David Fedele E-Wasteland My-alogue.

David Fedele, like Jim of Seattle and Allen of New York, has now "been there".  He, himself, has witnessed "e-waste" on the ground in Agbogbloshie, Ghana.   He has made a film, E-Wasteland.

"Every year, around 200.000 tonnes of second-hand and condemned electronic goods arrive in Ghana, West Africa."

"Goods are mainly received from the "developed" world"

"Salvaged metals are commonly exported out of Africa by multinational companies..."

The sole statistic is real (apart from the "mainly" and "commonly").   About the 200,000 tons of second-hand electronic goods that arrive in Ghana, West Africa, we now have hard statistics.   A 2011 UNEP study, co-sponsored by the Basel Secretariat, examined the goods imported.  179 containerloads were hand-sorted in Lagos alone.

They found that 70% work from the get-go, and another 15% are repaired.  That left 15% which will be recycled, perhaps from damage in shipping.  We can do better.

The "wasteland" filmed by David Fedele in "E-Wasteland" was also researched.  Between 80-90% of the goods being burned there, the UNEP/Basel studies found, was used for a long time by Africans and "generated" in Africa.   Since less than a third of electronics that Africans use are brand new (they cannot afford to have Egyptian revolutions on IPads, so CRT monitors had to suffice), many of those at the dump may have been imported at some time.  But the sea containers do not go to Agbogbloshie... they go to the reuse shops.  The reuse shops have a percentage damaged in shipping (11% of brand new Wal-Mart sales in the USA are store returns) and a percentage they take back from African consumers as trade ins for a slightly newer used electronic device.

If you apply the actual statistics to David Fedele's quotes, which he stands behind (quite forcefully in an email I'd like to share but modesty forbids), you'd find that 200,000 tons of used electronics are imported, and 170,000 tons of those 200,000 tons are reused and repaired.  [POSTSCRIPT:  In Mr. Fedele's defense, he did reach back and reopened the dialogue by email, despite my lashing in my third email to him..  He's got a conscience and means well, and probably didn't know what a ferocious, passionate, pro-recycling, pro-export bastard he was dealing with]

But all 20 minutes of the film is poor black faces burning wire in fires.  They also burn refrigerators, tires, other items which millions of Africans own and eventually throw away at the dump.

David explained to me when I contacted him by email that he wasn't comfortable using statistics, and he thought that the silent imagery, without commentary, conveyed the truth.

Much like the truth conveyed if you film cadavers - and nothing, nothing but cadavers - in discussing a hospital.   Piles and piles of burning cadavers, in a film about a hospital which saves 85% of its patients.  Who would ever be caught donating to such a hospital?

I get frustrated, and I wrote too much to Mr. Fedele, trying to explain the damage done by depicting Africans solely as lonely wire burning beasts at landfills. I was wanting to find a way to tell something about the Fixers (ifixit.org film) or WR3A's crude videos on Viddler.com of geeks of color making the best jobs they can find making good enough product for  their nations growing internet.  My experience vs. My experience.   Like a "fly and buy" trip from an African or Chinese buyer, we wear our experience like a shirt, making our respective fashion statements amongst the untravelled masses.

David says,
"Then you go on with your own self-absorbed rambling. "
Guilty as charged.  That's just the problem, exactly.  I'm a long winded, self-absorbed, pedantic, businessman protecting my life choice (trading with people in a continent I lived in and loved).   I'm probably the worst advocate these poor sots in Accra and Angola and Cameroun and Lagos and Cairo could wind up with.   I'm an awful filmmaker and not a very good writer, my friends plead with me to hire an editor.   I go on and on, diarrhea of the keyboard.

The problem is that these African friends of mine, Wahab, Hamdy, Souleymane, Miguel, and their compatriots Jinex and Fung in South America and Asia, have so little choices of people to do business with.  The E-Stewards don't return their calls.  And Film makers like David Fedele make it very simple and powerful not to do so... just like Pieter Hugo's savage portrayal of exotic wire burning.

It's not a dialogue, it's a my-alogue.  David's film, Robin's blog.     The sun orbits our compassion.

200,000 tons are imported.  Yes.

Are many of the 200,000 tons burned or recycled in scrap yards like Agbogbloshie?   No.   15% perhaps.  Newly sold goods at WalMart have 11% return rates.   No doubt the goods exported to Africa have higher damage in shippping, as the African  buyers maximize goods per shipment and eliminate packaging.

Are many of the used goods burned at Agbogbloshie imported from Europe?   No (at least, not unless they've been reused for years).  Most of the e-waste burned in Africa was generated in Africa.   Accra and Lagos have had television since the 1980s.

This is ugly, seeing used electronics burned at a dump in Africa.  E-Waste is definitely a problem in Africa, as it is throughout the world and the developing world.  But David Fedele cannot resist trying to put US in the picture, making the pictures at the dump in Africa somehow result from, or orbit around, the developed world.

The goods are made in non-OECD countries and are consumed in non-OECD countries and are disposed and recycled there. 

The sun is rising on imports from China into Africa, used, new, good-enough.   A Good Enough Market which the EU and America fumbled a decade ago, China will deftly give other choices to Africans of other people to deal with.  Crush crush, grind grind, is the noise in the USA and UK.   It safely drowns out the soukous.

No one likes to be hinted at to be a racist, accidental or otherwise.   But I have friends who have lost a life's wages as working computers are seized as "illegal e-waste" by dictators... they can't afford the losses, and their clients can't afford iPads.

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