Ghana "E-waste" Tech Returns!

Back From Ghana!  Muhammed W. walked into my office today, looking fresh in a new African Buba.   He apologized for sending so few emails and for not yet uploading his film footage of the technicians at work in Accra... he says he's been spoiled by the high speed internet here in the USA, and that in Ghana it sometimes takes 15 minutes to open a single web page.

He showed pictures he'd taken, and documentation of the shipment, and shared a lot of his experiences with sale and delivery.  Here's a few:

- He hit the ball out of the park with the copy machines we sent.  That was a bit of an experience on all our parts.  He said they were all repaired and made to work, and showed photos of the makeshift paper trays they had crafted for the ones which were missing a tray feeder.

- He was successful at buying and replacing hard drives from the ones we pulled out due to time constraints (if they are not wiped, they cannot leave the building in Middlebury).  He had been a little uneasy about that.

- His experience at customs was typical African mess.   15 of the nicest computers were stolen from the container during "inspection", and a number of flat screens were rifled through and broken.

- His letter stating that there would be no fees on this load was not honored, and he was forced to pay an extra $3,000 in "value added tax" or something to get the container out of customs.

- He accidentally "poofed" three power supplies on 3 pentium 4s when he forgot to flick the dual volt power supply switch from 110v to 220v.  We will send replacements on the next container.  We discussed getting an inventory of parts for the next order, from plastic casing pieces to DVD drives to RAM, stuff that they could harvest from machines here without paying for the whole piece to be delivered.

- He was surprised that he was able to so easily find a technician who repairs broken LCD televisions (tested working when they left here, broken in shipping) by replacing the screen.   The price he got for them was "equal to what he paid", meaning it could not be for scrap burning (the guy was very picky about which ones he took)... but it was a break even enterprise.  We discussed removing the broken LCDs we get in Middlebury to sell for this guy to replace... But we'd need exactly the right makes and models.

- He had not yet read the Ghana "ewaste" report out of Europe.   I showed him the statistics, which he thought were unsurprising and obvious.  He questioned why the cover of the Ghana E-Waste Country Assessment was decorated with pictures of primitive wire burning, when the statistics in the report showed that almost all the trade was done through professionals like himself.

I kind of chuckled at that, I had not even noticed.  But he's right, the photos on the cover of the report are 80% primitive, wire burning, informal dirty processes!  Even though the report showed 85% professionally repaired and reused.

Geeks of Color don't get depicted as stereotypical pimps, watermelon Sambos, or minstrels.

They get depicted as incapable businesspeople who pay outlandish fees for selectively graded equipment, just to burn the devices.

My wife, incidentally, is director of the African Studies program at Middlebury College.  She just returned from a trip to Yaounde, Cameroon, three weeks ago.  The College is considering opening a studies program there, like the one they have at Alexandria, Egypt.   I would have loved the chance to study in a program like that.  I hope the College goes ahead with it, and if I'm wrong about my approach to fair trade recycling, I hope they'll let me know quickly.  But is appears to me that if a crime has been committed in Ghana, it's probably slander.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That sounds about par for the course for a lot of the developing countries. There is always some sort of unique "tax" that importers must pay.