MTN customers seen lined up to re-swap/replace their simcards at the MTN service center at Shoprite-Lugogo Mall in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo Credit: Photojournalist, Pius Enywaru)
MTN customers seen lined up to re-swap/replace their simcards at the MTN service center at Shoprite-Lugogo Mall in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo Credit: Photojournalist, Pius Enywaru)

After the murder of a Kampala-based cashier Suzan Magara, whose kidnappers reached the family to demand a ransom using SIM cards that were unregistered and couldn’t be traced, Government regulatory body of the communications sector; Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) issued a directive to all telecom firms to temporary halt SIM card sales and swaps/replacement. On a different note, Minister of ICT and National Guidance Frank Tumwebaze asked telcos to switch off illegally acquired SIM card or they would face the consequence for their actions.

“All telecom operators are on notice if they don’t switch off illegally acquired SIM cards. They will be penalized and or have their licenses revoked. Cabinet has taken this position and we will enforce it without exception,” Frank told the press.

Telecom firms; MTN, Africell, and Airtel issued press notice temporarily halting sim sales and swaps as per the directive from UCC.

UCC asked telcos to stay on hold until they (UCC) received ‘Electronic Biometric Card Readers’ from the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) that proves the real SIM card owners.

After nearly two months of waiting, NIRA handed 50 Electronic Biometric Card Readers to UCC on April 27th, 2018. NIRA to claim that the new technology will help telecom companies verify SIM card ‘rightful’ owners with the personal details submitted to the company (NIRA).

However, many came out to ask why only 50 card readers were issued out. And how these 50 card readers would be distributed to these three (3) telecom firms; MTN, Airtel, and Africell. Because it didn’t make sense at all if NIRA took nearly two months and only managed to issue only 50 card readers.

As per notices we saw from telcos, MTN received 11 card readers, Airtel received 7 card readers, while Africell received 10, and 8 were given to Uganda Telecom. This makes it a total of 36 but we are not sure how many were given in each area. For instance, Airtel service center at Forest Mall had 3 machines.

MTN resumed its SIMcard swap services on April 18th, while the rest on April 20th.

Thousands of people have been seen lining up at service centers to have their lines swap, and all has been going on well for some while some are still stranded. Unlike Airtel, MTN, and Africell haven’t received complaints on SIM cards failing to work. Airtel customers have stormed Airtel centers multiple time complaining their SIM cards not working of which they have been asked to re-do the whole process again which involves you presenting a new police letter, filling new registration form, presenting your ID and so forth, as directed by UCC in its new guidelines for swapping new lines.

After swapping, Airtel customers have been asked to wait for 24 hours to have their cards activated while its competitors MTN and Africell take less than 5 hours to have their cards activated. This has left Airtel customers wondering why their process takes long, and after turns out that the cards don’t work. When asked they commented saying they are miss-matches when registering, and some other excuses like network being down.

But when asked why one needs to present a police once again, Airtel didn’t comment on this.

Guidelines on sim swap/replacement by UCC

Under the new rules by UCC, the SIM card holder has to present a valid letter from the Uganda police confirming loss of their SIM card, Present an original national ID to the operator where the operator will have to retain a copy of it, the operator has to verify the authenticity of the national ID using the electronic biometric card readers provided to them. And finally, the operator will have to re-register the applicant and obtain a fresh photography from them.

The telecom companies were asked to comply with the new guidelines or face consequences for their actions.