E-commerce Websites now a Haven for Fake Phones in Kenya


In 2012, the Communication Authority of Kenya , then referred to as Communication Commission of Kenya issued a directive to all telcos operating in Kenya to switch off all fake phones within their systems. At the time, there were 2.5 million handsets in Kenya deemed as fake or having duplicated IMEI numbers. Even with such strict measures, knock-off mobile devices continue to proliferate into the Kenyan market with many consumers duped to purchase them. In early September, leading OEM in Kenya Samsung Electronics engaged the Kenya Anti-Counterfeit Authority in a campaign to get rid of fake devices. The campaign nabbed over  1,000 counterfeit phones valued at Sh50 million. Samsung trademark stickers and packaging materials were also seized.

China has been a major source of knock-off devices. In July 2015, popular bench marking application AnTuTu gathered data from the millions of devices that connect to its servers on a daily basis as they seek to know how they stack against the competition and it released that data. Combined, Samsung and Xiaomi-inspired smartphone knockoffs account for close to 70% of all the non-genuine smartphones that hit AnTuTu’s servers. Huawei comes a distance third with the Shenzhen-based company managing to inspire just a little under 4% of the cloned devices. Besides Xiaomi and Huawei, other homegrown brands like Lenovo, Oppo, Coolpad and ZTE are also favoured by the people buying knockoffs in China. Most fake smartphones being modeled along the company’s most popular and successful models like the Galaxy Note 5.

Electronic manufacturers have come up with various measures seeking to stem out counterfeit, which include special codes for warranty. Independent companies such as OrijiCheck have also ventured into this space seeking to enhance the authenticity of the devices sold locally. One would be forgiven to think that knock-off devices are limited to downtown Nairobi but a spot check into several e-commerce websites in Kenya show several listings of fake devices. My curiosity on if the Xiaomi range of devices are available in Kenya, led me to one such E-Commerce site. From the onset, ChinaBuy.co.ke looks like a super bargain e-commerce website. However, on diving deep into the site, one can hardly ignore the large number of knock off devices. The website does also stock genuine devices.

The E-commerce site has been in Kenya since April and is expected to launch in November. According to Nicole Githiri who serves as the marketing manager,  the plan is to build credibility in the market, which also includes staffing to about 500 employees at a call center on Limuru Road. On the issue of knock-off devices,  the site says the items are shipped from China and that it does not hold any inventory but works with suppliers to deliver within 18-21 days. The reason for the long duration is “quality control” before shipping.  Warranty is a key issue especially in wading off knock-off devices and on the same, the China Buy says “We cant grant warranty on all things from the various vendors, but there is 365-day return where, if you are not satisfied with the way a thing works you can return it anytime within 1 year”.  What this means is that there are no type approval needed to ship in these devices, hence the regulators or authorities involved do not get to test these devices against the set benchmarks and standards. Well, beware.