Sim card registration challenges still remain as deadline looms

Dar es Salaam. Telecommunication firms in Tanzania could bear the brunt of the ongoing mandatory biometric registration of all subscriber identification module (Sim) cards by the January 20 deadline this year, less than a week away hence

The latest figures show that about 20 million Sim cards – the firms’ main revenue source – could be blocked from the mobile telephony system.

If and when this happens, it would bring the number of Sim cards in Tanzania to an eight-year low of around 25 million - a development that would seriously eat into revenues of the mobile telecommunication firms across the land.

President John Magufuli recently extended the deadline for mandatory biometric registration of all Sim cards from December 31, 2019 to January 20, 2020, saying he was granting time to allow those who were not able to register their Sim cards due to circumstances beyond their control.

He, however, cautioned that there would be no further extension beyond the January 20th, calling on the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to lock out all telephony subscribers who would not have adhered to the call to register for any reason whatsoever.

The head of communications at TCRA, Mr Fredrick Ntobi, told The Citizen yesterday that, until January 7, 2020, a total of 25 million Sim cards had been registered through the mandatory biometric system.

Until September 2019, there were a total of 44.798 million Sim cards in us across Tanzania. But – according to Mr Ntobi – the number has since then shot up to 48 million!

This means that the 25 million Sim cards alreadu re-registered biometrically represent only 52.42 per cent of the total number of Sim cards that are currently in use countrywide.

The 25 million also means that the seven telecommunication firms operating in Tanzania have been able to register a total of seven million Sim cards during the past 26 days – and, thus, it is a tall order for them to be able to register about 20 million Sim cards in just six days counting from today, January 14, to January 20, 2020.

Between May 1, 2019 and December 12, 2019, a total of 19 million Sim cards were registered.

To register a Sim card, the holder must have a National Identification card or a National Identification Numbers (NIN) which is issued by the National Identification Authority (Nida).

The widely-held view has been that the pace of issuance of National Identification cards or NINs did not match with what it was required to hasten the speed of Sim card registration so much that Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola was last week forced to demote two Nida officials in Ruvuma Region over allegations that they failed to disseminate information for NINs for 14,000 Tanzanians.

According to Mr Ntobi, Tanzanians must make a close follow-up and confirm registration of their Sim cards to prevent them from facing otherwise avoidable challenges when their numbers are blocked.

“Using their mobile phones, people are able to know their Sim cards’ registration status; know their NINs or know whether they have uncollected NINs or not,” he said.

This, he said, was being done because it was possible that some people’s NINs have been issued – but were yet to be collected by the people.