By PETER ORENGO
Kenya is facing an uphill task dealing with trade in counterfeit goods. The trade, which has been around for years, refuses to die, but efforts to crack down on counterfeiters continue. Those trading in illegal products exploit lack of public awareness.
According to the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA), bogus goods are widespread in Kenya, with the country losing as much as Sh19 billion as tax revenue annually. The private sector loses Sh50 billion in sales revenue.
The agency estimates that about ten per cent of goods in the market are counterfeits. It blames the lack of law in intellectual property to control the enomous influx of imitations.
“Counterfeiting requires stiffer penalties than what is provided for in the Anti-Counterfeit Act 2008,” says Stephen Mallowah, executive director of ACA.
This menace can easily be solved if stakeholders take steps that go hand in hand with basic social responsibility. This is important since Kenya is known to be targeted by international counterfeit goods manufacturers.
A task force under the umbrella of Joint Campaign Against Counterfeits (JCAC), through ACA, with support from the US State Department, has taken the fight against counterfeit products a notch higher.
Research shows that unscrupulous business dealers have been taking advantage of the law of parallel importation to bring in illegal goods.
“Counterfeiting poses a threat to the safety of Kenyans. It results in loss of billions of shillings to the Government; business losses to genuine business dealers, and massive loss of jobs to many,” Mallowah says.
He adding it can harm production and trade of legitimate goods. As it emerged in a recent workshop by ACA, lack of adequate funding also hinders regular post-market surveillance. It is also noteworthy that police have not been trained on copyright laws, while some magistrates are not conversant with intellectual property right laws.
“Counterfeiters usually target goods in high demand such as medicines, computers, mobile phones, medical and surgical equipment,” says Mr Vinod Guptan, chairman of the JCAC taskforce.
Vinod, who is also treasurer of Kenya Association of Pharmaceutical Industry and a senior manger with Harleys Limited, says the products are manipulated to look like genuine ones. This exposes consumers to dangerous and ineffective goods, especially when it comes to medicines.
The US Embassy, through Mr Eric Whitaker, says it has evidence that trade in counterfeits supports criminal activities in the region. It adds counterfeiting is also a major disincentive to foreign investment. “Many foreign companies wishing to invest in Kenya will only do so if they are sure their intellectual property will be protected”, says Whitaker.
Probe shows some foreign companies have been forced to scale down or even shut down their operations as a result of counterfeiting, resulting in job losses.
“Kenya’s economic potential is derailed by massive circulation of fake goods, so the creation of institutions like ACA was a positive move,” says Karanja Kibicho, PS Ministry of Industrialisation.