E-Missionaries Saving African Recyclers: 9 Stages Of Eyes Adjusting to Dark

Senegal Computer Salesman - 2006
The 2006 picture of white computers shows a Tech Sector importer in his shop in Dakar, Senegal.  The Pentium 3s and 4s were likely 5 years old. They'd be 15 now. The picture itself is 11 years old. Someday, the computers will be Senegal's e-waste, if not already.

Until then, they brought the internet to people who could not afford to buy new.  And Souleymane, the geek in the white shirt, was one of the most interesting people I've met in a decade.  He stayed at my house.  We cooked and broke bread together. I accepted his money, and he accepted those computers from Vermont.

Most of us don't have a personal connection with Africans in photos of exported e-waste.  And most of the photos in the mainstream press do not have any specifics... names, age, date of import, chain of possession, etc.

Contrast the 2006 import shop with the 2016 photo.

Unfortunately, neither photo is typical in news reports on exports of used electronics to Africa.

What do the photos below say to you as an Electronics Recycler?  It depends at what Stage of the Recycling Export Experience you have achieved.  To end racism and environmental injustice, you must first remember a lesson from childhood. Let your eyes adjust to the dark, and it won't frighten you as much as it does at first.

Here are the 9 Stages of Export Denial and Acceptance.

Stage 1:  You have a used goods or scrap recycling company.  An African or Asian offers you money, more than the scrap is worth.  You sell it to them and feel like you made profit and a new friend.  You haven't seen the photo yet....

Fair use of screenshot from McElvaney Youtube video making false claims

Stage 2: You see pictures and read scary stories about 80% of exports by Africans and Asians being bad for the environment.  You start to hide your colored friends, downplay them.  They only buy 15% of your stuff, after all, not 80%.   The photo expresses a liability... it scares you.

Fair Use of Bellini photo in Washington Post falsely claiming Yahroo was a "boy"

Stage 3: You can't hide it from your own employees, so you have an idea.  Your competitors are shipping 80% - but YOU are only shipping 15%!  You decry the competitors bad actions.  The photo is an offensive weapon against competitors.

Fair Use of Placebo Screenshot with false claim that exports caused poverty

Stage 4:  A competitor says it's only YOUR word that you are only shipping 15%, and tells your clients HE is "certified" and you aren't. So you pay for certification that you don't export 80%. The photo shows the value of your investment in certification.

Fair Use of Organization Web Photo falsely claiming one typicality of dumping

Stage 5:  Your certification agency inspectors have never been to Africa or Asia, and don't know what is going on with the 15%, but they know their sales (certifications) are driven by fears of pictures of primitive practices in Asia and Africa. So the inspector focuses on your 15% (not what happens to the shredded 85%).  See Stage 2... you downplay it and re-distance yourself from your colored friends.  The photo is a fetish, a warning, a sword held over you.

Stage 6:  Your African buyer complains you aren't selling as much to him anymore, and that he has had to buy worse quality from uncertified companies willing to sell to him. You explain that you aren't happy either.  So you fly to Africa to inspect the downstream and tell your clients you have checked it out.  With a plane ticket and a short vacation, you'll be an international expert. The photo becomes something you are ready to see for yourself.  

Stage 7: In Africa you are confronted with traffic jams and universal ownership of TVs and cell phones and computers by millions of people.  You learn they have had this teledensity for well over 15 years, far enough time to generate their own waste.  You realize everything they are doing - buying, using, replacing, discarding - is exactly what Europeans and Americans do. You do see dirty, poor scrapyards near slum areas of town... but after a month you do not observe a single sea container (much less 500 per month).  You begin reading, and find out the 80% waste statistic was made up by the certification founder.  The photo now represents a very small sample of a vast and complex emerging market society.

WR3A Africa Tech Shop 2003.  15 years later, these are discarded. Like yours.

Stage 8:  
Your African friend is arrested in the UK and sentenced to prison for 5 years based on "common knowledge" (verbatum from the prosecutor) that since he was exporting used electronics (he purchased, wasn't paid to take) that 80% will be dumped.  The judge accepts the assertion - sans habeus corpus - that 80% of his exports arrived by sea container at the African dump. Your friend is accused of paying money to dump waste in his own country, and is sentenced based on statistics you learned (#7) were made up by the certification founder you are paying money to.  The photo is now a burning cross on your friends lawn.

I am at Stage 9.

Atticus Finch.
Huckleberry Finn.
John Brown.
William Lloyd Garrison, and Arthur Tappan...
Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Malcom X.


You stand up to the Bullyboys, even when they are from your own Tribe. Your own ENGO tribe, your own Certification Tribe.

You tell people that the photos, the "poverty porn" is itself an environmental injustice, racial profiling, racist charitable industrial complex, supported by shredding machine (Big Shred) sales and self-serving certification founders.  The import isn't perfect, but who are we to think that boycotting African and Asian buyers will make their supply chain better (rather than drive it into back alleys and black markets)?

We have met Environmental Injustice, and He is Us.

2016 Imports - What's Selling In Africa Tech Shop Today WR3A
Next Blog:  Teaching the E-Waste Missionary Position?

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