As Chinese-made counterfeit mobile handsets continue flooding the African market, the Zambian government has become the first country in the region moving to close all outlets selling the phones around the country.

Zambia is among many other countries in Africa including Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria whose telecom market has been inundated by counterfeit mobile phones and other information and communication technology (ICT) products from China.

The wide range of cheap mobile handsets from China bear Nokia and Samsung branding, but are not genuine. Most counterfeit product makers target these companies because of the brands' popularity in the region.

The Zambian minister of information, broadcasting and tourism, Given Lubinda, said last week that local officials "in the country must unite against counterfeits Chinese ICT products, and I therefore direct them to close all outlets selling such counterfeit products."

The Zambian government's directive follows the failed implementation of the Pre-export Verification of Conformity system by the Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS).

The Pre-export Verification of Conformity plan was designed to ensure that imported ICT products were first verified through physical inspection and laboratory testing by the ZABS with the help of two international companies.

The Bureau Veritas of France and Société Générale de Surveillance of Switzerland were contracted by ZABS to conduct inspections on all electronic products coming into Zambia.

The implementation of the plan was abandoned after interested parties and stakeholders including the Zambia Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ZACCI) and the Zambia Association of Manufacturers (ZAM) refused to support it, claiming it would hurt Zambian businesses.

The Kenyan government through the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK), the country's telecom sector regulator, has already imposed strict rules on the importation of handsets. CCK has also directed all mobile operators to disconnect all counterfeit mobile phones from their networks in a bid to stop the entry of the phones into the country.

In Ghana, the flood of counterfeit Nokia handsets entering the market has prompted Nokia to launch a campaign to counter the handsets. One of the objectives of the main campaign is to highlight the health and economic implications of using counterfeit handsets.

As in other countries in Africa, the Ghanaian economy was negatively being affected by importation of the counterfeit handsets as importers avoid paying taxes and levies on the handsets.

It is estimated that Ghana loses US$20 million annually due to the influx of counterfeit mobile handsets.

Some studies have shown that counterfeit handsets 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.

This is because counterfeit handsets are usually manufactured from substandard components containing dangerous chemicals such as lead mercury and do not meet safety standards.