loss for the operators, but more safety for Kenyans who have lived in fear and intimidation by the extortion gangs.
But just like all other safeguard mechanisms, the switching-off of fake phones and unregistered SIM cards does not in itself solve the problem of mobile phone perpetrated crimes. It is the collective effort of all Kenyans that will reduce these crimes, rather than just leaving it to the regulator or network operators or the police.