Back to Africa / We Live in the Future

Ken 'Bundy' Brown 2003 Band "Gray market goods"
Got my ticket, my seat assignments, and going through the visa process.   And I'm working on a cluttered pile of photos and journals, hoping to turn some of my writing into something a little more mainstream.

From time to time though, I'll return here.  My goal is to make the blog shorter and sharper.   A lot of the posts have emphasized the same point, rewording the collective outrage of the geeks of color in different ways.   It can be done humorously, like the April Fools "African Matrix Blog" (scarily foreshadowing the methodology of the E-Waste Tragedy "scrapumentary"), or with college thesis flair, or angrily.    But the goal now is to provide insight in modest bites.

Here's the key difference between exports of used electronics to African and Indonesian geeks and the exports to the ports controlled by (mostly Taiwanese) businesspeople in China.   The Chinese market, in the 1990s, was more like Africa today, importing for direct reuse and consumption in Chinese cities which could not otherwise afford brand new product.   That's like used German cars being sold in Poland in the late 1980s, or used brand name appliances to Russians in the 90s.   That's what Hurricane Hamdy, Hurricane Benson, and other African traders have been engaged in.   It's pretty simple, a secondary market taking gently used and electively upgraded material from wealthy neighborhoods and reselling them in emerging neighborhoods.   Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, St. Vincent de Paul, eBay.
  • In a direct resale market, you are selling a used car with the odometer reading is correct.
  • In a direct resale market, you could be selling a used car with the odometer rolled back.
  • In a brand new market, you could be selling a brand new car.
  • In a brand new market, you could be selling what looks like a brand new car, but is basically "spray and pray" (new coats of paint on an old or recalled motor).
(Here's some background music by Ken "Bundy" Brown via Youtube.   I'm a huge fan of Leo Kottke and Ry Cooder, and would place Gray Market Goods in that style or vein.  His older stuff is a more Little Feat-ish.)

Artwork for 2003 Album cover found at DJ Food Blog

In Asia, the more controversial economy is labelled the "grey market".   The term grey market recognizes the blurred lines of direct used product sales, and black market goods.   For example, laptop batteries that are recharged and refurbished for reuse in Guiyu is a good thing.  But when someone carries them in a lunch bag into a Foxconn factory, slips the used battery in a new laptop on the assembly line, and takes the brand new battery out in the same lunch bag, that's stealing.

The problem is that laws intended to draw a clear line are always jockeyed by lobbyists to address the legitimate used market, labelled "market cannibalization" by a well known scrap industry professional at a presentation I attended (EPR2 1998).  In fact, there's a major campaign to rob the very term "grey market" of its nuance, and treat it the same as a "black market" or "counterfeit" market in the press.  And this is the front line between the corporations and "one percent" stockholders and the affordability of the emerging markets relying on second hand goods.  They even borrow's favorite catch phrase, the "dirty little secret".

If HP ink cartridges are refilled for reuse and sold as "refilled, used cartridges", USA courts call that a "white market" under the "first use" limit of patent law enforcement.  Japan sees it differently, a patent may extend to the second buyer.  In the USA, the courts say that manufacturers can choose to LEASE their items if they want control over the item afterwards.   In Japan, Fuji can sue Jazz camera for refilling its disposable film cameras... and win.

In Africa, there is no sign of any manufacturing lines swapping used chips and parts in order to steal and resell the legit parts.   It's pretty simple.  The market is someone who wants to get online and watch the world cup, not a competing factory buying stolen new components.

In China, it is many other stories.   I saw factories which were running used parts in the same assembly lines manufacturing new devices, and cannot imagine the lines don't cross.   The Dell vs. Tiger Direct suits of the past decade tell the story of Taiwanese repairers fixing things, like capacitors, so well that no one could tell the refurbished from new product.   Dell was wise to offer "factory refurbished" and to buy the units back themselves for resale.

Until Africa has more electronics manufacturing, it will have very high shipping rates (unlike China) and scrap metal and plastic from recycling will have to be re-shipped again to a place like China that's manufacturing and needs the raw materials.

Someday an African city may go "Singapore" and make the leap from direct reuse to knock offs to assembly to ODM manufacture, but until then, there's no money to be made in buying and shipping "80% waste" or "75%" for parts only.

Africans are collateral damage in a war over Chinese grey markets.   Africans need to wake up and tell Mike Anane he's become a pawn in the anti-reuse game, playing a bit role in a Japanese patent law, Chinese assembly industry, European metal and shredding interest, and USA anti-globalization charity complex.

African used goods trade is more straightforward.  It's never for scrap value, and for Africans who pay for goods and shipping, it's never about externalized waste.  It's not yet about counterfeiting or black market part swapping.  

Joe Benson
Is who he says he is
And was doing
What he said he was doing.

In that way, though he may not read or write, he's far more a class act than liars and cowards who accuse him.

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