The dizzying pace of the upgrade cycle for computers in North America and Europe means that millions of computers are thrown away every year. Over a million a year are buried as rubbish in landfill sites in the UK alone. Although some African IT professionals have branded the idea of recycling them to Africa "dumping", this approach must be at least one way to close the digital divide. Tony Roberts of Computer Aid and Timothy Anderson of World Computer Exchange describe how their organisations tackle this task.

"Every news bulletin carries yet more stories about information technology and how the internet is set to revolutionise the way in which global trade and commerce is carried out. Yet there are NO computers in our schools. IT is not even mentioned on the national curriculum.

We cannot allow this to be yet another technological revolution which completely passes Africa by. Otherwise the next time we come knocking at your door it will be to ask for food aid." Head Teacher, Khayalitsha Township, South Africa.

Computer Aid International respond to requests from schools and community organisations in developing countries to supply computers where they are most needed.

In the UK a team of volunteers recycles computers, testing and fully refurbishing them for re-use in educational settings where they enable access to quality technical education and highly vocation training. Computers refurbished in this way have an average second-user life of three years (ironically the same time period over which they are most commonly depreciated in the assets ledgers of companies in Northern economies).

Basic computer literacy is a pre-requisite for job and university applicants in Harare, Winhoek and Johannesburg just as it is in San Francisco, Rome and London.The utility of a computer in the office of a community health or community housing program is no more or less in Mbabane than it is in New York.

The difference is that almost every school and community organisation in Northern countries is already well equipped with computers whereas in the South they are an extremely expensive commodity only within reach of the privileged few.

In the last three years we have sent 6,000 fully refurbished computers to educational and community organisations in 38 different developing countries.We supply computers for a handling fee of £25 in quantities from 1 to 220 per organisation.

We have supplied organisations as varied as:

- organisations of the visually impaired in the Caribbean,

 - the offices of trade unions in Namibia,

 - most of the historically Black universities in South Africa,

 - and every school in Swaziland.

Computer Aid is a registered non-profit in the UK. For more information see:

The World Computer Exchange (WCE), Inc. is a US non-profit educational organisation that ships containers of computers to its NGO or government partners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Each 40-foot shipping container holds 380-390 donated, used, working, internet-accessible computers. The computers are used to connect children and youth to the internet at schools, orphanages, libraries, and centres. WCE helps its partners to develop creative and sustainable implementation plans including site preparation, installation, maintenance, security, Internet connection, and use of the computers by youth. Then WCE works to partner its schools with schools in the US and encourage groups of technology-savvy students from the US to visit and help teach about technology.

WCE seeks corporate donations of working computers that do not need any remanufacturing. WCE works with the PR staff of the donor companies to secure press coverage and visibility for their generous donation. Currently, we work with US companies but in the future we would like to act as a broker for donations from companies in other countries.

WCE's cost per container is US$20,000 for administrative and shipping costs. If the recipient arranges for the source of the computers, this donation is reduced by US$5,000 per container. WCE seeks individual, corporate, government, and foundation donors to sponsor all or part of individual shipments.

For 2001, the Exchange has scheduled container shipments to four countries in Africa: Benin, Cameroon, Uganda, and Sierra Leone. It is waiting for Implementation Plans and draft lists of schools from our partners in Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia.

In the middle of March, it expects that a shipment will leave Boston in the USA for Cotonou, Benin to provide networks of computers in 42 schools recruited by a partnership lead by Thierry Amoussougbo, National Coordinator of the Sustainable Development Networking Programme ­ Benin. SDNP Benin is joined in the leadership of this project by Perpétus Jacques Houngbo, Coordinator of Actions Communautaires pur la Developpement Humain Durable and Pierre Dandjinou, Regional Coordinator of ISOC Benin. SDNP/UNDP has agreed to pay the US$5,000 shipping cost. WCE is currently seeking donors to sponsor the administrative costs of this shipment. This innovative partnership is helping prepare the schools for the arrival of the computers. A description of their Implementation Plan and list of schools can be viewed at

In the middle of September, it also expects that a shipment will leave the States for Douala, Cameroon to provide networks of computers in 34 schools recruited by Sustainable Development Networking Programme - Cameroon under the experienced leadership of Dr. Wawa Ngenge, their National Coordinator. SDNP/UNDP has agreed to pay the US$5,000 shipping cost. WCE is currently seeking donors to sponsor the administrative costs of this shipment. SDNP Cameroon is helping prepare the schools for the arrival of the computers. Their thoughtful and detailed Implementation Plan and list of schools can be viewed at

In the middle of October, we expect that a shipment will leave the States for Entebbe, Uganda to provide networks of computers in 36 schools recruited by several NGOs collaborating under the able coordination of Jimmy Okello of the Agency for Sustainable Development Initiatives. ASDI has secured the funding to cover the Exchange’s administrative and shipping costs for this shipment and is guiding the cooperating NGOs in preparing the schools for the arrival of the computers. Their Implementation Plan will soon be posted at

In the middle of December, we expect that a shipment will leave the States for Freetown, Sierra Leone to provide networks of computers in 52 schools and orphanages recruited by Victory Missions led by Pastor Jacob Thoronka, Director. This shipment is still contingent on funding being secured to cover the Exchange’s administrative and shipping costs. Victory Missions is working to find allies with which to cooperate in preparing the schools for the arrival of the computers. Their Implementation Plan will soon be posted at

Source : Balancing Act, January 22, 2001