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Kenyan minister calls for dumping alert

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 26 – African ICT regulators have been urged to be more stringent in vetting equipment that gets into the continent as one way of dealing with electronic waste.

Information Minister Samuel Poghisio said on Monday this was one of the sustainable ways that should be adopted to ensure that Africa is not used as a dumping ground for e-waste.

"One way of dealing with this problem is by strengthening our national regulatory bodies to bar the entry of sub-standard equipment into our markets," he said.

The demand for ICT technology in the continent – driven mainly by the need to keep up with the rest of the world – has seen electronic waste rise to unprecedented levels as developed countries move to dispose off their obsolete equipment to Africa.

Old computers, mobile phone handsets and now television sets (as the world prepares to migrate from analogue to digital broadcasting) are some of the electronic gadgets that are increasingly finding their way into the African market.

The issue is further compounded by the fact that many African countries do not have legislation to manage the waste which has both environmental and health implications. Despite this threat, however, not much focus is being given to this issue.

"In the last 10 years, African governments have been preoccupied with the issue of universal access but this aspiration is yet to be realised.  Given the high sales of cheap mobile handsets, their short life span and the customers\’ desire to keep up with the latest trendy handsets, this problem will remain with us for a long time," the minister regretted.

Kenya, through an organisation called \’Computer for Schools Kenya\’, has however devised a way of managing this problem mainly through recycling old computers. This involves extracting reusable parts from the machines and using them to assemble \’new\’ computers which are then distributed to schools at a fee.

Mr Poghisio spoke during an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) workshop on the provision of quality telecommunication services in a safe environment where participants heard that mobile operators in the continent are yet to meet the minimum threshold of quality of service.

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"This could be partly ascribed to high rates of service subscription, which have exerted pressure on the mobile network resources of service providers," he said.

He however pointed out that this calls for regulators to sensitise consumers on the best ways to take advantage of the competitive environment in the telecommunications sector to get value for their money.

One such way would be to implement mechanisms that would enable the subscriber to switch to another network with minimal inconveniencies.

"These include licensing number portability service providers. I\’m gratified to report that Kenya has already licensed such an operator and the service will be in operation by the close of this year," he disclosed.

In Kenya also, another measure to improve service quality will be to ask the regulator, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), to publish the monthly ratings and performance of mobile operators. Such statistics would include; successful call rates, network availability and call drop-out rate.

Information Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo said making public the operators\’ Quality of Service (QoS), would enable consumers to make informed decisions on which service provider to get connected to.

"CCK has to be more vigilant because we have had several complaints of dropped calls and therefore we need the commission to publish the QoS for each operator. That way, the subscriber will know which system can I get into if I want the best of the service," the PS said.

During the meeting, there was a call for ICT stakeholders to take measures to allay fears that consumers have on the environmental and health impacts posed by laying of telecommunications infrastructure.

As the adoption of innovative technological services and products continues to take root in Africa, some consumers have been wary of the possible risks posed by IT infrastructure.

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The last decade for instance has seen a surge in the uptake of ICT services with Africa now being home to 450million mobile subscribers up from the 16 million users that were registered in 2000.

"The proliferation of wireless telecommunications infrastructure for example has been met with a tinge of public hostility due to concerns over electromagnetic radiation. It is therefore imperative to ensure that we have a good understanding of the available regulatory standards," said CCK Director General Charles Njoroge.

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