HomeBlogWe Need Regional Body To Combat Illicit Trade

We Need Regional Body To Combat Illicit Trade


Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) inspectors supervising the loading of imported substandard goods 

at Rodolo Customs Bond in Mbale recently. Dr John Akoten, the acting executive director of the Kenya Anti-

Counterfeit Agency believes East Africa should be able to work together to kick-out counterfeit goods from the region. FILE PHOTO

By Jonathan Adengo


Briefly tell us what counterfeits are?

Counterfeits are an infringement of intellectual property. All the intellectual property such as trademarks and copy rights are used by somebody in the course of business without the authority of the owner are found to be counterfeits. They are goods which mimic the original product. 

The underlining factor is that the mark has to be registered by an institution. For example in Kenya there is the Kenya Intellectual Property Institution. Here there is Uganda Registration Service Bureau and for the international one, we have the World Intellectual Property Organisation.


Why do people go into counterfeits?

Basically, when you look at counterfeits, people are undercutting each other. It is a kind of trade where unscrupulous business do not want to follow the law but want that product to be associated with a particular name. These products, which in most cases are substandard, want to ride on the success of a known brand so that they can sell. 

Counterfeiting is done on fast moving consumer goods which are selling. There is no body who can counterfeit a product which is not selling. Apart from goods, it also crosses to the service sector.

You have been in Uganda giving a keynote speech on counterfeits affecting trade. What were your experiences like regarding the fight against counterfeits at the event?

Counterfeiting is a development matter. As economies grow and try to find a niche in the international market some businesses engage in counterfeiting and you find that most of the counterfeit goods come from the Asian countries. And when they are exporting these goods they look for markets where intellectual property laws are weak, and enforcement laws are weak. You therefore find that quite a number of these goods come to Africa, and particularly to East Africa. 

We need to understand that counterfeiting has very serious effects to the economy, to the government because governments usually lose revenue. The people engaged in counterfeiting also engage in other illegal activities such as selling substandard goods and money laundering. The private sector is also affected because somebody else is eating into their factory share. 

The consumers do not get value for money because the goods don’t last long and have a safety impact; the goods are harmful to their health. In the motor industry where we have counterfeit tyres, thereby putting road users at a risk. 

Each and every country is looking at growing their foreign direct investments and these are going to countries that have strong intellectual property laws. 

As members of East Africa we should be able to work together to kick-out these goods from our economy. We will be able to encourage the local industries to grow and come up with innovative ideas and as such from intellectual property we can make money.

How far has Kenya gone in the fight against counterfeits?

In Kenya we have made some strides. We started with an Anti-counterfeit Act of 2008 that was passed some time back, and then the Agency was born in 2010. 

The law has given us powers to investigate issues of counterfeiting as well as coordinate with other institutions involved in combating illicit trade. We have officers everywhere who have been made inspectors for purposes of investigating issues of counterfeit. 

We have a number of other government institutions who have been empowered to investigate issues of illicit trade and facilitate coordination. 

Other than the anti-counterfeit act, because of the nature of illicit trade which has an impact on the security, we have elevated it to a national level where it is regarded as a security matter because the people involved in counterfeiting are also the same people involved in terrorism, money laundering and so much more. 

We have elevated it to a level where we are looking at it in terms of security. We have a border control committee that constitutes a number of institutions like immigration, police, institution dealing with plant variety and many other government institutions. 

To ensure that the policies and directions passed by these committee are implement we have border patrol committees at our key border points where they will be able to impound any goods entering the Kenya borders. 

Those are impressive steps. What can an economy such as Uganda borrow from Kenya in this fight?

Uganda should borrow from Kenya and look at the issue of illicit trade as a high security matter. On the issue of the anti-counterfeit act, we were able to identify the loopholes in the act. Uganda should borrow from the experience of Kenya especially on the issue of the fines. The law gives us a lower limit that says the fine has to be at least three times the value of the goods. 

There is also need to use technology to fight counterfeits because perpetrators are producing counterfeits which are almost hard to identify by the consumers, so we should use technology to help the consumers identify the counterfeit goods.

What’s your opinion about the steps being taken in the war against counterfeits in the greater East Africa?

We are moving in the right direction. We have been able to have meetings with Interpol where we have been carrying out raids in East and Southern Africa. As a region we can partner together to have focused raids on particular sectors and can be done frequently. 

When we work with those international institutions such as Interpol then we also have coordination between government institutions and also the private sector then we can try to reduce on the level of counterfeits. We also need to have public awareness where we educate consumers about the dangers of counterfeit and illicit trade. Once the public understands the dangers of counterfeit trade then they will be able to avoid it. We also need to tackle the issue of demand because without demand these unscrupulous people cannot engage in this trade which can be done through public awareness.

Are there combined efforts in the East African Community to fight counterfeits? If such efforts are there, what are they?

The only thing that we have done at regional level is on the issue of public awareness where we have been discussing issues. We have been having meetings under the auspices of the US government. We still need to have additional steps so that we ensure that all this coordination is able to be done at regional level. 

In Kenya we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Tanzania Fair Competition Commission, to be able to coordinate issues of illicit trade across the border. We are also signing an MoU with Ethiopia and Turkey and locally with the manufacturers to see how we can address the issue of counterfeit.

Any challenges in this fight?

One of the major challenges is finance. Fighting counterfeits requires a lot of finance to create public awareness and building capacity. Going to every part of the country can also be very expensive. 

Enforcement also requires a lot of resources because you need to have an intensive intelligence network and facilitate movement s of the officers across the country. Adjudication still needs a lot of sensitisation among the judiciary because some of them do not understand how serious the issue of counterfeits is affecting the economy.

As a region, what must we do to fight and win this war on counterfeits?

We need to have a regional law that will be able to guide these member countries to harmonise the intellectual property regime. Once we have that harmonised regime any intellectual property registered in Uganda can be enforced in Kenya and vice versa. It will also allow sharing of data across the countries thereby allowing coordination.

Dr John Akoten says

We also need to have a regional coordination body that will be able to coordinate at the national level to ensure that we can work together to combat illicit trade in general. We already have an East African Counterfeit Bill. 


Last modified on Thursday, 31 October 2019 09:20
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