What you need to know:
- After the Kenya Bureau of Standards tightened surveillance in Nairobi, the dealers in counterfeit products are now targeting remote areas whose residents cannot easily distinguish a fake from an original.
- A report launched by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga in April 2015 revealed that trade in counterfeits now rivals the country’s key foreign exchange earners such as tourism, tea and coffee.
- But it was the huge stack of medical syringes that stunned many of those gathered to witness the destruction at the EPZ in Athi River. According to KEBS, the gadgets were badly graduated. This means they could endanger lives if used because, instead of injecting a patient with, say 2ml of a drug, a medic would inject 1.7ml, or even 2.4 ml in some cases.
- The manufacturers of fakes are even interfering with education. Among the items seized were mathematical sets that had poorly marked rulers, fake rubbers and worse, a compass whose needles were abnormally long. If used, they would give the wrong answers.
After spending a long time in the city without visiting his parents, Paul Nyacheo, a lab technician, decided to surprise them with gifts when he finally went to see them early this year. The 32-inch television and an immersion electric water heater would be timely gifts for his parents in Nyamira, who had just had electricity connected to their home.
Shortly after Nyacheo’s arrival, his sister needed to heat some water. But just seconds after she plugged in the heater, there was a smell of burning plastic followed by a blast. She had narrowly escaped electrocution, dampening the excitement over the new gadget. Meanwhile, the TV worked for about a week before Nyacheo’s parents called to tell him that it would suddenly go blank before turning completely dark.
“It was such a shame that the gifts I bought my parents were substandard. I got them cheaply, and they turned out to be fake. I wish I had spent more and got genuine products. I have never forgotten the look in my sister’s eyes when the heater exploded and still feel guilty about it,” Nyacheo says.
Millions of Kenyans undergo similar experiences, as fake products continue to flood the market. Indeed, only last week, an outfit making fake yoghurt was unearthed in Nakuru. The multibillion shilling industry runs deep and the techniques involved now ingenious. Even hawkers who sell movies and music CDs can give you a blank one if you don’t test it.
The merchants of fakes have expanded their scope and now include bathing soap, food, cosmetics, phones, sweets, alcohol and spirits, mattresses, electronics, building materials, medical equipment, name it.
In the past year alone, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) has destroyed substandard goods valued at Sh57.7 million impounded in Nairobi and its environs. The goods have now gained a wider market.
KEBS Chief Manager for Market Surveillance Raymond Michuki said the dealers in fake products are increasingly targeting far-flung towns.
“We have tightened surveillance in Nairobi but even if they go to remote areas, we will pursue them. The losses they incur when we seize and destroy the fake products and the frequent raids we conduct make will definitely discourage them from dealing in these substandard goods,” Mr Michuki said.
He was speaking after KEBS burnt fake goods worth Sh21 million in its latest campaigns to rid the country of the counterfeit goods. The sellers of the fake products had also cleverly targeted the poor, with most consumables packed in small quantities whose deficiencies could easily pass undetected by the rural folks or go unreported due to the remoteness of the areas.
The goods destroyed in February gave a good idea of just how widespread counterfeit products have become. They comprised an assortment of household goods, including “high density” mattresses that sank when punched and other household consumables impounded from various godowns in the city.
KEY INCOME EARNER
But it was the huge stack of medical syringes that stunned many of those gathered to witness the destruction at the EPZ in Athi River. According to KEBS, the gadgets were badly graduated. This means they could endanger lives if used because, instead of injecting a patient with, say 2ml of a drug, a medic would inject 1.7ml, or even 2.4 ml in some cases.
A report launched by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga in April 2015 revealed that trade in counterfeits now rivals the country’s key foreign exchange earners such as tourism, tea and coffee.
“Networks of cross-border smugglers target fast-moving and highly profitable goods to import into Kenya illegally, including food, electronics, and cosmetics.
“Pharmaceuticals also form part of the list, with estimates revealing that more than 30 per cent of the total medicines sold in Kenya are counterfeit, and that about 40 per cent of all malaria drugs in the Kenyan market are counterfeits that may be harmful to users,” the report said.
The report, which was jointly compiled by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), the Judiciary and other interested partners, said that the trade had far-reaching health implications on consumers and cannot be ignored, as they include an upsurge in new illnesses, inefficacious drugs, and even death.
The invasion of the medical market by counterfeits now puts healthcare — a critical sector — in a tricky situation, with mushrooming clinics and fake doctors already having made headlines.
In 2013, the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA) said that the most affected items in the counterfeit ring were medicinal drugs, electronics, CDs and pirated software, alcoholic drinks, mobile phones and farm inputs.
The manufacturers of fakes are even interfering with education. Among the items seized were mathematical sets that had poorly marked rulers, fake rubbers and worse, a compass whose needles were abnormally long. If used, they would give the wrong answers.
With the buzz in the motorcycle business, a huge consignment of fake motorbike tubes was also seized. The tubes, which failed elasticity tests, would burst at a sudden increase in pressure, risking the lives of passengers and riders.
If you escaped these traps of fakes in school, hospital or on a motorbike, the merchants could still get you at your dressing table.
Cosmetics comprised a significant portion of the fakes impounded by KEBS. The beauty products laced with hydroquinone and other banned substances were ready for sale, with some obviously having made it to the market.
There were also ear buds with an irregular head size, which were also loose enough to remain stuck in your ears after use. It doesn’t take much to imagine what would happen if such earbuds were used by young children.
And if you thought that shunning illicit brews that have already claimed hundreds of lives in several parts of the country and drinking juice would be safer, think twice. Apart from the fake liquor destroyed by KEBS during the exercise, an assortment of fruit juices in various cartons were set ablaze as well. The products, all ranging from imitations to those from suspect sources, were found to have misrepresented their contents.
The dealers in fakes were smart enough to obtain packaging materials for renowned brands to disguise their substandard goods and sell them undetected using the known brand names. So heavy is the investment on the production of the packaging material that the bulk of what was destroyed included brands that are well known and trusted by consumers.
The traders have also studied consumer behaviour and realised that Kenyans are so sensitive to price differences that they will almost always go for the cheaper option. They rarely consider quality the moment they see an opportunity to save some money. Their goods are, therefore, cheaper and packed in smaller quantities. Most washing powder came in 250gm and 300gm sachets, with the biggest being 500gm.
The KAM report which pointed at India and China as the major source of contraband goods, also ranked Kenya among the largest markets for counterfeit goods in East Africa. The country is said to serve as the distribution point of the products in the region. As a result, Kenya loses close to Sh70 million in revenues from trade in counterfeit goods annually, underlining the fiscal power beneath the trade that is also a big threat to revenue collection.
Counterfeits tend to be cheaper, thereby undercutting genuine dealers whose sales volumes continue to dwindle, profits to reduce, meaning less tax paid.
The Chairman of the National Alcohol Beverages Association of Kenya (Nabak), Mr Gordon Mutugi, said genuine dealers have suffered because of the illicit brewers, with the periodic crackdowns on the latter spilling over to their genuine businesses, leading to huge revenues losses.
“The government is the biggest loser here since the illicit dealers don’t pay tax, yet they reduce the revenues of those who pay taxes. This is an industry worth close to Sh100 billion annually and leaving 30 per cent of it in the hands dark dealers is a great loss. Those in the illicit liquor trade have no value chains, further limiting economic impact and that is why the government has every reason to deal with them,” Mr Mutugi said.
With products traditionally left outside the counterfeiting ring now slowly being included, you have to be careful to avoid being a victim.
KEBS has launched an SMS platform to verify the authenticity of goods, where you send a brand name after a # to 20023 to verify if a product is genuine (i.e. sms SM#Brand name or permit number to 20023).
How to tell whether a product is fake
Watch out for a product that is considerably cheaper than that of a similar brand on the same market. A wide difference in price should be a warning. In many cases, dealers, especially in electronics, stock both fake and the genuine items. Usually, they will first show you the fake one but quote the price of a genuine one. As you continue to bargain, they will “reluctantly” agree to your offer (sometimes as low as half the price). When you are offered a cheaper version of a product, it could be a fake.
Some products are not usually located in certain areas and when you find them there, you should be wary. A sleek TV at an-open air market, or a designer cosmetic in a stall at Kawangware Market should be a warning. Often, fakes are found in areas where you would not typically find them.
If you are a regular consumer of a brand, make sure the “new look” is approved by the manufacturer. Any strange alterations to names, colouring or packaging should be noted. A strange smell, taste or feel of the packaging material should alert you about the product’s authenticity.
Be wary of an unusually large quantity of a product at an affordable price. The makers don’t pay taxes and use fake ingredients so they can afford to fill your basket at no extra cost.
Granted, many companies are diversifying but a soap bearing a brand name associated with a computer manufacturer should worry you. Fakes ride on established names, that is why you would find Mac power banks even before you learn of any the launch of such a product.
Another branding aspect is the use of funny names, especially very similar to renowned brands. Although some might be genuine manufacturers-turned-copy cats, some are fakes seeking to ride on the fame already created. Among the products KENBS destroyed were canned meat and crisps labelled in Chinese! How do you even tell the ingredients in a product you cannot read the language?
This is specific to electronics. Make sure the warranty s genuine. Find out whether you can verify its authenticity, say via SMS. Ask for something in writing, and read it carefully to know under what conditions it is applicable before signing it. If possible, test a product before taking it home.