The crackdown on counterfeit and contraband goods has brought to light how much Kenyans have been exposed to illegal and probably dangerous products. Most people will recall a similar effort in 2015, then focussing on a countrywide campaign to combat illegal brews.
Although the debate, especially around sugar, has attracted the most noise and taken a decidedly unsettling political turn recently, the truth remains that the extent to which illegal products continue to penetrate the marketplace is a shock for many Kenyans.
In the alcoholic beverage industry, a report by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) released in June lent more credence to fears about illicit products. It also reinforced the assertion that vigilance is necessary and need not be a short-term measure.
IARD, a respected global outfit, said more than 60 per cent of alcohol in Kenya is illicit and dangerous.
Worldwide, more than Sh180 billion was lost to illicit alcohol in the last year.
Counterfeits and contraband erode the consumer confidence in established brands, deny legitimate businesses a level playing ground and end up shaking confidence in business and in-vestments.
A loss of confidence in established products is also a loss of revenue for the government and the country.
When customers keep off brands that have been counterfeited, especially those that we consume every other day, the government loses the taxes due.
This was emphasised by IARD, who said that alcohol produced and sold illegally outside the government’s regulation is especially problematic because it is untaxed, can be sold to anyone at any time, is not consistent in quality and is potentially toxic.
DEATHS AND BLINDNESS
Kenya has adequate proof of the danger posed by this, and there have been many instances over the years of deaths and blindness as a result of taking illicit alcohol.
As the debates sparked by the revelations of the extent of counterfeiting continue, now would be a good time to think about long-term efforts to eradicate counterfeits and the untaxed imports.
First should be the mega agencies driving enforcement. Our agencies, including Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and the Anti-Counterfeit Authority (ACA) will need to work ever more closely with all stakeholders consistently ensure that the goods consumed in the country meet the standards.
Counterfeiters are dangerously nimble at their craft and technology has made it possible for them to make products that very closely resemble the original in a very short time.
It is necessary for the government agencies in the fight to use technology to track down counterfeits. Companies should also use technology to secure their brand identities and make it possible for customers to easily verify the authenticity of their products.
Perhaps all these agencies should have at the back of their minds the fact that legitimate business makes valuable contributions to the socio-economic well-being of the people.
From what we have seen over the past three months, though, it is evident that the police, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and other law enforcement agencies are working ever more closely with KRA, Kebs and the ACA.
This is a laudable effort and triumphs registered so far should offer lessons for a sustainable fight against fake products.
Kenyans also need to play a role, reporting whenever they come across suspicious products or know people seeking to make a living off making, selling or bringing into the country products that have not been approved.
Battling counterfeits, contraband, illicit and illegal trade protects and boosts legitimate manufacturing — one of the ‘Big Four’ pillars that the current government has identified to drive the national agenda for the next four years.
In the beverage-alcohol industry, we hope that when the heat generated by the crackdown on counterfeits and contraband goods dies down, a truly sustainable enforcement strategy will emerge, helping to secure the marketplace from the dangerous products that we have seen in the media in recent months.
We are encouraged by the public-private sector collaboration in recent days because we believe a collaborative effort shared by the government and agencies and industry players will help to deal with unscrupulous players and the hydra-headed problem of counterfeits and contraband.
The illicit trade continues to discourage legitimate investments, especially in manufacturing — a key plank of Kenya’s economic growth agenda.
Mr Kiniti is the corporate relations director, East African Breweries Ltd (EABL). [email protected]