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Earth The Almighty Buck Technology

The Effects of Exporting Used PCs To Africa 355

retroworks writes "According to this UK MailOnline story, computers donated to Africa are causing quite a few problems. The BBC does a similar story on the junk computers from rich countries found on the ground in Africa. But all of the footage is of the junk PCs; there is no film of any repaired or good computers. There have been a dozen stories now about the bad apples. It seems like there have to be good ones, too, to cover the costs of shipping. Some of the ones in the Mail story actually look decent. Is there more balanced coverage of used computer exports, many of which provide affordable technology to poor people? Organizations like Greenpeace and Basel Action Network are promoting electronics recyclers with zero-export policies. One organization, the World Reuse Repair and Recycling Association, is promoting a 'Fair Trade Coffee' approach to moderate the number of bad computers exported, and has a video showing both sides of the story. A ban on exports leaves Africa with a choice of spending a year's income on a new PC, buying mixed loads of computers from undercapitalized recyclers, or remaining without this level of technology. And our choice seems to be to donate a decent computer mixed with other people's junk, or to grind it up in a perverse tribute to Vance Packard, as 'obsolescence in hindsight.'"
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The Effects of Exporting Used PCs To Africa

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  • by unixcrab ( 1080985 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @05:53PM (#24549355)
    The problem is, all the good charity work doesn't cancel out the toxic fallout from the scrapped hardware. Besides, the junk the richer countries send there is hardly a charitable donation, it's a dumping ground.
    • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @05:56PM (#24549385)

      Right, which is why it's so important to stick with shops that keep with the Basel conventions. Whenever these sorts of stories pop up, it's mainly due to a lack of adherence to the standards or due to the items being shipped to a place that wasn't involved in the first place. [] has more information.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by monsul ( 1342167 )
      As sad as it is, I think that the only way to remedy this are economics. When the materials used to build all this electronics become scarce enough, the price will rise enough to make proper recycling and reusing of old stuff cost effective.

      It's like any other recycling. The ones that actually work (cans, paper sometimes) do because there is an economic incentive behind them (i.e: someone makes money out of it)

      • by Joebert ( 946227 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @07:15PM (#24549983) Homepage
        Well until that day comes, everyone can feel free to ship these systems to me instead of spending a small fortune to ship them to Africa. I'll find something constructive to do with them. :)

        Joe Kovar
        1447 Gulf to Bay blvd #8
        Clearwater, FL 33755
        • Awesome. 50,000 286's and associated peripherals are now on their way to Joe's house. Good luck, Joe!

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by c6gunner ( 950153 )

          Awesome. Tomorrow morning your house will be inundated with 50,000 286's, 15,000 dot matrix printers, 12,000 analog tape drives, and a tractor-trailer full of 5.25" floppies. Good luck, Joe!

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Joebert ( 946227 )
            Yeah right.
            I'd like to believe people would read this & I'd magicly have a truckload of electronics on my doorstep no matter how old they are, but the reality is there wont be even as much as a post card.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by colmore ( 56499 )

              Be thankful, I work for a volunteer organization that prepares donated computers for charities and people with need. A huge stack of computer equipment of questionable functionality is a chore, not a gift.

        • by WK2 ( 1072560 )

          Or, if you don't want to pay the shipping to Joe's house, you can advertise free computers on Craigslist. I've given away a lot of stuff on Craigslist, and made some money on some of the more valuable items. When I advertise a free computer (Pentium or better) on Craigslist, I get several replies within hours. I'm not sure what would happen if I advertised something less than a Pentium.

          And Joe, if you haven't already, you should consider placing an ad in the "Wanted" section.

          Your local newspapers probably a

        • by jadin ( 65295 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @04:54AM (#24553063) Homepage

          Dude, your mom's going to be pissed when she finds out you slashdotted her driveway.

      • by colmore ( 56499 )

        No, what you're saying is "the only way for this to be solved without someone having to act on something other than profit motive" is for the economics to work out.

        There are other solutions, they just take some work.

    • by colmore ( 56499 )

      This is a wonderful example of where regulation works. It seems like some minimal level of certification of the exported hardware, some basic test to see if it works would solve a large bit of this problem. Yes, people should be able to donate working equipment to the developing world, but no, the developing world shouldn't have to dig through garbage to get it.

      • by bberens ( 965711 )
        Who are you to judge whether an electronic component is salvageable? Maybe the processor on that video card is good but the memory is bad? Maybe I can make use of that. Maybe I can pull those capacitors off that dead motherboard and use them for something else. Remember, we're talking about places where uneducated labor is practically free. Training someone to pull electronics components off of circuit boards isn't that hard.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Benaiah ( 851593 )

      These computers aren't causing poverty. These people were poor without the computers and they are poor with them. At least they have an opportunity to make some money to eat rather then begging, looting. Sure its disgusting, but in poor countries people live in the rubbish tips because 1 mans trash is another mans treasure.

  • News? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @05:55PM (#24549377)

    We used "development aid" for ages to get rid of our surplus and other crap we'd have had to dispose of for a lot of money, now we do the same with electronics. Where's this news?

    I remember someone doing humanitary work there, giving a speech and essentially saying "Please help us. By not helping us". When we dump free food on a third world country, we ruin their farmers because they can't compete with free food. When we dump free clothing on them, we ruin the few textile mills they have. Essentially, what we do with development aid is to push them more and more into dependency because we ruin whatever industry for the local market might start to grow. Instead we force them to build industries for export, so they can somehow pay back the "development help" we "grant" them.

    Want to help? Then don't. Don't send your crap down there. Start trading with them. But not with some international corporation that squeezes the country and the people dry. Trade with companies from there.

    • Re:News? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:11PM (#24549465)

      When we dump free food on a third world country, we ruin their farmers because they can't compete with free food.

      Nice sentiment, but, you know, the 'third world' is a big place, and surprise surprise, if you don't live near one of these food producers, and there's a famine, you're dead unless someone gives you food.

      None of the Charities are saying that providing food is a long term solution, its just that its hard to talk long term to people whose kids will be dead by the end of the week if you don't hand over some rice now.

      • Re:News? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fastest fascist ( 1086001 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:18PM (#24549545)
        That's the humanitarian point of view. There's no guarantee that short-term aid doesn't result in long-term harm to developing societies, though. Let's face it, no-one seems to actually know how you should go about lifting a society out of desperate poverty, but many are willing to use 3rd world countries as testing grounds for their ideas. With private and governmental entities engaging in aid operations for a wide variety of reasons with insufficient coordination, expect chaos.
        • Re:News? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:23PM (#24549573)

          Being a parent I find myself sympathising with the parents who know nothing of the wider reasons for the current famine, and who are solely concerned with feeding their child.

          Fewer images from news coverage of famines have effected me more then those of parents burying kids who died of starvation.

          Believe me, if your kids life is on the line, you give not a fuck about the morrow, just so long as that child is alive to see it.

          • Re:News? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by linuxrocks123 ( 905424 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @01:35AM (#24552267) Homepage Journal

            Yeah. Get it. You have kids; you have the whole "parental mind warp" thing that comes with it going (anyone who thinks Steve Jobs's reality distortion field is bad hasn't observed some parents...), and it makes me personally very happy that you love your children so much you'd probably be willing to cause a global thermonuclear holocaust and kill off the entire rest of the planet just so your oh so wonderful spawn could live.

            But that doesn't really help solve the problem. Obviously children dying is bad, and we obviously want to stop that, but we also don't want them to sink into further dependence. And, a MAJOR part of the problem, actually ... is those children. Overpopulation is one of the worst aggravating factors of Africa's crisis.

            Since we can't really kill the children, and we don't really want to let them die, we feed them. Then those children reach breeding age and soon afterwards create more children, which also need food. And the circle continues.

            So what do we do? Well, a number of approaches have been proposed, including teaching the children how to not make more children the instant they become fertile. But it's really painfully obvious that we need to look further ahead than "stop them from starving", because we're just making the hole deeper. If you're sympathetic to their plight because you also reproduced, try to look for ways to stop the plight in the future, not just mitigate it in the present.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by codeButcher ( 223668 )

            you give not a fuck about the morrow

            I think you very eloquently hit the nail on the head regarding the third world's problems. Problem is that one should think about the morrow even before having kids (including planning for cyclical periods of a relative lack of prosperity).

            On the other hand, decades of socialist welfare conditions seems to have robbed westerners of the will to do their own forward planning too.

        • Re:News? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert AT slashdot DOT firenzee DOT com> on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:30PM (#24549647) Homepage

          If they are starving, it's because they don't have sufficient resources to sustain their current population. If you let them starve, the population will contract to a sustainable level. If you give them food, the population will increase to even more unsustainable levels meaning you have to keep giving them food or face an even bigger level of starvation.

          They really need to stop having so many kids, smaller families will put far less of a strain on the available resources.

          And these third world countries were doing just fine before the europeans went and interfered with them... We really should just leave them alone to make their own way without interference.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by emilper ( 826945 )

            -1, Malthusian

          • Re:News? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:55PM (#24549825)

            Wow, someone who actually gets it. Every other species on the planet naturally lives and dies by such logic. Human beings though (especially those who live in first-world countries) seem to think that large numbers of people living within small radii is somehow normal. If there isn't enough natural-born prey to hunt (ie: without resorting to breeding) and/or fauna to pick, then a larger population is _not supposed to exist_! Only mankind could think there's a way to cheat the inevitable.

            The fact is that humanity isn't dying off fast enough. In fact, our planetary population continues to increase. Someday the phony sustainability we've been living under is going to crash, and billions are going to die (as they should).

            Think about it. If we were talking about an overpopulation of polar bears, birds, or deer that threatened the balance of the planet's combined ecosystem, mankind would have no problem murdering these animals in the billions to fix the problem. Isn't it funny how we overlook such ideas when it's our own "masters of the universe" species that is the problem?

            • Re:News? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by fastest fascist ( 1086001 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @07:51PM (#24550263)
              I for one am rather glad we tend to, apart from some notable exceptions, overlook ideas that amount to mass murder. It makes me feel that little bit safer to know that at least my neighbours are likely to feel a tad uncomfortable with the idea of killing me "to save mankind".

              If you truly feel drastic measures should be taken to reduce the human population, I invite you to start with yourself. Pick a building 6 storeys or more high and jump off the top. Or are you saying it's the OTHER humans that need thinning down, not you? Isn't it funny how we overlook some obvious solutions when it's our very selves that are the problem?
            • Re:News? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Chandon Seldon ( 43083 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @10:10PM (#24551211) Homepage

              The fact is that humanity isn't dying off fast enough. In fact, our planetary population continues to increase. Someday the phony sustainability we've been living under is going to crash, and billions are going to die (as they should).

              There's nothing phony about large scale industrialized farming. That's the natural way for an intelligent species to sustain a high population density. This does require a certain amount of societal stability, and when that stability falters millions will die. Billions of deaths at once in food production and distribution glitches is a bit high for the current population - food is grown too locally for that to happen.

            • Re:News? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by rohan972 ( 880586 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @01:03AM (#24552093)

              If there isn't enough natural-born prey to hunt (ie: without resorting to breeding) and/or fauna to pick, then a larger population is _not supposed to exist_!

              Supposed by whom? God? You? Who is this supposer that requires human populations to not exist except by hunter/gatherer subsistence, and why should we follow his dictates? We don't live by natural means. Artificial means made by human skill or produced by humans. By definition pretty much everything we do is not natural. Get used to it.

          • Re:News? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @07:21PM (#24550045)

            That's a tad nazi-ish.

            Actually no, that's exactly nazi-ish.

            Care to tell me how you'd deal with the epidemic of obesity in the west?

            Render down 1 in 10? Start apportioning food based on a persons worth?

            Do tell.

            • Actually no, that's exactly nazi-ish.

              Refusing to help people is the same as executing people? Are you retarded?

              Care to tell me how you'd deal with the epidemic of obesity in the west? Render down 1 in 10? Start apportioning food based on a persons worth?

              Well, that answers that question ....

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by ziah ( 1095877 )

              It's not nazi-ish at all.

              It's educating. It's doing population control, something that the human race constantly battles against with "religion".


              The problem won't be resolved until the ROOT of the problem is addressed.

              • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

                by SnEptUne ( 1264814 )
                Overpopulation will not be a problem if not for religions/traditions, who demanded people to be fruitful at all costs. People wouldn't breed if they cannot even feed themselves; in fact, most malnutritioned women will likely remain sterile until they gained enough fat. Lack of education is the root of the problem, not population. Without labour, even with education there is only so much ones can do. More educated workers, scientists, businessmen/women will raise the living standards and technology of
                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by Artifakt ( 700173 )

                  For most of the high population areas of the world, the largest religions locally don't have a 'be fruitful and multiply' commandment or anything like it. You could make a fairly strong case for Mexico or some other parts of Latin America, but what about China, which is mostly either Maoist or Confucian? Or India, with Hinduism and Buddhism for most of their religious background? Sub-Saharan Africa, you could blame Islam or Christianity somewhat, but a lot of the highest population growth regions are again

            • That's a tad nazi-ish.

              Actually no, that's exactly nazi-ish.

              How is letting third world countries deal with their own problems "nazi-ish" in any way? It's almost a perfect 180 away from it.

              And these third world countries were doing just fine before the europeans went and interfered with them... We really should just leave them alone to make their own way without interference.

              Does that seriously sound ANYTHING like something Hitler or Mussolini would say to you? You know, the guy who actually invaded several o

            • Re:News? (Score:4, Funny)

              by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @09:12PM (#24550913) Homepage Journal

              I can't say how they'll deal with the obesity problem, but there's this new product that's hit the market that will help solve the food problem in the Third World. They say it's based mostly on soybeans and lentils, and can be produced much more efficiently than corn, rice, wheat and just about anything else. I've tried it, and it's not bad: a little bland, but it really fills you up. It must be the protein content. There are a couple versions, which have different flavors and consistency. The red and yellow kinds are OK, but I like the green kind the best.

            • Easy! (Score:5, Insightful)

              by raehl ( 609729 ) <{raehl311} {at} {}> on Monday August 11, 2008 @12:24AM (#24551877) Homepage

              Care to tell me how you'd deal with the epidemic of obesity in the west?

              First, by West, you must mean US. There is no epidemic of obesity in Europe.

              My solution is simple - the new "Can't catch it, can't eat it" policy. Worked for millions of years. Put it in place in stages.

              Stage one is a ban on food delivery services. The morbidly obese will starve down to a weight where they can at least get into their cars and get to the drive thru.

              Stage two is a ban on drive thrus, so people will starve down to a weight when they can actually get out of their cars and into the counter or grocery store to get their food.

              Stage three is a weight limit on disabled parking passes. If you're so fat that you need a special parking permit to get to your food, you'll starve down to a weight where you can at least hobble in to get your food.

              Stage four is a ban on any personal scooters or electric wheelchairs that can support more than 250 lbs. If you're too fat to propel yourself, you'll starve down to a weight where you can at least stand up on your own.

              Stage five is the big one - the doors of any food retailer will no longer be allowed to be any wider than 20". Then people will at least starve down to a size where they can fit through the door.

              See? Piece of cake. Er....

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by ziah ( 1095877 )

            I actually I agree with what you're saying.

            Control the cause not the effect.

            Cause: overpopulation
            Effect: starvation

            EDUCATION WOULD BE THE BEST GIFT - contraception, etc

          • Re:News? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @07:52PM (#24550275)

            It's sad that you got modded troll, since you're one of the few that seem to "get it". I'd only disagree with you on one thing:

            And these third world countries were doing just fine before the europeans went and interfered with them... We really should just leave them alone to make their own way without interference.

            They weren't doing "just fine" - they were miserable, poor, and died at an extremely early age from all sorts of easily curable diseases. The myth of the "noble savage" is a popular one, but it IS a myth.

            Even if it were possible for us to just "leave them alone", it wouldn't be a solution. They'd only continue to stagnate. Some (ok, most) of our current efforts might be misguided and even counterproductive, but we ARE helping them to improve their situation, even if just slightly, over a long period of time. What we should be doing is funding micro-lending ventures, and funneling as much money as possible into educating the residents of relatively stable areas. Help them to help themselves, instead of just dropping "aid" on them and leaving them to fight over our scraps.

            • Re:News? (Score:4, Informative)

              by totally bogus dude ( 1040246 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @05:13AM (#24553185)

              What we should be doing is funding micro-lending ventures

              On this note, a little plug for Kiva [], who do just that. Just in case anyone reads the previous post and wonders how one could go about getting involved in something like that.

              I've only been a member for a few months but it all seems legit and works as advertised. The only minor problem is that loan repayments aren't disbursed until they've been fully repaid. This seems like it might be limiting the speed at which funds can circulate within Kiva. Presumably funds in limbo are being used for something useful, so perhaps it doesn't matter.

          • In some cases people are starving because they can't grow enough food to support themselves and can't earn enough income to import food. In many cases, however, there is no shortage of food, just bad distribution. If a corrupt government steals enough of a country's wealth, there isn't money left to import what people need, or to obtain things like fuel and fertilizer that they need to grow food. Corrupt governments can also simply mismanage things to the point of destroying the economy. A current example

          • Re:News? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @12:13AM (#24551837) Homepage Journal

            Colonialism has caused things like rape to become the number one violent crime in Africa. They have children under 8 in the Congo that respond sexually to strangers because they have been sexualized at infancy. Yet the Congo is allowed to do this by the AU [], the US and the EU. Chap cobalt, copper and diamonds are bartered for these governments to institutionalize rape. We are fully responsible even now for what happens in Africa get your head out of your ass good sir and learn about post and neo colonialism or we may it at fisticuffs. Your ignorance and others like it, is sickly and deadly, know that.

            They really need to stop having so many kids, smaller families will put far less of a strain on the available resources.

            We need to make sure the capital they get from us for their resources does not go to purchasing defense goods from us. Its all a fucking trick, The US, EU or IMF go in promising civilian aid and industrial development (resource extraction industries) to any country that will hold up a certain set of economic laws that are to the advantage of the international companies doing business in said country. Shortly after this begins the national treasury of the country enjoys record revenue as the companies deliver on their promise of paying them some taxes, kick backs and the like and everyone in charge of the national government or the resource industries has almost absolute economic power and often unifies into a cartel. Because we insisted on economic reforms and not political reforms that would do things like guarantee universal human rights the rest of the people in the country become the participants of a game fueled by the worst aspects of plutocracy and exist in fear of becoming human targets, rape victims and live with dreams of far more bloody things.

            We than tell them they can buy weapons from us. For us to continue to sell to some of these countries armor personal carriers that they use as mobile rape rooms, tanks which they use to shell refuge camps and guns, oh god guns; those things that kill 20% of some males in Central Africa is to encourage it at this point, and China should be ashamed to be doing it right now with Sudan. It seems some people like you, who are so self-righteously ignorant should bone up on the situation before letting loose the blind aims of your prejudices.

            Go see this movie The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo [] and than tell me they have any choice but to hope for international armed intervention. We need a fucking UN with balls that goes after genocide, rape and other truly terrible things with a technologically advanced force.

        • by Gerzel ( 240421 )

          There again we don't really have a baseline. It has been estimated by some anthropologist (I'd have to look this up; sorry I don't have the refrence on hand) that about 5% of the population of tribal hunter/gatherer societies died from human violence.

          If you take that baseline and compare it to the people alive in the 21st century you'd expect about 2 billion people to have died in warfare/homocide. The actual number is about 500 milllion.

          and people say there are more wars than ever before.

          • That's... fascinating, and yet I fail to see the relevance?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by c6gunner ( 950153 )

            If you take that baseline and compare it to the people alive in the 21st century you'd expect about 2 billion people to have died in warfare/homocide. The actual number is about 500 milllion.

            Yes, Steve Pinker gave an awesome talk [] about that at the TED conference. I highly recommend it to everyone, regardless of whether you're familiar with the statistics.

            By any reasonable metric violence has decreased dramatically over time, yet people continue to believe in this myth that our world is more violent today t

      • by Gerzel ( 240421 )

        It sounds bad but if you are located at a place with no food then eventually you will either move, or starve. It has happened in ages past and it will keep happening.

        That doesn't mean we shouldn't try but we should focus more on trying to generate food where people are or if not that generate a trade and industry system to bring food there productively.

      • by Zadaz ( 950521 )

        Then shouldn't we be putting our efforts into getting them to be able to, ya know, feed themselves before we help them be leet haxors (or word processing office temps)?

        Someone will respond "Ah, but computers will set them free!"

        And I will respond "Gee, thanks Neo, do you have anything to support that other than a bunch of handy wavy digihippy magic? There are a number of reasons we invented agriculture several thousand years before we harnessed electricity."

        It's projects like "lets wire the 3rd world" that

        • You do realize that not everyone is in Africa is actually starving, right?

          If country A, starving, borders country B which is poor but not starving, providing more economic opportunities to country B will tend to help them exploit country A out of starvation.

    • Re:News? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by thatskinnyguy ( 1129515 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:15PM (#24549507)

      In deed. People don't recognize that Third World nations need something more sustainable than a band-aid. By giving these people food and clothing, all that is accomplished is a temporary fix and a few feel good points for those who donated. Really Third World nations need to be taught how to fish so-to-speak.

      I gladly buy from companies who have sweatshops in Central America. Is it because I'm a bad person? Hell no. I'm rewarding those who are trying to provide a living for their families in those poor regions without giving them a hand-out. Really the standard of life provided by the sweatshops in countries with them is much higher than the alternatives.

      • Re:News? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sleigher ( 961421 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:58PM (#24549847)
        This point is important, except that it is exceptionally hypocritical to outlaw slavery in our home countries while supporting it abroad. I know it's not technically slavery but it is in many ways. I think 9 year olds should be in school, not a sweat shop. []
        • I'm not so sure about that. 150 years ago, most of our first world countries operated the same way. As countries become more advanced, the kids have more of a reason and a need to be in school. It would be nice for every kid in these countries to have a high school level education, but what could they do with it? The same kind of thing happens in first world countries now. Too many people with university degrees in things like psychology and history, and no jobs that require the skills this education br
          • I agree with what you are saying, but I think of education, and more so higher education, as something more than training for a given profession. Gaining and education helps one to have broader, higher level understanding of the world we are in, and that can contribute to a countries people lifting themselves out of poverty. Ultimately that is what it is about. Exactly what someone up the thread said, "teach them to fish, so to speak." (I am too lazy to go see who said it.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rudy_wayne ( 414635 )

        "People don't recognize that Third World nations need something more sustainable than a band-aid. By giving these people food and clothing, all that is accomplished is a temporary fix and a few feel good points for those who donated. Really Third World nations need to be taught how to fish so-to-speak."

        Organizations such as the Peace Corps and many others have spent the past 50+ years trying to educate Africans and "teach them how to fish". 50 years later they are still poor, starving and illiterate. It's

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Opportunist ( 166417 )

          What reality? That it doesn't help jack when you teach people when they're rounded up to fight in a civil war that's perpetuated by the same nations that teach them?

          You can't solve a problem when at the same time you perpetuate it. A company that sells fire extinguishers pumps fuel into a burning house isn't doing any good. That's not the tenant's fault, though.

          Stop selling them guns and you'll see how it works out.

      • Seriously, aside from such terms as "dumping" what are the negative externalities this has on people in those countries? Terrible right? But are they willing to live with them for the positive effects the revenue brings? Just because "we" sitting here at our nice western desks feel bad for "them" doesn't give us the right to engage in a new version of the white mans burden. Maybe they know the damage they are doing and they rationally balance it against the other options(none), and are actually comfortable
    • Re:News? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:21PM (#24549555)

      Your point is backed by African economist James Shikwati in the article "Stop the Aid!",1518,363663,00.html []

      • Not really. He's the one I used as a source but didn't remember the link (thank you for providing it, and I do highly recommend reading the article, it's about the best illustration for the whole mess we cause in Africa with our "aid"). So essentially, it's not really backed, we have the same source.

        I can see his point, though. We're sending the proverbial fish down there instead of sending them the nets and fishing rods they could use to become self sufficient. Basically it's just yet another form of colon

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      Well yes, it should be limited to goods they don't already have sufficient supply of...

      The trouble is, the local producers can't fulfill all the demand, and many people cannot afford to buy from the local producers. So foreign handouts come along... Suddenly those people who could afford to buy from the local producers, now take the freebies, and many of those who couldn't afford the local producers still have nothing.

      On the other hand, there are very few (if any?) producers of computer hardware in the thir

      • I do agree, this is different from sending food and other "easy to make" goods like textiles or basic tools. Still, the whole idea is being perverted by people and companies who want to dump their litter cheaply and even have the cheek to call it all "helping the poor".

        It's a bit like people stuffing the charity cloth bins with old rags. It really is a shame, because the charity organisations have to sort out the crap, pay to get rid of it and what's worst, someone coming with clothing that could still be u

      • by Narpak ( 961733 )
        I guess this is part of the point behind developing a computer that serves all basic needs, is cheap to manufacture and that can withstand some hardship. It would give a lot of people with the drive and desire to improve themselves the opportunity to do so. Thus helping themselves and their community. Education isn't just about getting grades, it's about what you learn. Right now Africa needs people with understanding, knowledge and preferably experience in many fields.

        I believe that Africa should be help
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hedleyroos ( 817147 )

      I don't believe your comparison is valid. Africa (apart from South Africa and probably Egypt) do not produce semi-conductors, so there is no industry to kill.

      Besides, how old can these computers be? Maybe 8 years? That will mean early P4 / Athlon right? That sounds pretty decent.

    • So by sending this equipment to Africa, we are destroying their nonexistent computer manufacturing industry?

    • Define 'crap' (Score:2, Interesting)

      Watched the YouTube link in the summary, for those of you who are too lazy or don't want to click video links:

      • The recipient in this case (a computer shop owner) likes this option to obtain computers, because buying them all new would be much more expensive, read: unaffordable for most of his customers
      • On average, 8 out of 10 received items are working. Working parts from the other 2 are used to bring non-working systems back to life.
      • For the remaining stuff, there's no recycling system in place

      Doesn't exactly

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:26PM (#24549605)

    I mean second hand computers that actually work. But many times, the computers that are "dumped" in Africa do not work. They are what the folks in the west call junk!

    You then find those especially from former Compaq, now HP, that require Compaq specific software in order to work optimally. When software cannot be found especially for the display, poor Africans settle for mediocre resolutions.

    I know because I have used several of them at different occasions.

    I can say that these computers, with the magic of solar energy, can transform lives. I know a family in a very remote area that uses one of these as a TV, getting free-to-air satellite feeds and earning an income from internet services on the side...all powered by solar energy and the computer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      Mediocre resolutions? Like 640x480? That's not that bad, certainly beats not having a monitor at all. Plenty of people use displays with resolutions less than that, albeit on mobile devices rather than desktops. And that's certainly enough for SD TV feeds (did you mean that?).
  • by Clay Pigeon -TPF-VS- ( 624050 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:27PM (#24549607) Journal

    More computers in Africa means more embattled princes and presidents will have representatives emailing me asking for me to send them money to free up their vast fortunes that they will share with me.

  • ... the Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest. WTF are you actually talking about?

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:39PM (#24549703) Journal
    There are a number of isses with this. One of the first is that most exports are pure junk. They typically burn a LOT of energy. The best thing would be to encourage the new low energy computers. But another issue is that there are a LOT of resources in our electronics. The best thing is for western countries to create a "junk pile" of these to hold them and work on developing the recycling tech. Keep in mind that you paid for it. Why send the gold, copper, silver, etc elsewhere (typically china).
    • There are a number of isses with this. One of the first is that most exports are pure junk. They typically burn a LOT of energy.

      I don't think this is true. Apart from recent innovations, PCs have used more and more power. Perhaps you might remember that CPUs used to all have passive coolers? The idea of a cooler on the graphics chip would have been laughable ~15 years ago. Power supplies have increased in output to 1kW. Unless you buy an expensive power supply, I don't think that efficiency has increased

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by WindBourne ( 631190 )
        The bulk of the desktop CPUs coming out for next year are slated to be less than 20 watts (some less than 10). The norm is 100+. The same is true of the integrated support chips. Most are doing this for the small laptops.
      • You fail to see the "equivalent horsepower" side of the coin. A Pentium 2 or so that consumes 100W out of the wall is going to be a lot more energetically wasteful than the modern-day ARM chip of equivalent horsepower that draws a few watts, if less. Even a current atom or core 2 processor downclocked to levels where it has the same computational power will consume much less energy.

        Modern systems consume a large amount of energy because power and cooling technology has advanced and downsized, and manufactur

  • by unteer ( 1095439 ) <.unteer. .at.> on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:42PM (#24549737) Homepage
    I worked for the non-profit World Computer Exchange ( and their entire effort is to provide working hardware (not software) to developing nations. They have been successful, a fact which I would attribute to their focusing on education and children's programs. But they do not simply dump machines on nations and then forget them, they also provide support and information on how to deal with e-waste in the developing nation. And though they aren't perfect (who is...?) I feel their efforts are worth noticing.
  • The real problem in Africa is that governments don't respect the sanctity of the individual (because they're mostly cruel dictatorships) and thus don't enforce private property rights.
  • by meist3r ( 1061628 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:49PM (#24549789)
    At least I know of the Linux4Africa project from a very positive news report on a fairly popular computer show on TV here in Germany. The project has already shipped several containers of fully functional donated computers to schools and institutions in Africa. [] I can't help with any international footage. Those who do speak German can check out the rather old video online: [] Or anyone dare to run this site through an online translator: [] I think one of the main reasons why there is such a ruckus about sending free computers to Africa is that the major nations are afraid of even more dirt cheap labor. Right now China and India are sucking huge amounts of resources into their boom and we can hardly keep up with our tiny countries. If someone started that Genesis device of economy in Africa with a kick of free technology this global system would surely collapse. At least what we know of it's power distribution right now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 10, 2008 @06:52PM (#24549803)
    They're called the 'Hate Mail' for a reason you know. They're techo-phobes. They peddle hate. It's a wonder the story never mentioned little babies dying from drinking contaminated by the drinkscupholders on the pc.
  • Stop this practice.

    The cost involved in gathering up and getting the computers there could be better spent elsewhere.

    The mining value in used computers for materials is greater per pound than is found in mining for the original material used to build such computers.

    Perhaps there is an industry to be had in extracting these values from junk. I'm sure there are such companies existing in the US.

    But I suspect it is just easier for teh lazy minded to just complain about a handout then it is to make use of what

  • Mixed feelings (Score:3, Informative)

    by smchris ( 464899 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @07:05PM (#24549905)

    Junked toxic waste? Right. Bad.

    But what about an analogy from amateur radio? Used to be if an "Elmer" (mentor), gave you his 20-year old transmitter, you were grateful. I think it's been decades since the American Radio Reley League warned about that. If it isn't half-new, nobody wants it now, will use it, or will benefit from the learning experience.

    I've looked at some of the charity sites and it seems a 1 ghz PIII is the least most want. I upgraded a K6-III 400 mhz machine I have sitting around (admittedly with 1/2 a gig of ram) from Xubuntu GG to HH this weekend. Booting is slow. Won't deny it. Program loading is slow. Won't deny it. But you are talking about an up-to-date OS that has the programs for everything most people would want and actual program execution speed is usable. The only thing it won't do is play videos decently with a X2 16 meg AGP card. Actually, it'll play a YouTube video without skipping or stuttering. It'll just play it at 1 fps. To me, someone with no computer at all in Chad, should be happy to have one that good.

  • I watched a news report about the exporting / dumping of PC's in Africa. I was amazed that in an effort to extract the copper from such cables as mains cables, they just set fire to the cables in some fuel. Surely it's cheaper and far less toxic to get a pair of cutters or knife and pull the copper wire out of it's sheath (easy) then pay for fuel to burn the cables?

    Thankfully with Linux, I've not needed to get rid of my older PC's to a dump, have passed my stuff to others that don't need latest equipment ju

  • by TheSpatulaOfLove ( 966301 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @07:25PM (#24550079)
    And my email box is filled with the proof!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jay-be-em ( 664602 )

      Informative? Give me a break. Just as much spam comes from European and American sources. Honestly if some guy in a developing country can outwit someone in a developed country who had top educational resources and economic opportunities, more power to them. Europe and America has been scamming developing countries for ages.

  • I'm actually serious. I don't believe in any kind of aid that is made of physical material. If you want to help people, you send books, you send teachers. You don't send rice and garbage.

    A few reasons for this:

    1) When you grow food and eat it, you poop those nutrients right back into your own ground. You send that to another country, and you are impoverishing your own.

    2) Sending broken computers to vicious, fell people results in exactly this kind of thing. We want to believe that everyone has a

    • by Xaria ( 630117 )

      Or it would leave the children with long term depression. They tried that in Australia with the Aboriginal population. The result - lower life expectancies, alcoholism in the communities, poverty. Those families where the entire family was included in society rather than broken up are doing a heck of a lot better. The Australian government recently apologized formally for the "Stolen Generation". Google it - breaking up families is very very wrong.

      Africa was doing okay until the rest of the world waltzed in

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @09:56PM (#24551141) Homepage

    I'm a community college physics teacher in the U.S., and I scrounge computer hardware to use in my lab classes. The school provides one Windows box per lab group, i.e., 7 computers for a class of 25 students. The trouble with that is, you get one student doing the graphs on the computer, and the rest of the group just sits there and watches. I've made a geekly hobby out of putting together decent Linux systems from garage sales, thrift shops, etc., to supplement what the school provides. It was interesting comparing the article with my own experiences back here in the developed world.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the line between good and bad hardware is extremely fuzzy. I picked up an old 500 MHz e-Machines box recently at Good Will for $89, and with a $20 memory upgrade it makes a perfectly decent Linux machine, especially with a distro like xubuntu that's designed more for low-end hardware (xfce rather than gnome, abiword rather than OOo). Many people would have considered this machine too old to be useful, but it works fine for the application I need it for.

    Similar deal with monitors. I actually find that cheap monitors are much, much harder to find than cheap computers. You don't see them much at thrift shops or swap meets, I guess because CRTs are heavy and bulky in relation to what you can sell them for. When I do get an old CRT, its mean time to failure is usually pretty darn short, probably 12-24 months. As far as I can tell, computer CRTs have a certain lifetime, and when you get your hands on a cheap one it's already near the end of that.

    One thing that's absurd, when you view computers as potential solid waste, is the amount of air inside a tower case these days. On a low-end machine, the case can easily be 90% empty. It's the equivalent of going to McDonalds and having them serve you your little 99-cent hamburger in a styrofoam clamshell the size of a microwave oven. I'm hoping the Asus eee Box [] comes out soon, and Asus doesn't jack up the price. For $269, it could be a wonderful deal.

    And by the way, if you're in Orange County, CA, and have a working monitor you're willing to donate, please email me at crowell08 at lightSPAMandISmatterEVIL dot com. I'll be more than happy to come and pick it up, and you can have the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that you're helping me spread peace, love, and linux to my students.

  • With the current cost of fuel for transporting stuff overseas and the increased value of copper and gold and just about everything else in computers, it's a lot more cost effective to melt them down here for bare metals.
  • by Mike610544 ( 578872 ) on Sunday August 10, 2008 @10:23PM (#24551293)
    After seeing this story I realize I'm an enlightened environmental hero. That 486DX2 in the corner would be poisoning people if I hadn't though "I might still need it for something!"
  • by denoir ( 960304 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @02:19AM (#24552501)

    I spent some time in Ghana last year and the computer situation there is rather interesting. In all internet cafes the computers are ancient (we're talking 486 and first generation Pentium boxes). The monitors are on the other hand excellent. After we in the west switched to TFTs, they got our CRTs and kept the good ones. They are however of limited use due to the weakness of the computer hardware. It's really atrocious to see Windows 95 in 640x480 on a 21" monitor.

    Now as for the computers that don't work, while it is certainly not nice with the child labour and the pollution, if you ask the Ghanaians they would tell you that they would rather get our computer junk than not. The junk does have value and can provide them with an income that they would not have otherwise.

    Speaking of pollution, the really damaging thing we are exporting are our old cars from the 80's. They don't have cat-cons and from most cars you can see a black cloud of exhaust gases. Again however, they are happier with the cars than without them.

    The junk that we dump on them does nowhere near the damage that our blind and misdirected aid programs do. They result in two things: 1)financing of corrupt government officials 2)increasing the population beyond sustainable levels.

    Ultimately however they need to get their shit together. Ghana is one of the more developed west African countries, but the situation is quite bad. The politicians are corrupt beyond belief and the only type of business that thrives is one that colludes with the politicians. In short their local industry doesn't actually do anything. Every engineering project of value has been done by westerners. The talented and able leave the country as soon as they can. There was also from what I could see a complete lack of entrepreneurial spirit. All the smaller businesses are run by foreigners (westerners, lebanese, chinese..).

    When you drive down any of the main roads every 500m you have somebody with a small stand selling pineapples. That is as far as the local entrepreneurial spirit extends: street vendors. They sell exactly the same thing and nobody gets the idea of joining up with other vendors, expanding and centralizing etc.. in short running a business.

    My conclusion from my stay was that it is a very difficult problem. I'm not sure that it is solvable - they are currently in so deep shit that it's difficult to see a way out. And we can't really help them either in a meaningful way. Investments are impossible as they have a history of nationalizing any successful industry and running it in the ground. In addition you could not make any investments without upholding the corrupt political system. You can't do anything on a larger scale without having resort to massive bribes.

    It's however more than that - they not only have to fix their system, but they first have to want to fix their system. Yes, the people are complaining about the politicians, but the first chance they get they elect the rawest populist they can find. And when the government nationalizes foreign industries and seize the property of industrialists (that haven't greased the machinery enough), the people cheer. I know this is not a popular thing to say but to a large degree it's their own fault. Unlike pineapples, industry does not grow on trees (well, actually neither do pineapples as they grow in bushes, but you get the point) and they have to choose between their current style of political and economic management and having a working economy.