The challenge posed by counterfeit goods sold on the continent is a huge one, making it something that brands cannot tackle half-heartedly. According to Issue 3 2016 of ‘Strategic Marketing Africa’, the journal of the African Marketing Confederation (AMC), experts agreed that while counterfeiting is a global scourge, it is at its worst in Africa.
Arguably the most insidious form of counterfeiting involves pharmaceuticals, which are available in abundance in fake form.
Consumer markets across Africa are booming, which is a good news story. However, there is a sinister side to it. Africa is seen as a dumping ground for counterfeit goods. There are a lot of poor people who can’t afford brands but aspire to have them. They will buy if the price is right even if they know a product is forged.” Among the countries worst hit by counterfeit goods is Nigeria, Africa’s largest consumer market. According to a study by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria in 2011 found that some 85% of goods sold in Nigeria were counterfeit and substandard. Also Ailsa Wingfield, Executive Director for Marketing and Communication in Africa at research company Nielsen, concurs. “In a country such as Nigeria you will find genuine brands of literally any product side-by-side with their imitations. Many counterfeit products are very hard to tell apart from the real thing and, in certain instances, can only be identified by a laboratory test conducted by the brand owner.”
The World Health Organisation estimates that 100,000 deaths annually in Africa are linked to counterfeit drugs. “In East and West Africa 40%-50% of pharmaceutical products are counterfeit,” says Yates. “You can readily buy them on the street.” The uncommon drive of the late Dora Akunyili, as the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, confirmed the mess perpetrated in Africa most especially Nigeria by dubious drug importers. Through her enthusiasm, Nigeria was able to curb the deleterious impact of such unbridled importation. That was before four children died from adrenalin – which turned out to be water – administered on them during surgical procedures in an Enugu hospital in 2003. Akunyili closed down major markets in Kano and Onitsha, confiscated and destroyed large consignments of fake drugs. Sadly, her exit from NAFDAC break off the war on fake drugs.
The biggest source of counterfeit goods is China says Yates. According to a report released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) a few years back, 70% of all counterfeits seized globally between 2008-2010 were manufactured in China. This should come as no surprise – China has for many years been the workshop of the world, and any country that can make genuine products en masse can just as easily make counterfeits. It is generally held that products made in China have short life span and cannot be repaired when damaged. Again, all inferior products in the country are believed to have been made in China or Taiwan. When one says a product is China or Taiwan, the underlying meaning is that such product is either counterfeit or substandard.
Unfortunately, what many Nigerians do not understand is that China manufactures for Europe and America. Before the emergence of China’s economy, South Korea and Japan were seen by Europe as a base for low-cost labour which offered low production cost. It all translated to low prices of goods. Note that low price is not the same as poor quality of, or cheap goods. The price of a product is largely, determined by the cost of producing the product. Following the 1990s reforms in China, the country emerged to challenge the biggest economies of the world. It has come on top of such economies, given the availability of a large labour force, superior power supply, low taxation and favourable currency exchange rate.
Major investors in Europe, Americas and even Asia now turn to China to produce goods which they could not produce in their respective countries. The best Nokia phones in the American and British markets are manufactured in China. If such quality phones are produced in Europe, the prices would have been too high, given the high cost of their production. Like American and British investors, Nigerians have also turned to China to produce. But while American and British investor-vendors have respect for model and quality specifications in accordance with the prescriptions in their respective countries, their Nigerian
counterparts prefer to cut corners to make ridiculous profits.
The Chinese factories most times do accept to produce whatever poor quality that is demanded by the Nigerian investor-vendors without asking for their right to such products which make them guilty of their existing laws on counterfeiting. Like Orhiri said, while Indian authority who are in the same league with China, is now assisting the Nigerian government to wage the war against counterfeit products, China doesn’t seem to be bothered. Counterfeiting in China is a serious offence which carries a death penalty. It is of view that if offenders are prosecuted in China, it will be difficult for the Nigerian investor or vendor to continue the illicit business.
Africa must take the bull by the horns to do all to fight against counterfeit products subverting the continents. The good news is that African governments are becoming increasingly aware of the problems posed by counterfeiting. Many are now incorporating specific anti-counterfeiting provisions into their IP statutes and recent examples include Liberia, which passed a new IP Act, and Mauritius, which passed a draft IP bill. One country that deserves special allusion is Kenya. In 2008, the authorities passed an Anti-Counterfeit Act that established an Anti-Counterfeit Agency. This move was prompted by International Chamber of Commerce study that suggested that an improvement in Kenya’s IP system would result in an increase from $460 million to $630 million in foreign investment, which in turn would boost employment by up to 185,000 workers. Kenya heeded the message. In a welcome development, a Kenyan court has recently declared the Anti-Counterfeit Act to be constitutional. In another positive development, the South African authorities are making a concerted effort to train prosecutors, magistrates and other officials on anti-counterfeiting legislation.
Conclusively, some industries and companies are taking drastic measures to reduce the scourge of counterfeit products in Africa. A good example of this is the way pharmaceutical companies are coming together to put in place product verification systems whereby purchasers of drugs can check whether they have bought original or counterfeit drugs with their mobile phones. The Hope for anti-counterfeiting eradication is debatable but with governments and other interested parties that are taking drastic measures to tackle it, there is hope that counterfeiting can be reduced significantly.