In autumn of 2012, the Zambian government issued a new policy requiring citizens to register their mobile phone SIM cards, using their real identities. Some weeks ago, officials began threatening to deactivate services on mobile phones with unregistered SIMs.
Two days before the December 31 SIM card registration deadline, thousands of people flocked to registration centers to avoid losing their mobile phone service. Thousands more, who had registered their cards when the exercise began in September, discovered their records had gone missing from the national SIM database, leaving them at risk of losing their service.
Amidst mass confusion, one subscriber reported the CEO of Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the regulatory agency behind SIM card registration campaign, to the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) for professional misconduct by misinterpreting the law on SIM registration.
Many mobile phone users reported errors in the registration process. On the Facebook walls of some subscribers who registered their SIM cards in the early days of the campaign, Ministry of Finance public relations officer Chileshe Kandeta, wrote:
SIM REGISTRATION…is it goodbye to my beloved sim cards. [...] Maybe, coz [because] I registered my numbers several months ago at Manda Hill [shopping mall in Lusaka]. Upon checking to make sure everything is ok, I discover that I have not been registered on the system. AGONY!
Commenting on Kandeta’s status, Sonnile Nsakali Phiri wrote:
Esp[ecially] on MTN. I made 3 attempts, where I was only “partially registered”. I'd to go and make noise at the Arcades centre to somebody at the till before she punched a few times on her pc then I was fully registered. Meanwhile, the girl doing the sim registration had been holding on to the forms for 4wks instead of submitting them
Jean Serge wrote:
Yesterday, I did registration for the 5th time! at the time I do try *538# , the feedback is that I am not registered. My registration slip serial number is 11 00 71 47 and my Dealer Code : HQ
During the last-minute rush in the capital, Lusaka, Facebook activist Gift Tako Linyada Mbewe poked fun at stereotypes in his commentary on the drive:
OK THERE ARE SOME BEHAVIOURS WHICH WILL NEVER LEAVE AN AFRICAN.
OK I PARKED AT ZAMPOST [Lusaka Main Post Office] AND STARTED WALKING TO CAIRO CHEMIST. AT ZAMPOST, I SAW A LONG QUEUE, VERY LONG. SO I ASKED, “WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?”, SOMEONE ANSWERED, “WE ARE REGISTERING OUR SIM CARDS BEFORE TOMORROW THE DEAD LINE”. WHAT!? KEKEKEKE [laughter]!!!
AFRICANS WITH LAST MINUTES. I THINK THE GOVERNEMENT IS ALSO TO BLAME, WHY DO THEY LIKE TO EXTEND DEADLINESS? ANYWAY, THEY ARE ALSO AFRICANS.
AS FOR ME, I DONT EVEN REMEMBER HOW LONG AGO I REGISTERED MY SIM CARDS…
Journalist and researcher Kasebamashila Kaseba has taken matters further by reporting ZICTA managing director Margaret Chalwe-Mudenda, a lawyer herself, to LAZ, a body regulating legal practice in the country, alleging that she has misinterpreted the statutory instrument SI 65 of 2011 on SIM card registration and deactivation.
Kaseba, in his letter to LAZ, wrote:
In a follow up to my letter to ZICTA Director General dated 15th November, 2013 copied to Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and in accordance with the Chapter 31 LAZ Act on professional ethics of lawyers, I write to file a complaint of professional misconduct against the ZICTA Director General (Ms) Margaret Chalwe-Mudenda with regard to ZICTA interpretation and implementation of SI 65 of 2011 on SIM card registration and deactivation.
In view of the above, I write for your attention to the fact that Director General Chalwe-Mudenda, a lawyer by profession, thus answerable to LAZ, despite my letter on professional and legal issues, neglected, failed and refused to cite, publish or accordingly communicate SI 65 of 2011 on SIM registration that threatened extreme punishment of deactivation. Instead, ZICTA emphasised misinformation, miscommunication of its countdown and deadline while spending public resources on issues outside the law.
Instead, ZICTA emphasised misinformation, miscommunication while spending public resources on its countdown and deadline which are outside the law.
A government junior minister in charge of communication, Colonel Panji Kaunda, extended the deadline for SIM card registration to February 15 when subscribers would lose all services on unregistered cards, while ZICTA initially maintained the December 31 deadline, but has now moved it to January 31. Confusion reigns.
A few days into February, the nation may be counting the number of people who will have had their SIM cards de-registered.