JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN — South Sudanese had until midnight Thursday to register their mobile phone SIM cards with the government, or have their service cut off, and with hours to go until the deadline, the lines to register were long.
Michael Taban travelled from his village, which he said was "very far" from the capital, to the GEMTEL registration center in Juba.
"After I got the information [that registration was mandatory], I have decided to come and register," he said, adding that there was nowhere to register in his village.
Vivacell subscriber Philip Pitia, who lives in the Juba suburb of Kuda, didn't even know he had to register.
"I just heard from you...Many people in Kuda are not aware of this registration," he said.
The mandatory registration was announced last year, with December 31 initially set as the deadline. That was pushed back to January 31, after few South Sudanese complied with the ruling, and with just hours to go to that deadline, the cut-off for registering SIM cards was delayed again until the last day of February.
Many mobile telephone companies operating in South Sudan say they still need more time to register users' SIM cards.
"I think today we have around 50 percent of our subscribers registered," Ghadfi Mohamed, the CEO of the Gemtel Mobile Phone Company, said.
"Two days ago we had a meeting with the ministry. We highlighted all the challenges and the problems we are facing on the ground. And it is clear that we are not really ready to switch off the subscribers."
If the deadline is not extended, mobile phone service providers' revenues will shrink, said Mohamed, who also worried about the fairness of cutting off customers who have not registered.
But Beatrice Khamisa Wani, the Deputy Minister of Telecommunications, said Thursday's deadline was absolute and anyone who has not registered by midnight will wake up the following day to find they can't use their phone.
"Should they want to reconnect it, they should report to the centers or to where the headquarters of the telecom companies are, so that they are given a chance to register. Then, their SIM card will be reactivated," she said.
Pharmaceuticals deadline, too
Thursday was also the last day for suppliers and distributors of pharmaceutical drugs to register their businesses in South Sudan, and again, the consequences of missing the deadline were dire: the businesses could be shut down.
Companies that distribute pharmaceutical drugs were told at the beginning of the month that they would have to register with the Drugs and Food Control Authority, which monitors the quality of medical products in South Sudan.
With hours to go until that deadline, less than half of the distribution companies had complied with the order and lodged their registration documents with the agency, Mawien Atem, Secretary General of the South Sudan Drugs and Food Control Authority, said.
They still had time, though; companies that pick up registration forms on Thursday will not be shut down, Atem added.
The government decided to oblige drug distribution companies to register in a bid to curb the flow of counterfeit pharmaceutical products and drugs that have passed their expiration date into South Sudan.
The government has cited security as the main reason for getting South Sudanese to register their SIM cards.