By Esther Nakkazi
Uganda’s ban on used computers may soon be declared over after more than three years just as an environmental policy to handle electronic waste is put in place.
The National Information Technology Authority-Uganda, that promotes and monitors IT development in the country, will soon provide standards of used computers that can be imported into Uganda.
Announced in the 2009/2010 budget, the ban on used computers was meant to combat electronic pollution and dumping but it was also done at a time when dumping was at its peak, NITA-U officials said.
Uganda, the only country in the world to ban used computers, has lost $17 million annually, in revenue to the government but the bigger impact was on 1,500 schools and tertiary institutions that could not offer computer lessons anymore.
Now, before the end of this Financial Year, 2012/13, ending June 30th this year, the ban will be lifted, says James Saaka, the executive director of NITA-U. “We can say that we can ably handle the e-waste. A study to help us set the standards of used computers that can be imported has also been completed,” said Saaka.
The standards will spell out the year of manufacture, the type of technology used, inputs like Bluetooth, wireless; but importers would also have to show how they will dispose off any generated e-waste.
James Wire Lughabo, chairman of Uganda ICT Consumer Protection Association (UICPA), says the ban should not be lifted in its entirety. Instead, some stringent guidelines should be imposed like computers should be less than three years old in use, no second hand cloned computers should be allowed nor old Televisions or computer monitors.
Cloned computers, which mimic branded ones, could bring in three times more e-waste than second hand computers, Lunghabo argues. Defaulters on the set standards will be fined an environment levy, yet to be calculated, said NITA-U officials, and companies will be licenced to set up e-waste plants to recycle and dispose off in an environmentally friendly way all the e-waste collected.
One company, Second Life, based in Kampala has already been licenced by the National Environmental Management Authority to set up an e-waste recycling facility.
Without policies, capacity and enforcements to stop dumping, it is estimated that about 80 percent of electronic waste generated in the West, ends up in developing countries.
According to United Nations Industrial DevelopmentOrganisation about 15 percent of all computer imports, are used computers while the majority are clones. As the ban goes on, over 1,500 schools and tertiary institutions could not offer computer lessons as they relied entirely on donations of used computers.
“It has slowed down the roll out of IT in many schools and slowed down a lot of work for businesses,” said Fred Kiapi, the executive director of Commonwealth People’s Association of Uganda (CPAUG).
The ban has also widened the digital divide between the rural and urban, the poor and the rich, as very few people could afford to buy new computers. For three years, it has hurt Ugandan consumers by depriving them of low-cost, used computers, says Kiapi.
But without enough muscle to enforce it, underground trade of these computers is booming. So was government serious to announce it in the first place?