Last week I was alerted to an editorial by Laura Seay and Alex de Waal (July 17)
This was via a tweet from AfricanSolarLLP, a boots-on-the-ground solar energy project coordinator based in Accra, Ghana, who (along with Alhassan Abdallah) has been bringing first-hand accounting of the Old Fadama / Agbogbloshie real estate evictions (vs. "Sodom and Gomorrah") via @Twitter.
The article (Q and A) addresses many of the cautions I've undertaken, and there's some heavy stuff to dish out to readers of de Tocqueville. An increasing number of environmentalist intellectuals like myself, may remain ardent environmentalists, but still fear the "churchiness" of the environmental-regulatory complex. This is also true of other "world savers", we can be ardently pro African while suspicious of what Peter Buffet called the Charitable Industrial Complex. In fact, much of it could apply to Fair Trade Recycling, and is a reminder of the dangers in heroicizing our "geeks of color" and "hurricane bensons".
Making more people aware of an injustice by oversimplifying the problems and the remedies is Poster Child Policy. Making sad photo-essays of orphans working in scrap yards, and representing those children to be "emblematic" or embodiment or archetypal of African importers, is wrong on the science, and leads to environmental malpractice.
The challenge is to neither write so densely that no one reads it, nor so simply that it sets people off with the equivalent of racial profiling. Basel Action Network "simplified" the long and complicated Annex IX, B1110 rules on export for repair and refurbishment by telling virtually everyone that it meant "fully functional", creating a set of enforcement guidelines which Joe Benson eventually gave up and pled guilty to in return for a decreased sentence. [NOTE: That is not "twice convicted of the same offense," the just-world-fallacy / panacea shared by CWIT]. But at the same time, we have to recognize that progress has been made in understanding the nuance of "ewaste exports", and I think I can report that arrests of other Africa Tech Sector geeks like Joe Benson are less likely.
The awareness of the misuse, and misapplication, of well-meaning guidelines should serve as a broader lesson for all environmental interventions. First, do no harm. Protection of the innocent takes precedence over the simplified profiling guidelines (what Emile Lindemiller of Interpol called "Proactive Enforcement" - get out there and accuse people before the crime has been committed, and less environmental harm will occur.
That's like giving snakebite kits to everyone and telling them to incise and suck out the venom, whether you know the snake was poison or not.
I'm happy to report that Interpol staff may not be electronic repair experts, but I'm reassured they can eventually see when their enforcement is being abused by interested parties. Eventually, they will get it right. What environmentalists need to learn is to take responsibility for our stewardship and environmental dumping enforcement "cures" before a proper diagnosis has been reached.
This is how the study of environmental health must learn the same lessons as the application of western medicine to promote human health. It's ok for a doctor to make a mistake, a mistake is not malpractice. It becomes malpractice when you have been provided information to correct your practice and don't follow it. This is the pivot point. We don't blame NGOs or Interpol for believing 80-90% of used computer purchases by Africa's techs were for "primitive burning" when they actually believed it, and were told so by the press. Once the source of the statistics has been discredited (and we can safely say we are at that point), it is the way the agencies - International and Non-profit - comport themselves going forward which matters.