Ban on second-hand computers for Africa is ‘anti-poor’

21 Apr 2010

A social entrepreneur whose company, Camara, recycles and refurbishes computers for schools in Africa has hit out at what he claims is an orchestrated campaign to prevent PCs from helping the world’s poor.

Camara CEO Cormac Lynch, who received the Arthur Guinness Fund Award for Social Entrepreneurs on 20 April, stressed the value of high-quality used computers to educational development in these regions.

An orchestrated campaign to ban second-hand computer equipment from developing countries seems to be gathering pace, he said.

UN report mentions global e-waste

A recently published UN report, indicated that global e-waste is growing by about 40m tonnes a year, and much of this waste is being dumped in developing countries.

To counteract indiscriminate dumping of eWaste, countries like Kenya and Pakistan are also considering a total ban on the importation of refurbished second-hand computers.

Other African countries have taken a more measured approach. Uganda overturned a total ban on second-hand IT equipment last year, in favour of more moderate legislation that ensures the cost-effectiveness of second-hand equipment entering the country.

Specifically, it was recognised that cheaper computer clones can often be less reliable than a well-maintained, second-hand brand computer.

Lynch’s charity, Camara Education, believes that the blanket ban on all second-hand computers is ‘anti-poor’ and will marginalise schools, businesses, health centres and community organisations that are using this affordable technology to break the cycle of poverty within their countries.

Camara figures

Since it started in 2005, Camara has sent out nearly 17,000 refurbished computers for use in some 750 African schools.

“The impact that access to this technology has had is life changing on the students and teachers in these schools,” Lynch said.

“Camara recognises the need for action to tackle the problem of electronic waste in developing countries, but calls for a more measured approach to the regulation of IT importations.

“An outright ban on used IT equipment would be extremely detrimental to the economic growth and educational development in these regions, and would impact the poorest who cannot afford to buy new technology from large multinational providers,” said Lynch.

“There is also a suggestion that some international manufacturers have been pushing a ban on used computers, largely with an eye on increasing the market for new equipment. Camara see this as a short-sighted approach as cost would prohibit many schools from accessing new computers, therefore manufacturers would be eliminating the very market they should be trying to encourage.

“Even if African schools could afford to buy new computers, it often means the schools would have no money to provide essential training to use them, or indeed put in the essential infrastructure to make sure the computers last,” Lynch said.

What Camara provides

Camara provides low-cost equipment with open source software, training (including training in maintenance), maintenance support, ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the technology, and an e-waste strategy that ensures the computers are returned to Camara at end of life for proper disposal.

Camara is extending the life of its computers by five years, ensuring that the maximum return on the original energy and resource investment has been eked out of each one.

The charity has put a plan in place that when the computers finally do reach the end of their useful life in Africa they are returned to tyheir own facilities in Africa.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Camara online

Business & Leadership is hosting a briefing on The Green Economy this May. Learn more about this event

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years