Electronic Waste Menace in Africa – Open Source to the Rescue

There has been a lot of concern about the level of electronic junk and garbage that is flooding into Africa. Most of these junk waste comprise used computers and accessories which are mostly from the advanced countries where the pace of technological change is way beyond that of Africa.

Virtually all African governments are not sure of how to contain this dumping of garbage in their countries. They are caught between the desire to promote ICT education among their populace through the use of the cheap computers that come in and the hue and cry from the environmentalist about the harm such was is causing to the continents environment. It is indeed a difficult position for any government to be in.

Most African countries are now setting up community driven ICT centers where places are put up and furnished with computers (mostly those that are brought in from the West as waste) for a given village or community to use. However, most of these initiatives normally do not get far due to the relatively high overhead cost of running the computers. It is needless to point out the cost to be incurred in running a pirated (that is what we can afford) copy of Microsoft Windows XP on a computer that was designed for Windows 95 and 98.

Most of the used computers that are brought into Africa virtually end up on the rubbish dump site because most people just cannot get it to run the resource hog of an OS called Windows. It is in this regard that I strongly believe African governments can make some gains from the electronic “waste” that comes in by looking to very easy, cheap and powerful software alternatives called Open Source .

A computer is not complete without the needed software to run it. If you have the computer and do not have a compatible software, then you still cannot use it. So if the computers are too old such that running Windows on them is nigh impossible, why not try Free and Open Source OS like Ubuntu Linux and Fedora. Ubuntu for instance can run on very old hardware with memory as low as 128MB.

Such resource efficient, powerful and free Linux OS can breath fresh life into computers that otherwise would be written off as dead. So in my view, if African governments really want to make some sense of the environmental situation they are facing, then I think educating people and putting in measures to promote resource efficient softwares will go a long way to help.

All that needs to be done would be to refurbish the used computers and install the free softwares like Ubuntu and Open Office on them. Giving the old computers a new life through Open Source and Free software will help cut down on environmental degradation, improve people’s access to ICT , create employment for those who will do the refurbishing and educate the young and next generation about better and free alternatives to Microsoft’s resource hog and expensive products.

With Open Source, it is a win win situation. Share your thoughts.