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In April, keen to beat the May 15 mobile phone number validation deadline set by the Uganda Communications Commission, a local journalist walked into an MTN Uganda service outlet and presented his national ID.

Soon after, the staff captured his photo and thumbprints then verified his ID via the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA). Then he left.

Later, he received a text message that his personal details had been confirmed. But two days later, the telco sent another message asking him to go and validate his user details before the official deadline elapsed!

When he queried the text alert, MTN staff assured him that his personal details had been confirmed and that he was not at risk of disconnection. But on May 16, the journalist’s phone number was blocked from making calls and sending SMS texts. More visits to MTN service outlets produced no results before the user was told on May 18 that his problem would be rectified in 24 hours, but still this effort bore no fruit.

Frustrated, the journalist walked into downtown Kampala on May 20 and found a small mobile money dealer who promised to fix the problem within 24 hours for Ush5,000 ($1.32). And true to the dealer’s word, it was fixed.

The journalist’s woes, resulting in his choice of the black market, are a testament to the inefficiency, low investment in and a trial-and-error approach to mobile phone number validation by the UCC.