Friday, July 1, 2011


I never thought that the Government of Uganda was serious on banning used computers. If they thought that this was the way to promote the local market of computers in a poverty striken country, it is unfortunate. It is true the computer monitors are environmentally unhealthy and there are disposable problems, but it is also true that there are many computers that can be procured with flat screens. There is need to have at least one computer in each of our schools and one way to have that is by importing used computers.
The policy is ill advised and does not help the country so poor the way Uganda is.
William Kituuka Kiwanuka

Yes, you've read that correctly. The Ugandan government has completely banned all imports of used computers into the country.
This is ostensibly to curb the accumulation of e-waste, which is admittedly a major problem in many parts of the world, and the government does not want to become a dumping ground for discarded electronics. This is a valid point, and there are certainly many accounts of electronics being brought to developing nations to be sold second-hand, and then discovered to be nonfunctional and dumped.
The dumping and accumulation of e-waste can have disastrous environmental and health consequences, given the high concentrations of toxic (and often valuable) chemicals, encouraging the very poor to (e.g.) burn electronic components to extract valuable metals at the expense of extremely toxic emissions into the air, soil, water, and themselves.
This is a known and serious problem, and one it is reasonable for a state to wish to avoid.

New computers are also very, very expensive. Used ones are perfectly capable for basic administrative and internet use, and they are much cheaper. Furthermore, if a well-maintained used computer can last as long (or even nearly as long) as a similar new one, then at the ends of their respective lives, the contribution to e-waste will be essentially identical.
That's the problem with this ban–it's total. It prevents all importers of used computers from doing business. This includes responsible organizations that take very good care to make sure their machines are working, immediately useful, and long-lived. Some go as far as to provide open source software, training, and guaranteed responsible recycling at end-of-life as part of the (low) cost of the machines.
This hardly sounds like the type of dumping the government is trying to prevent, and it needs to realize that a comprehensive ban like this can't help but hurt the country's small but growing IT sector.
In addition to charitable organizations, I can't believe that all of the computer shops on Bombo road, with their shiny, million-shilling laptops and desktops, aren't also engaging in a thriving trade in used machines. And I've never been to an internet cafe that looks like its machines were bought new here.
Therefore, since this is a (little-read) personal blog, is unaffiliated with any organization, and reflects no one's views but my own, I will say what (understandably) no one closer to this can or should, if they happened to feel that way as well: this policy is absurd and will hurt ICT in Uganda.

1 comment:

  1. thanks william..thats a great observation. banning imports like computers will surely kill the growing IT sector as most public cafes have used computers. i also challenge NEMA to give data as to the damage on environment caused by the computers compared to the DMCs brought in from Japan. I keep asking why the government is not straight on that.