Africa becoming ‘graveyard’ for world’s unwanted goods

“How long should Africa continue to be the supplier of raw materials and the dumping ground of imported goods?” Honourable Saka asked in The African Executive magazine, adding that, action is needed from African leaders to industrialise the continent.

“Africa has become a dumping ground for the world’s unwanted goods,” once said Darren Olivier, head of brand enforcement and a director at Bowman Gilfillan Attorneys in Johannesburg.

One of the allegations levelled against the West is that it is using its economic dominance to dump its goods in African countries, and that this practice has anti-competitive effects in domestic markets, according to studies.

According to the World Trade Organisation, “In international trade law, dumping is one of the most common forms of price discrimination. Dumping occurs when an exporting country sells a product at a lower price than it sells the same product in its domestic market. Another instance in which dumping occurs is when an exporting country sells its products below production cost.”

In an article ‘Africa- ‘dumping ground’ for fake goods,’ Pamela Whitby observed that as manufacturing techniques have become increasingly sophisticated, everything from electrical products to software and antibiotics can be counterfeited.

“In many cases even the packaging is replicated. So the consumer is tricked into buying a fake product which, at best, might be a second-rate radio set but, at worst, a pesticide with the capacity to wipe out entire crops, or an anti-retroviral without active ingredients,” she stated.

During this age of obsolescence where today’s computers, cell phones and televisions will soon be discarded as trash, about 40 million tonnes of digital detritus is generated every year and this figure is increasing by 4 percent annually, writes, Shaun Swingler in an article, ‘The ABCs of E-Waste’  in the Good Governance Africa magazine.

He notes  that  E-waste, comprising all electrical and electronic waste, is the fastest-growing rubbish stream in the world and few regions are feeling its effects more than West Africa, adding that  developed countries, especially in Europe, are exploiting lax African customs regulations to dispose of their own techno-trash.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 30% of medicines sold in developing countries are fakes and a major problem is that the high number of drugs bought by the state for use in public hospitals are being illegally obtained and then sold for profit in the private sector.

But the most dangerous counterfeits are the imitation medicines sold to unwitting consumers. In Tanzania and across the developing world, the business of fake drugs is booming. A 2006 report by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that in developing countries in Africa, and in parts of Asia and Latin America, up to 30 percent of medicines on the market were counterfeit.

“People are interested in getting a profit, but this is a human rights issue,” once said Edith Ngirwamungu, president of the Medical Association of Tanzania.

 Investigations have found that fake drugs are extremely profitable.

“Counterfeit drugs on the market might amplify any humanitarian disaster,” said Jonathan Lucas, regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Southern Africa.

According to the United Nations office on Drugs and Crime: “The production and sale of counterfeit goods is a global, multi-billion dollar problem and one that has serious economic and health ramifications for governments, businesses and consumers. Counterfeiting is everywhere – it can affect what we eat, what we watch, what medicines we take and what we wear – and all too often the link between fake goods and transnational organized crime is overlooked in the search for knock-offs at bargain-basement prices.”

Transporting broken or expired electronics to Africa is illegal but brokers exploit a loophole by fraudulently labelling the items as reusable, according to the Head of United Nations University who believes Africa is becoming ‘a graveyard for e-waste’. 

Dr Ruediger Kuehr said, these shipments are taking place and increasingly so. The reasoning behind it is quite simple, economic and financial.

“Recycling in the European Union and the UK costs money. So if a broker successfully collects enough material and sends it to Africa, it could be in their interest because in Africa people are still paying for this,” he said.

Rob Davies, South African Trade and Industry Minister once mentioned that SA is regarded as a top “dumping” destination for fake and illegally imported goods due to the high demand created by local consumers.

“Manufacturing, selling or buying these goods is not only illegal – it literally takes the food out of the mouths of honest businesses, up-and-coming artists, entrepreneurs and their families. 

In short, piracy perpetuates poverty,” said Davies.

Speaking at this year’s African Development Forum, an Economic Commission for Africa event, Nkosana Moyo founder and executive chair of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies in South Africa, said:

“We have to look within and act together. It is true that economic indicators show us that Africa is rising but it would be good to find correlation between indicators and activities. I believe, the world is excited about us because we have resources and we have our markets.” 

He cautioned, “But we should not become a dumping ground for other peoples’ goods.” 

Recently the Zimbabwean government affirmed its commitment to protecting the manufacturing sector which is being threatened by cheap exports.

Iris Mabuwa, Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce, said that the government has contracted a French based firm, Bureau Veritas, to enforce import standards.

The government’s affirmation comes at a time when there is an outcry from the manufacturing industry that Zimbabwe is gradually being turned into a dumping ground for clothing, footwear and food items like chicken mainly coming from Asia and South Africa.

“What this means is that we are going to reduce the inflow of cheap and substandard products and also do away with importers faking the costs of their products because Bureau Veritas will also inspect costs.

“The inspection for costs will ensure that the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) does not approximate the costs or have to settle for what they consider what to be the exact costs,” said Mabuwa.

Michael Malakata, a Zambian journalist, says the problem is compounded by the fact that most countries in Africa do not have e-waste recycling facilities. The lack of facilities results in careless disposal of electronic products.

“Much of the recycling of e-waste that takes place in Africa occurs on an informal basis, often in unmonitored dumpsites or landfills. The problem is that most African countries do not yet have ICT policies to support the establishment of e-waste plants.”

He added that even countries that have ICT policies do not seem to have an interest in establishing e-waste plants. Zambia for example, has an ICT policy but has no e-waste plant.

In East Africa, only Kenya has an e-waste recycling plant, while in Southern Africa, only South Africa has recycling plants.

“So far in Africa, only a few countries, including Zambia and Uganda, have managed to impose a ban of imports on counterfeit electronic products and products, whose lifecycle generally is short,” wrote Malakata.

In March this year Zambian President Edgar Lungu challenged those charged with the responsibility of procuring services and contracts to get value for money to avoid turning Zambia into a dumping ground for substandard Chinese and European products.

 “Our procurement processes should be impeccable and beyond question,” President Lungu said.

July 2015
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