The government should turn around and promote the counterfeit phones in Kenya

There is a Samsung Galaxy S5 that’s going for Shs 4500. Sadly, I don’t have any other detail about this phone other than the marked price being Shs 4499 at certain retail outlets in down town Nairobi. I noticed the phone at this adjacent stall from where I went to get a¬†pirated TV series for Shs 25 (yeah, prices have been halved for movies and series but you must invest in an external hard disk).

Since mid last year I have been hearing rumours that the cheap Chinese phones that were banned in October 2012 were back with a bang. Given the seriousness the government implemented¬†the ban on fake phones, I didn’t really pay much attention to the rumours. The little attention I paid had me verify whether the phones that were being sold at Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya retail outlets are genuine and the few outlets I randomly checked on random days had (price wise), genuine phones.

So when this beautiful stall attendant begged me to window shop at her stall, I found myself doing an actual window shopping that lasted for almost an hour. I started by commenting on the Samsung Galaxy S5 that she was selling for Shs 4,500.

“How come you are selling such an expensive phone that cheap?” I asked.

“It’s not original”, she said.

“I thought the government had banned the fake phones?”

“If you want an original one, take this”, she avoided my question by handing over a Nokia labelled phone that she was selling for Shs 6,000.

“This is Nokia Lumia 720, original and genuine”, she insisted. I didn’t comment. I just took the phone into my hands, had a feel of it, and it felt great (by the way an original Nokia Lumia 720 should cost you more than Shs 40,000).

“I don’t actually buy China phones”, I told her.

“Tell me a phone that’s not made in China”, she challenged me.

“Well, brands like Samsung and iPhone are actually manufactured in China. As matter of fact, even Chinese themselves have genuine brands like HTC and Tecno, but what I mean is that I don’t buy counterfeit phones”.

“Okay, here, buy this HTC. Very original, it even has WhatsApp”, she offered. I didn’t know WhatsApp had become a selling point. The price for the HTC she was offering was Shs 3500, negotiable.

Then I started looking at other phones on display. There was another HTC phone being sold for less than Shs 4,000 negotiable, a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for less than Shs 6,000, a Nokia 1520 for a figure close to Shs 10,000, and many other top brands – all being sold for less than shs 10,000.

My window shopping was interrupted by the movie guy as the copying of the movie to the external drive was complete; so I didn’t get the chance to actually test some of those phones.

So many Kenyans have big phones

Lately I have been wondering how come Kenyans have 4.5 inches and above smartphones, everywhere. In mats, restaurants and across the streets you’ll spot this Kenyan or that other one talking on or scrolling through a big screen Samsung, Tecno, LG, Lenovo or a Nokia device. Seeing these Kenyans display their gadgets create a feeling that guys are generally doing great, economically, despite the general acceptance that since Jubilee government took office, money is hard to come by.

But after visiting the “fake phones only” retail outlet,I realized where most* of these phones are coming from.

Kenyans thrive in fakeness

The government may attempt to ban the fake phones all it wants but it won’t succeed as the nature of Kenyans is to fake it until you make it.¬†Kenyans dress impressively, but they don’t dress in the original first hand clothing – they dress in second hand clothes generally known as mitumba – doesn’t matter whether bought from a clothing stall near bus station or fresh from Gigomba. They drive cars, some big – but there is hardly a Kenyan who is the first car owner.

And we love the Hollywood movies and series – but who watches movies from the theatres or which station airs fresh series? Ever since the fibre optics landed in Kenya making the Internet extremely affordable, Kenyans stopped buying the pirated 24 in one low quality DVDs but are now opting for the single, although slightly expensive, 50 bob versions that are almost as good as original in terms of quality of pictures and sound.

Those are the movies and series I was busy transferring to my external HD when I got surprised by the numerous fake phones in the next stall.

Should I opt for the counterfeit phones?

Once I realized that I am no better than any other Kenyan who wears mitumba clothes or drives a mitumba car, that in the very essence of being a Kenyan I cannot be justified in condemning those who buy counterfeit phones given that I entertain myself with pirated movies, I convinced myself that for all it is worth I should swallow my ego and also own one of those counterfeit phones Рafter all my two year old Samsung Galaxy S3 now looks so worn out no one would think it is an original. Should I recommend these counterfeit phones to the many friends who always ask me for advice on the type of phone they should buy? Yes?

What about the quality of the phones? I have once owned a fake brandless phone. The phone was given to me by this carpenter as a debt settlement. The phone was a multipurpose one. Although small, its screen was a touch screen and it had keypads too. It also came with a stylus. It also had an pullout antenna for TV reception.

I took the phone, used it for two days, and it started hanging, losing network, and blacking out. The battery could go from fully charged to empty within seconds. I went to the carpenter to complain to him but he said we had tested the phone with him and saw that it was good. Since then I vowed never to touch a counterfeit phone. Thus when the government announced that it was banning all counterfeit phones in the market, I was in full support.

But not so long ago I had a debate with a friend on the quality of the counterfeit phones. This particular friend had owned a fake phone for over a year that he later sold – and by the time the government was blocking the phones, the buyer still had the phone in perfect working condition. “If you maintain them, they can really last a long time”, was my friend’s verdict.

Why pay shs 50,000 extra?

If you shop wisely you can purchase the Samsung Galaxy S5 for slightly over Shs 50,000. However, these Chinese want to give you an equal bragging right by selling to you the counterfeit version for a mere Shs 4,500. Is the Chinese version able to offer all that’s packed in the original Samsung Galaxy S5 phone? No.

I doubt if the fake version has the fingerprint sensor or even if it has the heart rate monitor. I doubt if it features the nitty gritty gimmicks of Samsung Galaxy S5’s camera functionalities and quality. But who buys top end top end phones for those value adds?

Since the government allows us to own cars as second or third owners, dress in mitumba clothes, and entertain ourselves with pirated Hollywood movies, why shouldn’t it go a step further and allow for the ownership of counterfeit phones?

The government has lost the war against counterfeit phones

Let’s face it, the boldness with which the sales lady was selling the counterfeit Samsung Galaxy S5 to me alongside a fake Nokia Lumia 720 that she insisted was an original phone, and the shear number of the outlets selling similar phones in Tom Mboya, Luthuli Avenue, River Road, Racecourse Road, Ronald Ngala Street, some outlets in Moi Avenue and the entire down town Nairobi all speak for one thing – the government has lost the war against counterfeit phones.

After losing the war, what the government has done instead is to keep its mouth shut and let the business men and women do the talking. But I guess, in order to empower majority of broke Kenyans who desire to own a smart phone or a version thereof, the government should put in place measures to promote the selling of these phones.

Yes we understand that the top brands like Samsung, Nokia, Tecno, HTC, LG, Lenovo and the rest won’t be happy with such a move, but I do not think Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda and the other car manufacturers are happy when they can’t sell their brand new cars to Kenyans.

Our local textile industry is not happy either, and this is a fact. The government allowing for the sales of¬†mitumba¬†clothes has literally run down our textile industry leading to thousands of jobs lost…but at the same time thousands of other jobs have been opened to those who buy and resell the second hand clothes.

If the government restricts electronics to only the genuine but expensive ones, only a few Kenyans can own phones – and, only the big distribution and retail outlets like FoneExpress and Safaricom stand to benefit. But by allowing the counterfeit cheaper Chinese versions of these phones, the Wanjikus and Atienos of this great Nation stand to make good money….and that’s why I say, the government should turn around and promote the counterfeit phones.


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