Zambia: Register Your SIM Card, or Lose Your Service

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In autumn of 2012, the Zambian government issued a new policy requiring citizens to register their mobile phone SIM cards, using their real identities. Now they are threatening to deactivate services on mobile phones with unregistered SIMs.

Mobile service providers in Zambia mainly offer pay-as-you-go services, meaning that mobile phone customers can acquire SIM cards anonymously and pay for air time as needed. Many Zambians also rely on their mobile phones to access the Internet. This is critical, given that dial-up and broadband services are not only expensive but poorly distributed throughout the country.

Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) stated that citizens must register their SIM cards by December 31, 2013, or they will begin to lose certain services. Phones will be fully de-registered by February 15, 2014 if owners do not comply with the registration order.

An MTN call to its subscribers to register their SIM cards.

An MTN call to its subscribers to register their SIM cards.

Citizen media website Zambia Reports quoted Communications and Transport junior minister Colonel Panji Kaunda saying subscribers would have a window of up to February 15 when their SIM cards would be completely de-registered.

Kaunda reportedly said that 5,360,093 SIM cards were registered as of December 16, out of a total of 10,343,527 mobile phone subscribers in the country.

On Facebook, media worker John Chola, apparently after receiving a promotional message from one mobile phone service provider, wrote:

“Your number will be disconnected if it is not registered by December 31, 2013. Visit your nearest MTN Agent or Zampost to register your SIM card today!”
Isn't this appaling and silly coming to one who has done so more than twice and even made several stopovers to verify with a particualr service provider? Go ahead cut them off, am out!

One comment on Chola’s post by Mwamba Kanyanta reads:

[…] I have been opting out on as many promotional messages as possible from these carriers. Receiving a message like the one ba (Mr) Chola got can be very irritating considering that he had just done the needful.. Does the law oblige a subscriber to disseminate the ZICTA message? If I register my sims, I shouldn't be made to preach to my neighbour about sim registration. In fact, campaigns of threats never yield tangible results. By January, no single sim will have been blocked. Bet?

When ZICTA announced SIM card registration last September, the agency warned that failure to register SIM cards after the deadline would result in SIM deactivation, leaving subscribers unable to communicate. The action by ZICTA was in apparent compliance with the Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Act No.15 of 2009 and the Statutory Instrument on the Registration of Electronic Communication Apparatus No. 65 of 2011.

When ZICTA initially faced resistance from mobile phone users, it explained that the mandatory registration of SIM cards was being done to create a security data base for users.

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