Africa Hears "Great White Father" in (Seattle) Washington

Since the successful "Fair Trade Recycling Summit" at Middlebury College on Earth Week 2013, there has been a notable trend in visitors to the website ( and this blog.

A year ago, the deep blue in the USA (ignore Alaska s.v.p.) showed most readership here.  But Europe was #2.  In a given day now, Europe may not check as often.

But look at Africa and the mideast.  In 873 weekly readers, Africa is showing continued interest, in our exposure of the "science" of e-waste "statistics".

The maps were well lit during the Fair Trade Recycling Summit itself.   355 page views per hour on the video alone.  Some of those were "classroom" views with multiple attendees.

But as Americans shrug and say "Huh, that's interesting", and go back to recycling old "e-waste dumping" stories, the logins at African Universities and Colleges continue.

Africans know that "new" product is A) unaffordable, and B) unreliable.   When there is a high number of returns on millions of units at USA's Best Buy, WalMart, or Target, they yank the product.  Certain new electronics have 33% failure rate from electrostatic discharge.  Where do the bad batches, new in box, go?  When a Taiwanese factory gets its display units back for bad pixels counts, or electrostatic damage, or bad capacitors?


Africans beware the "new in box".  Nations without strong warranty systems are the same as the nations without gates to keep kids out of the dumps.

The niche which Africans discovered, particularly with the 17" CRT monitor displays "upgraded" in the west, was that a proven CRT technology, which lasts 20+ years, sold in nations with decades of warranty law, had been vetted.  They are almost always working, and very repairable.

The CRT displays lasted longer than the newer LCDs in hot weather.  They are harder and less interesting to steal (if you are an entrepreneur from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, or Cameroon, locking up your shop at night, that's a major concern).

But most importantly, they are affordable.   Nations which have grown in per capita income, from $500 per capita per year to $3,000 per capita per year - nations without "resource curse" oil wells or diamond mines, like Egypt - growth in internet was ten times the rate of growth in Europe or the USA.

Asia meanwhile doesn't seem to have this white-guilt-bugaboo.  Asian big anti-gray-market companies are putting in shredding systems for used goods, and Asian secondary markets are trying to outrun them, sending the equipment to Viet Nam, or Bangladesh, or other nations without a big shred loving OEM.   There is huge noise about store returns, takeback, collections in China, but it seems more "businesslike" to me, more a matter of Beijing (where big manufacturers wine and dine officials) vs. Guangdong (where the loathed Taiwanese businessmen turned takeback, refurb, and knock-offs into a billion dollar contract manufacturing stratosphere).

What I want is to find writers in India and Pakistan (Malaysia and Indonesia and Philippines are already showing interest).  They have been served a heck of a lot of Basel Action Network Kool-Aid.

Africa and South Asia and Latin America, learn the story of the Network of Tinkerers.  Your small repairmen, the ones being arrested and sent back to Eden by Interpol, are most likely to become your Terry Gou, your Simon Lin, your Steve Jobs, your Steve Wozniak.   Greenpeace, NRDC, BAN, and ETBC really believed that your dumps were being loaded by European sea container when this started.  They passionately invested in the story.

Kind of like infant formula marketing companies I studied in the 1980s, who thought the formula they were selling to Africa was improving child nutrition.  It was exceedingly difficult for companies like Nestle to come to grips with the fact that their "healthy infant formula" wasn't paying the dividends they thought.   Environmentalists and Sustainability Students on all continents need to react faster than Infant Formula companies did.

what me worry?
"Despite your reading diligence however, it is unfortunate that you did not start by questioning the baseless assertions made by Adam Minter in his reckless article.   Never has BAN ever stated that 80% of US e-waste is exported."  - Jim Puckett
This is a quote from your fearless leader, your guru, the source of your colonial know-better policy.  This is like your product development officer saying "never have we said that infant formula is superior to breast milk".   Easy enough for to wash its hands.

It reminds me of the story from my great Grandfather, William E. Freeland, who spent two decades in the Indian service (and left a conservative, convinced that BIA was abusing the entire native American culture, with "welfare").  He was told to convey messages from Washington, DC, as promises from "The great white father".  He said a Navajo (or Hopi?) chief replied back, that he had been given different instructions so many times from so many people representing "the great white father".  The chief politely gave his most charitable interpretation.  "There must be so many different Great White Fathers.  Like THIS."  And he extended his hand, palm pointed downward, fingers stretched, towards the horizon.  He went on to start a newspaper with his wife Minnie Freeland (who actually set up and ran the paper in Taney County the first 3 years, while he testified in an organized rape case against US BIA agents in the Southwest.   He was personal friends with "Black Elk Speaks" author Bob Niehardt, by the way).

William E. Freeland
When BBC, the Economist, Frontline, CBS, and more recently, the Vancouver Sun, realize they are advertising false arrests as heroic intervention by the Great White Father in Washington, they should demonstrate the same liberal wrath at trigger-happy watchdogs that they showed to companies like Nestle in the 1970s and 80s.  The folks at Nestle weren't bad people (I spent a semester at the UN in Geneva, at WHO, and met with Nestle brass over the INFAM boycott).   But that did not protect them when, contrary to their intentions, babies were dying.

"IF NOT FOR".   If not for BAN, Hamdy, Benson, Chiu, and 40 other African importers would not have had their lives ruined by defamation.  Anti- racists must hold the "greens" to the same standard as we have held the "whites".  Environmental justice must be color-blind, and must mean calling a spade a spade, even when the cards are dealt by altruistic do-gooders in Seattle.

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