A drop in revenue for telcos and restricted speech are the first negative effects of the Sim card registration in Tanzania.

In an online story this week, Article 19 Eastern Africa, a lobby group for freedom of information and expression, said it would be unfair if unregistered Sim cards in Tanzania were to be deactivated just before the October general election.

“The Sim cards deactivation process in Tanzania should be discontinued and telecommunications operators should reinstate those already deactivated,” said Mugambi Kiai, the regional director for Article 19 Eastern Africa.

The lobby group says the deactivation “will severely restrict millions of people from sharing or accessing information and ideas online, given the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) estimation that a total of 20.4 million Sim cards will be deactivated in phases”.

“(This) only increases the lack of freedom of expression environment currently existing in the country,” the lobby group said in a statement.

At the same time, Vodacom Tanzania, in its latest trading update issued on Monday, said that almost one third of its 15.6 million active Sim cards had still not been biometrically registered by January 3.

“The significant number of barred customers will affect revenue growth. The revenue impact, with the increased compliance cost, will also adversely affect operating profits,” Vodacom said in its 2019 fourth quarter report. The company is listed on the Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange.

The company said it is holding discussions with TCRA as well as those in charge of issuing national IDs on how to restore access for subscribers whose lines have already been switched off.

State-run TCRA has in the past few weeks been deactivating Sim cards not registered by the January 20 deadline given for the compulsory biometric reregistration.

TCRA said that by the beginning of the week, more than seven million non-compliant Sim cards had been switched off, adding that the crackdown would continue in phases as only 74.9 per cent of the 43.6 million active Sim cards had been registered so far.

The poor compliance rate has been blamed on delays in the issuance of national identity cards, which TCRA says are a requirement for registration.

According to Article 19, requirements for mandatory Sim card registration limit people’s rights to “privacy and anonymity in exercising free expression due to the existence of digital security, data protection and information misuse concerns”.

The linking of Sim card registration to the national ID will deny millions of people access to digital communication tools and services that enable them to freely express and associate themselves online, the group said.