Counterfeit goods and illicit trade are ruining the Kenyan economy. It started subtly with the prevalence of generic materials on our shelves but is fast growing into a million-dollar industry that is threatening the welfare of citizens.
In the past month alone, authorities have revealed the presence of counterfeit car tyres, contraceptive pills, apparels and drinks. The worst perhaps is the ongoing saga surrounding the presence of alleged poisonous sugar in the market.
Our anti-counterfeit agencies appear to be losing the fight despite their best efforts due to varied legal, social and even political reasons.
Counterfeit goods by their name are a fraudulent imitation of something valuable. The intention is often to misinform and deceive for monetary and other malevolent ends. The rules of demand and supply apply in all instances and many reasons have been given for this situation. For instance, counterfeit goods are cheaper than the original products. This makes them attractive particularly for the poor.
The unavailability of genuine products equally plays a role in the prevalence of counterfeits especially where basic goods are concerned. Another key factor is limited general knowledge on the quality of the product.
We must all remain aware of the impact of counterfeit goods on the economy and social wellbeing. This is especially important as we embark on the ambitious Big Four agenda. The agenda’s pillar on revitalisation of manufacturing stands to suffer the most.
We cannot revamp our textile and apparel sectors when we rely on the importation of secondhand clothes. The same can be said of the housing pillar which could be affected through the production or importation of substandard construction material.
The government’s vision of a food secure country may also not be realised if counterfeit agrichemicals find their way into the market. Officials from the Kenya Bureau of Standards have already been arraigned in court over fake fertiliser and other contraband goods.
It is, however, not known whether this was a one-off incident or an ongoing trade that may have already affected food production in the country.
The immediate concern is the impact of counterfeit goods and illicit trade on the health of Kenyans. While the government is focused on promoting universal health coverage, cartels are making health services expensive and unpredictable.
Illicit alcohol is wrecking lives, especially among the youth. Deadly foods are being fed to families even as counterfeit medicines are enabling drug resistance diseases. The net effect is a sick and weak citizenry plagued by chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, Hepatitis C and HIV/Aids.
Addressing the plague of counterfeit goods and illicit trade will, therefore, require more than a Big Four vision. It demands first for political will that will see leadership involved in the purge against the vice.
Politicians and other bigwigs are routinely implicated in illicit trade and if media reports are anything to go by, they are often in the forefront in frustrating investigations and prosecutions. The sugar scandal is a good example of how deeply entrenched the leadership is in illicit trade.
The legal and policy frameworks surrounding intellectual property must also be strengthened. Weak intellectual property rights frameworks and poor enforcement allow for a thriving counterfeit industry. The fight against corruption must also be sustained if the country is to rid itself of counterfeit goods. The ongoing purges will send a clear message to all as to the undesirability of cheap and quick money. Most important, the citizenry must be made aware of the impact of the vice on their, health, wallets and national wellbeing. —The writer comments on topical issues