Uganda reverses PC recycling policy as Kenya imposes ban

Debate continues on used-computer imports

While Uganda is planning to reverse its ban on imports of used computers, Kenya is joining Zambia in prohibiting what authorities allege are old PCs being dumped on their markets by developed countries.

The Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communication has proposed that the treasury include in next year's national budget a ban on used computers, while the Zambian government is also pushing for a similar ban to be imposed. The Kenyan and Zambian governments claim the bans are aimed at curbing dumping and encouraging local assembling of computers. M-mobile is one Zambian company that is about to start manufacturing computers locally.

However, the Ugandan government has backtracked on its earlier decision to impose an indiscriminate ban on used computers, claiming the country is now adopting a more targeted approach to the implementation of the ban to focus on technology that is more harmful to the environment. The Ugandan government said not all secondhand computers are harmful, and that only those that use technologies that are harmful to the environment will be banned in the country.

Most computers and other ICT equipment being exported to Africa from Europe and the U.S. cannot be upgraded or repaired and are carelessly disposed of because most African countries lack capacity to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way, government officials say.

"We want imported old computers to be banned because we have to protect the environment from toxic waste resulting from unsafe disposal of these computers," said Zambian Deputy Minister of Communication and Transport Mubika Mubika last week.

Ugandan Minister of State of Trade Tourism and Industry Gagawala Wambuzi said the issue is not that all secondhand computers are bad, but that the Ugandan government wants to phase out those computers that are harmful to the environment, including the new ones that use such technologies.

The decision to reverse the indiscriminate ban on the importation of used computers less than a year after the policy was introduced shows that policymakers in Uganda want more people to be computer-literate. Most lawmakers also want more schools to be equipped with computers.

In the 2009/2010 national budget, Uganda's minister of finance and economic planning, Syda Bbumba, banned the importation of all used computers, freezers, refrigerators and television sets -- effective June 2009 -- but the deadline for traders to clear their stock has twice been shifted after they protested the decision. The deadline was later extended to March 31, 2010.

The announcement by the Ugandan minister to ban imports of old computers attracted criticism from dealers and organizations, who called the decision unrealistic since it did not specify the technology but the age of the item to be banned. Dealers in imported old computers and other reconditioned electronics have since been pushing the Ugandan government to review the ban.

Zambia and Kenya feel that developed countries are dumping used computers that cannot even be repaired once they break down. In 2008, the Kenyan government introduced a 25 percent duty on all used computer imports that was aimed at reducing the imports of used computers and encouraging local assembly as a means of creating jobs and limiting e-waste.

But despite the introduction of a tax by the Kenyan government, more used computers are still being imported into Kenya by dealers. The Kenyan government said it is now proposing a complete ban on imports of used computers. Information and Communication Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo said last week that over the years, "the Kenyan government incentives have made new computers affordable, adding that there was no need for imports with short life span that have led to accumulation of e-waste."

A study that was conducted in Kenya two years ago indicated that the country accumulated 3,000 metric tons of e-waste from computers, monitors and printers in 2007. This year, the Kenyan government announced a 1 million laptop campaign where it was to guarantee interests on loans borrowed from commercial banks for buying a new laptop or personal computer (PC).

Zambia and other African countries have not had laws on how to dispose of used ICT equipment. The countries have policies that state that all ICT equipment being imported or exported must meet international standards and the health requirements of users. However, many companies in Africa fail to adhere to the policy, raising fears of health and environmental damage due to hazardous toxic waste.

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