Thursday, January 29, 2009


Fighting e-waste in Kenya

Published on

By James Ratemo

Electronic waste (e-waste) is an environmental hazard world over but the burden is overwhelming for developing countries.

A baseline survey conducted locally a year ago shows that more than 3,000 tonnes of e-waste is generated in Kenya annually. This is from breakdown of new and refurbished electronics, including computers.

Today, Governments all over the world are battling with the threat of external and internal technology dumping.

With fast changing technology, the rate at which electronics are turning obsolete is worrying. Manufacturers are faced with the danger of ‘stalled electronic stocks’ and would be tempted to dump the same in countries with porous borders or weaker e-waste legislation.

Last year, the Government introduced 25 per cent tax on all refurbished computers, a move calculated to reduce e-waste dumping.

A section of stakeholders, however, see this as a prohibitive step in serving rural areas with implications on what the tax poses on access to computers.


But is this measure enough to curb the e-waste menace? What about the need to supply learning institutions with affordable computers? Does it mean refurbished computers are a threat to our environment and is it right to waive tax on new computers and leave out refurbished computers?

What about the already generated e-waste in our soaring dumpsites?

Do not forget Kenya is soon shifting from analog to digital television, thus demand for analog TVs is plummeting with entry of digital set.

The debate around e-waste needs rethinking if at all Kenya is to make strides in the IT sector.

With the expected entry of the undersea cable, The East African Marine Systems (Teams), Kenya is geared to a blossoming IT sector meaning an increased demand for affordable computers.

Shrewd entrepreneurs had taken advantage of zero rating tax on computer imports to import low quality or obsolete electronics.

It has been a tricky art balancing between demand for cheaper computers and the possibility of opening borders for e-dumping.

Old computers being sorted for recycling. It has been a tricky art balancing between demand for cheaper computers and the possibility of opening borders for e-dumping. Photo: James Ratemo/Standard
But now Kenya and its neighbours can now say goodbye to the threat of e-waste following establishment of an e-waste recycling centre.

Computer Aid International, one of the major importers of refurbished computers to developing countries, in conjunction with Computer for Schools Kenya (CFSK) and other partners have put measures in place that can guarantee zero electronic waste in Kenya if embraced by all stakeholders.


The e-waste recycling centre is operated by the Computers for Schools Kenya and handles 500 computers monthly, way below its capacity of 2,000 computers.

CFSK Executive Director Tom Musili said all dead computer monitors are shipped out for proper disposal since Kenya lacks the relevant technology to dispose them.

"We ship unusable monitors to Norway for proper disposal. Disposal of motherboards too is beyond Kenya’s technology so we ship them to Europe for disposal. However, monitors, which can be reclaimed can be turned into TV sets and sold locally," he said.

He said plans are at an advanced stage to develop a modern e-waste recycling centre in Nairobi to handle all computer parts instead of shipping them abroad. "With the recycling plant, we will create jobs for thousands of people in the e-wastes recycling business. We are also extending our services to Uganda and Tanzania since they do not have an e-waste centre," he said.

At the recycling centre, the computers are dismantled and parts sorted and dispatched to recyclers.

"We need strong policies and practical interventions such as separation of waste at source leveraging e-waste as an opportunity for job creation," said Musili. He said CFSK has so far received 20,000 computers from local and international partners with Computer Aid International alone giving 9,000 refurbished computers.


Further, in partnership with Safaricom, CFSK is providing 80 refurbished computers to 10 schools in each province.

He said donors in USA, UK and Netherlands have promised to give the organisation at least 1,000 refurbished computers to distribute to learning institutions but the prohibitive tax regime has delayed the shipping.

"There is no way we can cheat ourselves that schools in Kenya can afford new branded computers. The refurbished computers are just as good and many schools benefiting immensely," said Musili.

"What we need is a vigilant Kenya Bureau of Standards to ensure high quality computers enter the country and a proper mechanism for e-waste recycling. A prohibitive tax regime on working, professionally tested computers is ill advised and would tamper with our ICT sector growth," decried Musili.


The 2007 baseline e-waste study conducted in Kenya estimates that about 3,000 tonnes of PCs, monitors and printers were discarded and the figure is expected to raise.

The study was conducted by the Kenya ICT Action Network (Kictanet), supported by a partnership between Hewlett Packard (HP), the Digital Solidarity Fund and the Swiss Institute for Materials Science and Technology. It is sad that these wastes and many more being generated daily could be lying in dumpsites across the country since Kenya is yet to adopt a policy of e-waste handling.

It is already a requirement of the Information 2006 policy on ICTs that discarded electronics are disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. This what the e-waste recycling centre is exactly doing. Despite more than 50 per cent of the country's PC market estimated to be made up of second-hand PCs companies, they are yet to adapt and implement a clear strategy for the disposal of old technology.

According to Ms Gladys Muhunyo, Africa Programme Manager Computer Aid International, the group has shipped more than 135,000 PCs to where they are most needed in more than 100 countries.

But the 25 per cent tax requirement by Kenya is proving difficult to deal with as the donated refurbished computers will be unnecessarily expensive.

Is Kenya a technology dumping ground?

Published on

By James Ratemo

The rising number of counterfeit mobile phones and other electronics in the country is reaching worrying levels, yet authorities are either unable or unwilling to arrest the trend.

Companies are losing billions of shillings in profits and the Government losing a fortune in taxes as unscrupulous traders ride on established brands to rip off Kenyans and threaten businesses. It is no laughing matter that Local manufacturers are losing a staggering Sh50 billion annually to influx of counterfeit products and illicit trade. Worse still, the vice has engulfed the health sector and counterfeit drugs are getting way into the country.

A story carried by The Standard’s CCI on Wednesday, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers Anti-Counterfeit and Illicit Trade Committee Chairman Polycarp Igathe said the vice denies the Government Sh35 billion annually in tax revenue. Owners of the established brands lose a lot since unscrupulous traders ride on their brand and sometimes destroy the good image the brand has earned if they sell defective products.

Counterfeits neither come with a warranty nor after-sale services. It is also hard to find right spare parts for counterfeited goods since in the first place ‘ counterfeit manufacturers’ have not provided for the same and you cannot easily trace their origin in case of a problem.


A survey by The Standard in the past several months reveals that the counterfeit business is booming and there are no signs it will stop any time soon. All kinds of phones with great brand names on their packs are openly displayed to lure unsuspecting buyers.

Sadly, the phones come with fake warranty or none at all, meaning consumers are at risk of losing their money in case the gadgets break down.

Sadly too, even if the products last, the fact that they were shipped in illegally raises questions on the safety of our borders, integrity of our port entry keepers and motive of the perpetrators. Sample this, immediately a new phone is launched in the market, traders in downtown Nairobi take a few days or weeks to have a similar phone but at a cheaper price on the shelves. In most cases these phones are of low quality and only ride on the brand name to sell. This in actual sense is theft of ‘intellectual property’ or piracy.


Another danger is that the faster these gadgets break down, the quicker they add to environmental degradation since local consumers have not embraced art of disposing e-waste.

Visit any dumpsite and you will see hordes of ‘dead’ mobile phones and other obsolete or damaged electronics. It is simply a disaster in the waiting.

The situation is even risky especially now that Kenya is gearing to shift from analogue to digital broadcasting come 2012 ahead of the global deadline of 2015.

With our borders proving to be so porous and counterfeiters so shrewd for authorities, manufacturers of analogue television sets would want to dump the products in the country to make a quick kill.

*David Muya and *Paul Maina (not their real names) are stockists of counterfeit phones in Nairobi’s Tom Mboya and Ronald Ngala Streets and they are happy about the proceeds they receive from the illicit trade.

"Most of these high cost phones I sell are genuine but were not meant for this country. That is why they don’t have warranty because the manufacturer only offers warranty if goods are sold in the intended market," argued Muya. The phones Muya is talking about are commercially termed as ‘grey’ products meaning they are genuine but in the wrong market.

"Kenya has a punitive tax regime and when the phones enter through the legal channel, the custom duty is so high meaning the cost shoots beyond what many can afford. The grey phones, however, are smuggled in from countries with friendlier tax regimes giving me chance to lower price and woo many customers," said Maina.

Lack warranty

"Since the goods lack warranty, we sell at a lower price compared to goods with one year warranty," he adds.

Even if we give warranty, it means once the product is determined to be faulty we would be forced to ship it to country of origin where the warranty is recognised for us to get a replacement or free repair," said Muya.

According to Nokia Communications Manager East and Central Africa Dorothy Ooko, the grey phenomenon occurs when genuine phones destined for a certain market end up being sold in another market.

"High taxes and duties encourage traders to go and buy these phones from another country (like Dubai and China) and then avoid paying these taxes hence sell the phones at cheaper prices," explained Ooko in an e-mail interview.

Nokia General Manager for East Africa, Gerard Brandjes terms the ‘grey’ or undeclared phones as lost to the state since country does not derive maximum revenue from the expected taxes on mobile phone imports.


Our Encouragemen said...

mmmh good work..lets fight until we have a safe environment.Get more on technology by visiting the journalist's diary at

Our Encouragemen said...

asafe environment is a gem for all of us to treasure

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