The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) has directed mobile phone service providers to switch off all counterfeit handsets from their networks in an attempt to stem a flood of Chinese counterfeit phones.

The CCK's directive comes only three months after the Zambia Bureau of Standards introduced a pre-export verification-of-conformity-to-standards plan, designed to ensure that imported products are first verified through physical inspections and laboratory testing by ZABS inspectors with the help of two international companies. The Bureau Veritas of France and Societe General de Surveillance of Switzerland have been contracted by ZABS to conduct pre-export verifications of all electronic products coming to Zambia. Once counterfeit products are detected, they will not be allowed to enter the Zambian market.

As in many other African countries, counterfeit mobile handsets have for years flooded the Kenya, which is east Africa's largest telecom market. The phones being targeted to be switched off by operators are those whose international mobile equivalent identity (IMEI) are not recognizable by networks.

Counterfeit handsets from China are being sold cheaply, flooding markets in Africa and coming close to putting genuine handsets manufacturers out of business. Over the past two years, Chinese Embassy officials in the region have tried to help African governments including Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria counter the influx of counterfeit electronic products.

The move by CCK to block counterfeit handsets from being used in Kenya is expected to affect more than 4 million people currently believed to be using the handsets. Safaricom, Kenya's largest telecom operator claims there are nearly 1 million devices with non-recognized IMEI on its network. If the CCK's move works, it is expected to have a ripple effect in the region with more countries adopting similar measures.

Nokia and Samsung have been hardest hit by counterfeit products in Africa. Most pirates have targeted them because of their brand popularity in the region.

Samsung Zambia country manager Chabala Kaunda told Computerworld Zambia this week that there is now the realization of the risk to users of buying fake products. Chabala said consumers want long-lasting products as opposed to less durable fake products.

Dorothy Ooko, Nokia Communications manager for East, Central and Southern Africa said, "there should be a more cautious approach to the problem."

She said India tried to block counterfeit phones but did not succeed as it ended up blocking even the genuine phones on the gray market.

The Ugandan, Kenyan and Zambian markets as well as other markets in east and west Africa are flooded with a wide range of cheap mobile handsets from China bearing Nokia's name. For example, the Nokia E70i, E99i and E89i branded, double SIM card handsets are made in China under the Nokia brand name but without Nokia feature and tones and Nokia confirmation numbers to verify authenticity.

Through the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA), the Kenyan government early this year seized a container full of fake Nokia products at a port destined for the Kenyan market.

In Zambia, Samsung Southern Africa is testing the efficacy of an anti-counterfeit squad. The squad consists of Samsung officials, police, an Intellectual Property Unity, partners and authorized dealers. It conducts random inspections of outlets that sell electronic products to ensure that Samsung products in stock are genuine. If successful, the initiative is expected to expand to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Mali.

Chinese embassies in the region have moved to aggressively crack down on companies and people importing counterfeit electronic products from China. Chinese officials said in February this year that the Chinese government will start inspecting all ports in China and monitor goods from the production end to prevent counterfeit electronic products from being exported to Africa, claiming China's reputation was being damaged.

Zou Xiaoming, an economic counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, recently told a media briefing that Chinese company officials or nationals caught exporting counterfeit electronic products to Africa faces a jail sentence of up to 20 years.

But according to a recent survey by GFK Retail and Technology, over the past year fake mobile phones on the Kenyan market, for instance, have grown by 9 percent.

Other studies have shown that counterfeit phones emit radio frequency radiation higher than what is internationally stipulated as safe for human exposure and therefore may be harmful to those who use them.