For more than 10 years now, Uganda has failed to see through the Anti-Counterfeiting Law and the trade continues to thrive.
There have been several attempts to have the laws enacted, but each time the Bill has been shelved, with the most recent one being in 2018, prompting anger from some manufacturers and traders.
Now, a group of anti-counterfeiting crusaders is spearheading the campaign to build a “League of The Genuine” or LOG, which should be a society of consumers, traders and manufactures who “hate” counterfeit or fake products, according to the Anti-Counterfeit Network (CAN). Other members of the group are WaterQuip Uganda Limited and a consulting firm QG Group.
The Director Legal and Corporate Affairs at CAN, Fred Muwema says the offense is difficult to fight because it needs the input of everyone, consumers, the business community and the policymakers and implementers.
Unfortunately, according to the Kampala based lawyer, everyone seems not interested in playing their part, despite the effects of counterfeits on people’s health, the economy and the environment.
On the part of the consumer, what keeps them buying counterfeit is mainly lack of ability to tell a fake from a genuine product (differentiation), the immediate cost they have to pay, as well as availability.
Other factors are convenience, where the purchaser finds it easy to acquire a product; aspiration, where a customer (especially younger people) may want to appear like their idle and will imitate them. In most cases, the counterfeit can be told from the genuine product by only comparing the quality, where it is as obvious as that. However, some are too identical to tell apart.
As Lawyer Muwema says, at one event, the management of a top consumer goods company in Kampala could not identify their own product when it was displayed beside a counterfeit. This is how hard it is to differentiate products.
Some have signature colours, the logo and other identities, but all these can be counterfeited to near or to perfection, according to Richard Kaweesa, the Director, Projects and Strategy at ACN.
To try beat this, some manufacturers keep changing designs or security features, but this again may lead to confusion among the customers. To make this work, the manufacturer conducts sensitization campaigns for their prospective customers on how they can identify or differentiate their products from fake ones.
However, Kaweesa says this only works for a short time because in announcing the changes, the counterfeiters are also being informed and therefore immediately find a way of matching the changes. He adds that some companies have several hundreds of brands on the market and this will make it hard for a customer to master the identity or security changes made on each of them.
Some products bear and electronic or digital stamp which can help a cautious customer prove the genuineness of a product by either scanning the stamp of sending the details on the stamp by phone to a code number provided by the manufacturer.
Unfortunately, this become inconvenient to some customers. The most counterfeited products in Uganda are electronics like mobile phones, building materials and garments, among others. Others are body products or cosmetics, agricultural inputs, medicines, paints, mattresses and processed foods and beverages.
The Uganda Registration Services Bureau says the laws available can only protect a brand or company name registered in Uganda from illegal use by a non-owner. On their part, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards says their role is to ensure that products put on the market are safe for human use or consumption. This leaves the Uganda Revenue Authority to crack on counterfeits, but this stops at goods smuggled onto the market, or evading taxes.
The Ant-Counterfeit Products Bill was withdrawn after the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives told parliament that cabinet had been advised that there are laws that can ably fight the crime.
The first attempt was the Uganda Anti Counterfeit Bill (2009) whose aims were to ‘…prohibit trade in counterfeit goods…’ and it also provided for stiff penalties against violators.
It however faces a lot of criticism including fears that its definition could have negative impacts on some industries like pharmaceuticals.
The Uganda National Bureau Standards (UNBS), estimates that between 50 and 60 percent of goods on the market are either fake or counterfeits, many of them, locally made ones.
Unfortunately, some affected manufacturers fear to report incidents on grounds that if their customers learn that their products have been faked, they might abandon them. But Kaweesa says this is not true but that on the contrary, it creates confidence among the customers.
Muwema says that due to the big numbers of lives lost due to the counterfeiting industry, the crime is worse than most that are considered crimes against humanity.
For this, he says, they have taken the matter to the International Criminal Court.