The absence or inadequacy of laws in the country have been named as the main factors responsible for the thriving counterfeit industry in Uganda.
On top of this is also a lack of will to fight counterfeits on the market by the responsible authorities, and this puts the consumer’s fate in the hands of the unscrupulous manufacturers and traders.
According to the Uganda National Bureau of Standards, between 50 and 60 percent of products on the Ugandan market are counterfeits.
There are at least six pieces of legislation that can be used to tackle counterfeit trade, but they have shortcomings as they do not exactly mention counterfeits.
The pieces of legislation include the Trademark Act of 2010, which protects a person’s trademark from being imitated or used without authorization and the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act 2006, which provides for the protection of literary, scientific and artistic intellectual works and related rights.
Others are the Geographical Indication Act that relates to brands and products that relate to a geographical area, and the Plant Varieties Act which provides for the promotion of development of new plant varieties, as well as the Industrial Property Act, aimed at promoting innovation and invention.
However, in all these Acts, there is no definition of counterfeits, meaning they were not meant to specifically fight counterfeits, according to Kampala lawyer, Fred Muwema who adds that even the penalties in the laws are too lenient.
The parliament of Uganda has toyed with the idea of an Anti-Counterfeit Products Law for about 12 years but to-date, it has never materialized, the last Bill having been withdrawn in 2018.
The cabinet reasoned that there were “other laws that can address the gap”. By the time it was withdrawn, it had been in the shelves for two years awaiting the second reading, and each time it came up, the Ministry of Trade claimed it needed more time to seek a common cabinet position about it.
This prompted views to the effect that there could be external force that was fighting the legislation’s success for personal gains.
Then State Minister for Trade, Michael Werikhe told parliament that the ministry had submitted a ‘guiding document on the existing laws would be reviewed to cater for the main clauses in the Bill. But according to studies on the laws, there is none that clearly defines counterfeit products.
The most counterfeited segment in the business sector are the electronics, especially mobile phones.
The Chairperson of the ICT Committee in Parliament, Moses Magogo agrees that there is need to amend the existing laws or at most come up with a new Bill to counter the trade.
Muwema, one of the experts contacted on the Bill justified its withdrawal says it had several defects including giving the police the Police the duty of seizing and storing counterfeits imports, instead of URA.
He also said the law only focused on trade, and not the other things line manufacturing and packaging, which made it inadequate.
In a consultative meeting on counterfeits involving MPs, Jane Bainomugisha advised that the laws should concentrate on the borders to block counterfeits entering the country.
She reasons that it is difficult and in some instances impossible for a common person to tell that a product they are buying is fake.
MP Chelangat Alinga Solomon, also said that most of the counterfeits, especially agricultural inputs in Sebei district originate from Kenya ad that there was need for authorities to closely monitor the border.
However, Muwema says in their researches on the east, they have discovered that Ugandans import Kenyan products and adulterate them before re-packaging them to appear as if they are from Kenya.
He also warns Ugandans to take extra care when conducting online shopping because, according to him, most of the products sold online are counterfeits, yet most cases, the customer has no way of getting redress.
He says they have contacted the online shopping companies in Uganda to chart ways on how this can be resolved.
Jumia Uganda says they always give their customers a chance to lodge complaints or return the product within a specified period in case a customer is not satisfied that they have received what they asked for.
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