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The Effects of Exporting Used PCs To Africa

Soulskill posted about 6 years ago | from the do-not-try-this-at-home dept.

Earth 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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Good ones don't count (5, Insightful)

unixcrab (1080985) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Good ones don't count (4, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | about 6 years ago | (#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:Good ones don't count (4, Funny)

The Ultimate Fartkno (756456) | about 6 years ago | (#24549553)

What's the problem? If you want to adhere to the Basil conventions, you send fawlty computers. I fail to see the issue here.

Re:Good ones don't count (4, Funny)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | about 6 years ago | (#24550343)

I fail to see the issue here.

Getting a load of fawlty towers with all the manuels missing is a major problem.

Re:Good ones don't count (2, Insightful)

monsul (1342167) | about 6 years ago | (#24549629)

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)

Re:Good ones don't count (4, Interesting)

Joebert (946227) | about 6 years ago | (#24549983)

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

Re:Good ones don't count (1)

c6gunner (950153) | about 6 years ago | (#24550165)

Awesome. 50,000 286's and associated peripherals are now on their way to Joe's house. Good luck, Joe!

Re:Good ones don't count (2, Funny)

c6gunner (950153) | about 6 years ago | (#24550187)

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:Good ones don't count (2, Funny)

Joebert (946227) | about 6 years ago | (#24550225)

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:Good ones don't count (2, Informative)

colmore (56499) | about 6 years ago | (#24550411)

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.

Re:Good ones don't count (2, Funny)

Joebert (946227) | about 6 years ago | (#24550607)

Of I see, you just don't want people to quit sending the stuff to you ! :)

Re:Good ones don't count (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550715)

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.

I'd send you some of my old stuff if the shipping didn't cost more than the gear would cost you at GoodWill.

If you're coming up I-75 into Georgia sometime in the near future, we might can work something out.

Re:Good ones don't count (1)

colmore (56499) | about 6 years ago | (#24550265)

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.

Re:Good ones don't count (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550179)

Excatly. Polluter pays - get rid of your own junk.

People in developing countries are proud, ambitious and intelligent - just like you!

They want affordable new computers that they can call their own. eeePC for $250, basic web-enabled mobole phones for $50 - awesome.

The biggest problem is not price of manufacturing, it is taxes set by inefficient, self-serving and (most of the time) un-elected governments. In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, import duty on computers is over 40% (often 120%). Then add VAT (18% or so) and mark-up and they become unaffordable. If new eeePCs (or similar) were available in all African countries for $250 a pop they would be everywhere and the impact would be enormous.

if the EU and US got rid of unfair tarifs and subsidies on agricultural products many many more people could afford this.

Donating obsolete hardware may be effective in certain situations for a limited time (for a particular school for example) but it is not a sustainable solution.

Re:Good ones don't count (3, Insightful)

geoskd (321194) | about 6 years ago | (#24550539)

if the EU and US got rid of unfair tarifs and subsidies on agricultural products many many more people could afford this.

Those same import restrictions are one of the most important factors supporting the first world economies. Globalization tends to level the playing field, so that poor contries get wealthier and rich countries get poorer, but we in the first world have a vested interest in preventing this, hence the tarifs. If you remove them, yes you will create more wealth in the third world, as new jobs are created to provide cheap goods and services for the first world. The first world however sees a very negative downside result: unemployment and a decrease in standard of living. Why would any bureaucrat (elected or otherwise) sign them self up for that kind of trouble at home? For anyone who doesn't believe me, just look at what is happening with engineering and IT jobs in the US. global trade has given the Chinese and Indian economies a tremendous boost, but the cost has been American jobs. These second world nations are quickly becoming first world nations, but the US by contrast is now seeing the first generation in its history that has failed to see an increase in the standard of living from one generation to the next. Mark my words: the US is on the decline, because we sold our future to China and India for some cheap consumer goods. Half our population now has to mortgage their kids to afford those same goods that we used to make at home, and things are showing every sign of getting worse. The cost of these things hasn't gone up, our ability to buy has gone down. We have quite effectively wiped out the middle class in the US and with it goes our economy.


Re:Good ones don't count (1)

bberens (965711) | about 6 years ago | (#24550561)

Well, these countries have to tax someone. By taxing 'luxury' goods like cell phones and computers they're taxing the 'rich' and not taxing the starving masses. Makes sense to me.

Re:Good ones don't count (1)

colmore (56499) | about 6 years ago | (#24550255)

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.

Re:Good ones don't count (1)

bberens (965711) | about 6 years ago | (#24550585)

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:Good ones don't count (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550403)

Why aren't AFRICANS able to produce their own computers? Because their average IQ is 70, that's why. James Watson was right.
Blacks will NEVER attain civilisation. They are the 'babies' of the human race, forever holding out their paws to 'whitey', demanding food and 'aid', that never ends.

It's been going for 50 years, and still Africa is a hellish third world shithole, because of ONE thing, and ONE thing only: the PEOPLE who live there - in other words - the AFRICANS...

More lying propaganda from monopolists & toadi (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550679)

Yep, this one won't get a score, but it will be the truth. The real reason for the campaign against exporting used computers to Africa is to preserve microsoft's monopoly, and to force the sale of Vista to poor Africans under the red herring of 'saving the environment'. Africa is HUGE. Just the Peoples Republic of the Congo is the size of the continental United States! A few computers would be so lost as to disappear! Not sending used computers to such a place that needs them is tantamount to the account of the dumping of milk in Los Angeles harbor during the great depression in the sight of hungry and starving unemployed 'just to uphold the price'...John Steinbeck in "The Grapes of Wrath". Does the world have any decency left? Just how deeply have we as a species silently sold our souls to the filthy purveyors of copyrights?

First post anxiety (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549365)

Oh dear! What should I write?!

Re:First post anxiety (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549391)

you should write about that time CmdrTaco ate out your asshole while Hemos sucked your balls (aka Friday night).

Re:First post anxiety (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549841)

You know what's more pathetic than a first post troll? A first post troll who doesn't even get the first post.

News? (5, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#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? (4, Insightful)

thermian (1267986) | about 6 years ago | (#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? (4, Interesting)

fastest fascist (1086001) | about 6 years ago | (#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? (4, Insightful)

thermian (1267986) | about 6 years ago | (#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? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549831)

And yet they stop working when their bellies are full.

Re:News? (2, Informative)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | about 6 years ago | (#24550433)

God forgive me for responding to this, but I couldn't stop myself.

Die a slow, slow death you piece of shit.

Re:News? (4, Insightful)

Bert64 (520050) | about 6 years ago | (#24549647)

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:News? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549723)

They're starving because they are hopeless niggers who barely ooga-chaka pointy sticks through zebras.

Re:News? (5, Insightful)

NemoinSpace (1118137) | about 6 years ago | (#24549951)

I was going to mod you into oblivion, but preservation of your post will serve to remind me; people like you really exist.

The soulless anonymous coward dies a thousand deaths, the starving die but once.

Re:News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550713)

Careful NemoinSpace - it looks like you are replying to the grandparent. Because of course the AC parent is modded to invisible. Can't you just ignore it?
    The grandparent has an unpleasant and controversial, but valid point.

Re:News? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549957)

Typically I'd disagree and say you're just racist, but frankly, these people have had centuries to get their act together and they've failed. Whereas white colonies in the same areas have flourished.

Re:News? (2, Insightful)

emilper (826945) | about 6 years ago | (#24549801)

-1, Malthusian

Re:News? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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? (4, Insightful)

fastest fascist (1086001) | about 6 years ago | (#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? (4, Insightful)

thermian (1267986) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:News? (1)

c6gunner (950153) | about 6 years ago | (#24550223)

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:News? (2, Insightful)

ziah (1095877) | about 6 years ago | (#24550335)

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:News? (2, Insightful)

SnEptUne (1264814) | about 6 years ago | (#24550689)

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 the third-world country, not degrade it. It is only a problem when you cannot even afford educations.

Re:News? (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | about 6 years ago | (#24550377)

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 of the countries we're talking about here?

Re:News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550093)

-5 Racist, facist, uninformed.

Re:News? (2, Interesting)

ziah (1095877) | about 6 years ago | (#24550267)

I actually I agree with what you're saying.

Control the cause not the effect.

Cause: overpopulation
Effect: starvation


Re:News? (5, Interesting)

c6gunner (950153) | about 6 years ago | (#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? (1)

belmolis (702863) | about 6 years ago | (#24550719)

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 is Zimbabwe, which in principle can feed itself just fine but whose economy has been destroyed almost single-handedly by Roberto Mugabe.

Re:News? (1)

Gerzel (240421) | about 6 years ago | (#24549949)

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.

Re:News? (1)

fastest fascist (1086001) | about 6 years ago | (#24550311)

That's... fascinating, and yet I fail to see the relevance?

Re:News? (2, Interesting)

c6gunner (950153) | about 6 years ago | (#24550327)

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 than ever in human history. It must be part of our "golden age" complex.

Re:News? (1)

Gerzel (240421) | about 6 years ago | (#24549907)

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.

Re:News? (1)

Zadaz (950521) | about 6 years ago | (#24550071)

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 show just how ignorant and misguided we are. The idea somehow that data will fill the stomach and cure the disease of the world is a Utopian fantasy of people who have never been starving or even met someone who is. Hell, most of us don't even have passports so it's easy to tell the rest of the world what to do when you have never experienced it.

It's irresponsible to dump our toxic waste on poor countries. Just because they were once useful products to us don't mean they're useful to them, and expecting dirt poor countries to clean up messes that we aren't willing to deal with is arrogant and destructive.

Might as well send them all of our uranium waste and asbestos while we're at it.

Modding Up Is Not Good Enough! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549475)

I vote to remove one digit from Opportunist's UID.

Re:Modding Up Is Not Good Enough! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549575)

That would invert the space-time continuum! Are you mad, AC? ... why am i talking to myself again?

Re:News? (4, Interesting)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | about 6 years ago | (#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? (4, Insightful)

sleigher (961421) | about 6 years ago | (#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. []

Re:News? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549977)

Except the choice isn't school or a sweat shop. It's a sweat shop, starving to death or a job much much worse than a sweat shop (likely involving literal slavery). Likewise education isn't exactly useful when the most you're likely to do in life could be done by a well trained monkey. Shoving western values that evolved from millennium of slow progress, including conditions much worse, onto areas that haven't had that progress doesn't work well.

Unless you can pull a magical solution that instantly fixes all their problem out of your ass there is no quick fix. If there is no quick fix then some people and some generations will be screwed over so that future generations can do better. In other words these kids won't get an education but the goal isn't that but rather that their kids (or grandkids) can get an education.

Re:News? (2, Insightful)

sleigher (961421) | about 6 years ago | (#24550047)

This is exactly why I liked projects like OLPC. It is naive to think that we can drop laptops on a bunch of kids in third world countries and it will fix their problems, but it plants the seed so that in time they can grow as a people. That is what was important about it.

The fact that western corporations can go there and open sweat shops is "the problem." I don't agree that we should enforce western values on anyone, even the west. The only thing we should be doing in these countries is helping them learn to solve the problems they have. Not providing a solution for them.

Re:News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550111)

The only way they're going to get an education is if you build thousands and thousands of schools, pass a law that says all children must attend, then ensure the police actually enforce that law. And to do that you'd have to take over their governments and rule by tyranny because the people of Africa just don't want to force their children to learn. Oh, and the whole time you'll have whiny liberals thinking their smart by telling you that "public schooling is just mind control".

Re:News? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 6 years ago | (#24550295)

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 brings.

Re:News? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549859)

The problem is, those guys are completely useless. If they actually worked instead of killing each other their countries wouldn't be the shitholes they are today. It's all their fault and I don't see any reason why we should waste time and money helping them.


Re:News? (2, Insightful)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about 6 years ago | (#24550067)

"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 time to face the reality that nobody wants to admit.

Re:News? (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#24550635)

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.

Re:News? (1)

ragethehotey (1304253) | about 6 years ago | (#24550609)

This argument has been pulled apart a million times before. Children Do Not Work In Sweatshops Because They Are Being Forced To, But Because The Available Alternatives Are Worse. It is more than a little insulting that you think the natives of the area are so stupid that they would work for pennies in sweatshops when there are better oppurtunities available.

Re:News? (1)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | about 6 years ago | (#24550645)

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 with their choice of breathing plastic fumes over dying. The facts of the third world, as told to me by an "illegal" Mexican immigrant, is that shit industries is better then starving, and westerners who try to have it shut down are viewed as a threat to their very survival. Why is it the vast majority of protest of the WTO is rich westerners who have the most to fear from real competition with developing nations? and the same who categorize vast swaths of people as "Illegal"?

Re:News? (3, Interesting)

rolfwind (528248) | about 6 years ago | (#24549555)

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

Re:News? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 6 years ago | (#24550699)

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 colonialism. Just that this time, we don't bother sending troops. We just keep them under the thumb economically.

Far more profitable, ya know?

Re:News? (2, Insightful)

Bert64 (520050) | about 6 years ago | (#24549599)

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 third world. I think we should send obsolete but still fully functional computers there, while educating locals how to provide service and support for those who don't want to learn in depth about the computers. As it stands, there is no way people in the third world will be able to produce computer hardware, even to a level that would be considered horrendously obsolete by today's standards... But they are perfectly capable of learning how to support these machines and writing software for them. An otherwise outdated computer that goes to be used in the third world saves landfill.
But we should do something about those who send junk, that is completely defective machines that aren't of any use whatsoever.

Re:News? (2, Insightful)

hedleyroos (817147) | about 6 years ago | (#24549643)

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.

Re:News? (1)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | about 6 years ago | (#24550063)

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

Define 'crap' (2, Interesting)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | about 6 years ago | (#24550159)

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 sound like 'dumping crap'. But the 'no recycling system in place' caught my attention. If you think of it, is it weird? No, perhaps in really poor countries, the IT industry is a relatively new and immature business. Compare that when computers where a new thing for people in western countries. You'd want one (like we still do today). The purchase price of a new one would be prohibitive. So for many folks, their first computer would be a 2nd hand one. When you'd get a better one, you'd give/sell the old one to a friend or family member. And when the time came that it was finally dead, what would you do? Right: no plan for that, no recycling system in place. I can imagine that a lot of broken computers from the PC XT era have found their way into landfills, before western countries came to the conclusion that's not wise, and an unsustainable way to get rid of e-waste (and thus, before regulations were put in place).

So my point: perhaps a lot of these African nations simply haven't gotten to that point yet. Besides, a lot of these issues will differ from case to case. Some organizations could be doing really well, even from an environmental perspective. Or shady businesses may indeed just be in it for the money, dumping crap, fully aware they're screwing their African partners long-term. Let's try to separate the bad from the good, shall we?

Re:News? (1)

Tiber727 (1324993) | about 6 years ago | (#24550405)

There are ways to provide aid that don't rely on the method of just giving hand outs. For instance, Heifer International [] donates farm animals to families. They teach the family how to raise it, but the family has to take care of it. Kiva [] loans people money, and favors loans requested to start/improve a business. What's interesting about Kiva is that you see who you'd be donating to and what they want it for, and choose where your money goes. So there are options out there. Perhaps the problem isn't the act of donating; maybe it's just the model.

Linus is right (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549515)

I think Linus is right on this one.
I have to agree

How Sick (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24549543)

It's really sick how the "rich" countries think they're helping when they use their own country's way of life as a template to "improve" a third-world country. If you live in a country like the US (or Canada, where I am), take a serious look around and try to realize that your country's ways are totally FUCKED UP AND SHOULD NEVER BE DUPLICATED ELSEWHERE!!!

I know, let's fatten up the world's entire population on McDonald's, chips, chocolate, and all the other junk food we live off. Let's advertise Coke and Pepsi to the masses and rot everybody's bodies all to hell. Let's send them magazines that promote beauty as the most important facet of any human being. Let's teach them that the only thing that really matters is money and power, and that one should do anything possible to surround themselves with such things.

So please, leave the rest of the world alone. Starvation and disease may be one hell of a way to live, but think of what you're introducing them to by pushing your way of life onto these people. Truly sickening, if you ask me.

Re:How Sick (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | about 6 years ago | (#24550489)

Let's summarize this comment, shall we? Starvation + disease is better than obesity, which is a body gone 'to hell'. A lifespan half as long as the West's is better than insecurity about one's looks. The lust for money and power are native only to Europe.

I have to disagree, I'm sorry. You are correct that there are cultural wrongs that we export from the West, but we cannot presume that the cost of help is greater than the benefit. To do so would be paternalistic and condescending, and I don't think that's what you mean to advocate.

Some of these computers have transformed lives (3, Interesting)

bogaboga (793279) | about 6 years ago | (#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:Some of these computers have transformed lives (2, Interesting)

assassinator42 (844848) | about 6 years ago | (#24550173)

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?).

more computers in africa == bad (2, Funny)

Clay Pigeon -TPF-VS- (624050) | about 6 years ago | (#24549607)

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.

That story should have been submitted... (1)

EWAdams (953502) | about 6 years ago | (#24549669)

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

Exporting our electronic "junk" is a mistake. (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 years ago | (#24549703)

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).

Re:Exporting our electronic "junk" is a mistake. (1)

whoever57 (658626) | about 6 years ago | (#24549821)

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 sufficiently to compensate for the increased output demand.

There is only one component in a new PC (Atom and other low power models excepted) -- the monitor. Changing from CRT to LCD results in a significant reduction in power usage.

Re:Exporting our electronic "junk" is a mistake. (2, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 years ago | (#24550075)

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.

Re:Exporting our electronic "junk" is a mistake. (1)

thealsir (927362) | about 6 years ago | (#24550279)

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 manufacturers have found a way to exploit this. Process technology, etc. allow for computers that consume a lot of power, while being exponentially more powerful. They would not be nearly as powerful if they only required passive cooling. It's truly the definition of pushing the envelope, and in its wake are some still powerful enough chips that consume next to no power.

Re:Exporting our electronic "junk" is a mistake. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 6 years ago | (#24550739)

My old computer has something like a 300 watt power supply. My current computer, a laptop, has a 60 watt power supply. It also happens to be something like 20 times faster.

World Computer Exchange (5, Informative)

unteer (1095439) | about 6 years ago | (#24549737)

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.

Re:World Computer Exchange (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550005)

I worked with WCE -- I agree, they do a good job. I was a science teacher and used the computers to teach a basic programming class.

Some posters above are comparing this to donating clothes and food aid -- it's not the same. Most developing countries aren't anywhere near a point where they could roll their own computers from parts and have a profitable business. The organizations like WCE that donate working computers to places where they will be maintained are usually donating them to educational institutions.

The real problem... (1)

strabes (1075839) | about 6 years ago | (#24549785)

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.

Re:The real problem... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550065)

the problem in Africa is that it is filled with Africans.

When they are hungry, they steal. When they are satiated, they fornicate. What discipline they know is under the threat of a whip or imminent death.

Re:The real problem... (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 6 years ago | (#24550549)

The problem with Earth is its filled with Earthlings.
When they`re hungry, they steal. When they`re satiated, they fornicate.
What discipline they know is under the threat of a whip or imminent death.
Would you really want it any other way?
Ownership over compassion, no sex and strong discipline. Heaven :(

So were different colours And were different creeds And different people Have different needs

There is some positive coverage alright (4, Interesting)

meist3r (1061628) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

FFS. This is a story in the Mail. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#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.

The solution is simple... (1)

3seas (184403) | about 6 years ago | (#24549853)

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 you have.

And how many good computers are discarded from teh handout due to a lack of knowledge about the technology?

Maybe they should try Ubuntu or Knoppix or some such OS that would help them get more up and running?

Mixed feelings (2, Informative)

smchris (464899) | about 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

Geam (30459) | about 6 years ago | (#24550563)

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 am not sure that comparing a mentor giving someone a used piece of equipment that was past its prime but usable is quite the same as shipping computers to another country to avoid paying for recycling and to look good. In TFA they talk about people burning off the plastic to retrieve the tiny bits of copper they can salvage for very little money. Also, one of the posts above was talking about proprietary drivers for a late-model machine that may no longer be available? Is that even a hand-me-down when you give someone a brick?

I've looked at some of the charity sites...

Where were the charities? First-world countries trying to teach people how to use email to show photos of their grandchildren at baseball camp where a 1 GHz PIII would be overkill anyway. How many computers are these charities looking for, how many computers are being sent to third-world countries, and how many are actually benefitting those countries?

Just my $0.02 while playing Devil's Advocate.

An hour and a half goes by... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550013)

... and still no smart alec comments the bad Apples?

Pollution (1)

Wowsers (1151731) | about 6 years ago | (#24550015)

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 just to surf or do email. You could say Linux promotes environmental responsibility.

I can count 419 reasons why it's a bad idea... (4, Informative)

TheSpatulaOfLove (966301) | about 6 years ago | (#24550079)

And my email box is filled with the proof!

See what happens if you try to help someone? (1, Insightful)

kklein (900361) | about 6 years ago | (#24550185)

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 kind of collective mentality, but most people on this earth are free-market all the way. And a totally free market is a murderous hellhole with a few fabulously wealthy people and the masses in abject poverty. That's a free market. Democratic capitalism is great because it utilizes that "free market" drive (aka greed) to effect positive social change. But it requires constraints to make it move in that direction. Once people see how well a social mindset plus greed works to improve the lives of all (and create a massive middle class, which is key to a functioning society), then they nurture that. They feel a part of something. They neither need nor want to smash people's heads in for a computer monitor full of poison. Most African countries haven't figured this out, and that's their problem--both as in "the problem they have" and "not our problem." We can't fix it, but it also seems we don't recognize that.

Why are the countries that are at the top of the heap at the top of the heap? Simple. We are better. I am absolutely serious. The cultures of Europe and Asia understand the power of a group mentality. They are on different points on that continuum, and that's fine. But we all have it.

Africa is what you get when you don't have that. Everyone is working randomly because they don't care about each other because they don't see that they are the same and that cooperation is the only way to success.

They think that other countries have become rich and comfortable because of luck. But we built this from the ground up--especially for those of us whose ancestors came from the dump known as the British Isles. Our ancestors were just like this until the Romans brought literacy and we saw the awesome power of working together outside of small collectives (Roman Empire).

The Brits got it. The African countries haven't.

This isn't to say they all don't get it, but the problem is that you need a substantial majority of people buying in before it works.

3) Last, handouts are not good for the human psyche. They keep you believing that you are not capable of doing something yourself. I firmly believe that every human being is as capable as any other (at something!), and it's simply a matter of finding that and having that be nurtured by one's surroundings. This is the problem with welfare as well. You walk a very narrow line between making sure you don't have people dying on the streets and cultivating a lawless and irresponsible culture that is not tied to personal achievement and responsibility. Give a man a computer monitor, and he'll smash it open on his neighbors head to get at the copper inside. Teach him to build one, and... Okay it doesn't work, but you see where I'm going.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Africa is a fucking mess. But no matter what the hippie-type liberals say, it's not because we like coffee and chocolate. It's 100% the fault of the local societies (or lack thereof). It's the fault of governments not working for the people, which is really just a function of the people not working for the people. And we can't help that.

I don't buy into any of this Fair Trade / don't buy diamonds / hippie bullshit. If other people can't run their countries right; if they can't even get organized enough to overthrow their dictators and/or plantation owners (or, rather, when they do, they then just devolve into infighting and become the same thing), then I can't do anything about it.

I don't think we should be sending our poisonous garbage to other people in the guise of aid, but more importantly, we shouldn't be sending aid.

If you want to help chronically poor people, I think the only way is to take their children away and raise them in boarding schools with food and learning and social rules. Not a very popular option, and very costly, and sure to get me lynched.

But it would work.

Re:See what happens if you try to help someone? (1)

Xaria (630117) | about 6 years ago | (#24550319)

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 and suddenly handed them the ability to kill each other en masse - the rest of the world developed that more slowly, and society evolved with the technology. Star Trek's Prime Directive has it right - why couldn't we just leave them all alone? How do unarmed people overthrow an army that has modern weaponry including tanks and cluster bombs?

You say "social rules" but what you mean is "our rules" - you're talking about eliminating their culture. Education is the answer, yes, but as part of their culture not to replace it. And not just the children - educate the adults! Grant interest-free loans to get a business off the ground, they can pay it back once they're established. There are charities out there doing this already, and it genuinely does help. Help them to help themselves. Provide FREE contraception and FREE healthcare and FREE shelters to get women off the streets so they're not raped. The First World can certainly afford it. Teach THEM to be teachers, and then let them teach themselves.

In general I agree that handouts don't help, but if it was my baby starving to death I would be looking in utter rage at the wastefulness of the rest of the world.

Stop it at the source (0)

plopez (54068) | about 6 years ago | (#24550383)

Stop the planned obsolescence. I heard a story about Germany. They created a law where by the manufacturers were forced to buy back product packaging, e.g. plastic bubbles and paperboard casing for products, from the consumer. In a very short period of time, the amount of material used for packaging dropped by 2/3.

Let's not treat the symptom, treat the disease. What if MS or the manufacturers were forced to buy back the computers they intentionally made obsolete? Maybe it would become easier to recycle them or they would have longer life spans.

Just a thought.

ATTN Submitters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24550537)

Unless you are attempting to deliberately troll Slashdot, don't submit stories from the Daily Mail!

This short video [] will help you understand.

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