Over 20 million phones lines switched off today

Luring citizens into no-escape traps is the speciality of mobile phone service providers in cohorts with totalitarian governments.
Don't let it happen! It depends on YOU!"

By IPP/Guardian/VF - 20. January 2020

THE Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) yesterday ruled out any possibility of extending today’s deadline for biometric registration of mobile phone numbers, saying over 20 million lines will be switched off.

The Principal Communications Officer for TCRA, Semu Mwakyanjala told The Guardian yesterday that 27,287,091 lines had been registered biometrically by Wednesday last week which is equivalent to 56 per cent of 48, 717, 967 subscribed mobile phones.

This means 21,430,876 lines (44 per cent) were yet to be registered biometrically, hence face the button as TCRA proceeds to switch off biometrically unregistered numbers today.

“There is no change of plan; mobile phone lines that have not been registered biometrically will be switched off,” he said.

The biometric SIM card registration process means Tanzania joins a growing list of African nations gripped by the biometric data and digital identification menace. The TCRA said biometric registration will help control cybercrime and fraudulent mobile phone abuse, among other reasons.

In previous years, Tanzanian citizens were required to show their telecom provider a voting card, drivers’ license or passport to register SIM cards, pre- and post-paid. But those without documentation could typically register using the documentation of friends or relatives, according to Samuel Kabulo, a Tanzanian citizen who lives in Dar es Salaam, and spoke with Global Voices via Whatsapp.

Now, in order to activate pre- and post-paid SIM cards, over 21.7 million mobile phone users in Tanzania must first register with the National Identification Authority (NIDA), which requires all citizens to provide fingerprints and proof of identity as part of the registration process.

To complete the biometric SIM card registration process, users must then go to a local service provider, show their NIDA card or number, get their thumbprint taken — and that information is then shared, vetted and confirmed through the NIDA system.

This came as thousands of mobile phone owners yesterday thronged biometric registration centres in various parts of the country in last ditch efforts to save their lines from being switched off.

In Dar es Salaam, major mobile telephone operators pitched tent at Mbagala Zakhem grounds in Temeke District, at offices of the National Identification Authority (NIDA).

A sea of people gathered at an expansive open space from early morning until late in the evening as more people came than those who left, making the long queues perpetual.

Some mobile phone owners who had not yet registered their SIM cards biometrically and had no hope of doing so yesterday made desperate calls for authorities to extend the registration period as millions of lines are expected to go off the air.

A spot check in various parts of the country found gloom on the faces of owners facing the prospect of not having crucial communications beginning today and whose only hope is announcement of yet another extension period which TCRA ruled out.

Speaking in Morogoro, Jackson Mchanjali, Mary Lambaigwa, Mohamed Mbegu and Patricia Simon—all of whom failed to register yesterday—called on President John Magufuli to intervene and extend the registration period.

“As you can see all these people cannot be registered today and more keep coming; the only way out is to extend the deadline,” said Mbegu.

The same appeal came from Kahama District in Shinyanga Region where thousands of people reported to registration centres even before they were opened but the numbers kept increasing instead of decreasing.

Zubery Mohamed and Ipela Juma who had no hope of registering by end of business hours blamed technical hitches for the delay, calling on authorities to extend the deadline.

“There is a problem of network which keeps going off; this means some of us at the tail of the queue will not be able to register,” said Juma. 

In a statement released last week, TCRA said that victims of the imminent mass switch off of SIM cards will have an opportunity to retrieve their numbers after either getting a national identity card or just ID number from NIDA.

The notice did not however state a time limit in which a number previously used by a subscriber can be conserved before being declared vacant and assigned to another user by the respective service provider.

The regulator reminded all those who have registered their lines biometrically to confirm the same by dialing *106# upon which they will receive a message stating the number and name of the subscriber.

Early last month President Magufuli announced an extension of the registration deadline to January 20. Earlier, the president had set out until the end of the year for the biometric registration exercise which was instructed to take place from May 1 to September 30 and proved a failure, so the president pushed it to the end of the year before adding another 20 days, but crowds still simmer in registration offices.

What worries civil roghts defenders most is that the mobile phone service providers go along with these totalitarian measures so easily. Anglo-American and Chinese surveillance systems have been heinously deployed already over the last two years, including establishing East Africa's largest voice recognition database.

Out of the seven telecom providers none is yet to reach 50 per cent registration therefore standing a risk of losing out on transactions with Vodacom Tanzania having the biggest number.

Airtel Could Face Consumer Boycott

Indian-owned Airtel was already last year over-eagerly shutting out their subscribers with a self-set biometric registration deadline, though there was no government directive. It is obvious that it was done to test the public reaction. 

Back then TCRA had, however, assured the public that the law had not mandated service providers to switch off SIM cards without the regulator's nod.

The unregistered SIM cards are as follows: Airtel Tanzania (7,185,528), Tigo (6,618, 007), Smile (13,333),( TTCL 825,406), Viattel (3,012,237), Vodacom (9,154,114) and Zantel (573,891)

The shutdown will have serious economic implications, because like in Kenya also Tanzania already more financial transactions are made through the mobile phone money services than through banks.

TCRA Director General James Kilaba treated his fellow citizens like children by stating that the biometric registration is to maintain security and to protect the users from misuse of mobile phones.

Critics say that it all has to do with the upcoming presidential and government election as well as with total surveillance.

Like in medicine trials Africans have become the guinea pigs for communications surveillance and totalitarian state control via the mobile phone.

The mark of the beast comes in Tanzania now with your SIM-card right from birth since newborns shall be registered via the app mBirth.

SIM card registration using biometric data raises serious concerns about privacy threats.

In June 2019, the government of Mozambique insisted that SIM card registration would “help it fight crime and fraud” and issued an ultimatum to citizens to register SIM cards. But privacy activists viewed the registration “as an infringement on users’ right to communicate privately,” especially during tense political periods such as elections.

Meanwhile, until November 2019, only 25 out of 54 African nations have national data protection laws.

Kenya's controversial “Huduma Namba” or “Service Number” system drew the most controversy in 2019 as it attempted to operate as a “single source of truth” that linked multiple digital identity systems. Civil society groups challenged the system in court, loudly questioning the constitutionality of the scheme as well as the potential for hacking and threats to citizens’ privacy and security.

On November 8, 2019, Kenya rolled out a brand new national data protection law, becoming the 26th nation with data protection measures in place, but critics say it may not be enough.

In Tanzania all the critical voices already seem to have been muzzled.


Since all mobile phone communicaions and interactions - especially on so-called SmartPhones (that aren't so smart) go along with data mining etc. it must be noted that all Tanzanian service providers peristently and with impunity violate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Poples (UNDRIP) as well as the UN Charter and the CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance. The Tanzanian government would be well advised to first care for the rights of the people rather than giving in to Orwellian scams.


George Orwell - A Final Warning

From the 2003 Television docudrama: George Orwell - A Life in Pictures.

21. January 1950

By  Ali Cheaib - 21. January 2020

On this day 70 years ago, hashtag#GeorgeOrwell died at age 46.

hashtag#EricArthurBlair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was a great novelist and journalist.

He's best known for the allegorical novel hashtag#AnimalFarm (1945) and the dystopian novel hashtag#NineteenEightyFour (1949), which warned humanity of 4 possible nightmares that indeed have become today's reality:

1. hashtag#BigBrother is always watching you: Thanks to the popularity of smartphones and smart devices, the "authorities" keep constant tabs on EVERYONE all the time. Each of us has a hand-held "telescreen" we carry with us most everywhere we go, which we've willingly paid for ourselves and which we almost never turn off.

2. hashtag#PerpetualWar: The American Empire is just 243 years old of which it has been at war 222 years. It has been at war more than 93% of the time! And American military spending is the size of the next 10 largest military budgets around the world combined! In 1984, the Party embraces a policy of continual war so as to eat up any economic surplus and keep people poor and under control.

3. Bread and Circuses: Today's social trends are endless. From Hollywood's violent and gory movies to reality TV shows to the infinite obsession with sports and cooking shows, the list never ends. Add to the mix the cheap addictive junk food, and you get a breed of "Proles" that aren't even worthy of surveillance. In 1984, the vast majority of the population — the "Proles" (i.e., proletariat) — were almost not even worthy of surveillance. So long as the Party gave them a regular infusion of food, alcohol, the lottery and pornography, they Proles were considered to be under control. Maybe Orwell was harkening back to another satirist, Juvenal, who complained about the "bread and circuses" that Imperial Rome used to control the plebians and to pry them away from their rights and responsibilities as Roman citizens. (Juvenal also helpfully gave us the phrase, "Who will watch the watchmen?", paving the way for Alan Moore's graphic novel, Watchmen, which also described an alternate, dystopian 1980s.)

4. hashtag#Newspeak: In 1984, Orwell laid out in detail how language can be misused to deceive and control the masses. In the real world today, political correctness and euphemism are pervasive. Every society engages in euphemism and linguistic evolution, but is it used for good or ill? Confucius linked the misuse of vocabulary to the warfare and social breakdown of his day, and called for a "rectification of names". In 1984, Orwell lays out in detail how language can be (mis)used to deceive and control the masses. In the real world today, political correctness and euphemism are both pervasive and pervasively derided. George Carlin worked comedic wonders mocking our gutless linguistic evasions. But as funny as they are, they're not fictional: wealthy people are "job-creators"; when the government takes less money from people it's called a "tax expenditure" (if we don't make people perform community service, is that a work furlough?).

In his last interview (see above), Orwell describes a fascistic future and ends it with a final warning:

"Don't let it happen. It depends on YOU!"






Ali Cheaib

Ali Cheaib - Independent Journalist