"E-Waste Crime in Ghana" Day 3: Port Tema Scene of Crime?

I'm falling behind, it will be 7 days as of tonight, and I won't bother writing up every day of the trip.  But the third day was also a long one.   We went to watch the containers being unloaded, at the Port of Tema / Ghana Port Authority.  Then we went to meet some personalities in the e-scrap realm in Ghana (some by accident).

We thought we'd have time to stop at the Ghana EPA in the morning before heading to Tema Port authority with the USA reporter.   The traffic was so tough it took nearly a half hour to circle the block looking for parking, and we were 41 kilometers from Tema, where the sea containers arrive.

There is a lot of open land (and wetlands, we saw fresh eels for sale by fishermen along the highway) between Tema Port and Agbogbloshie.  You can experience the drive on youtube, compare Accra traffic from the 1950s, and even see about the big, big plans for a monorail.

The map above is a real trek into the center of town for sea container trucks bearing scrap for Agbogbloshie.   And the scrap in Agbo is arriving by car tow-truck, and by four wheeled non-motor push cart.   Something just does not add up under the "e-waste hoax".

The point here is that it would not be a simple thing to get 500 sea containers per month from Tema Port to Agbogbloshie (reminder, it's a bit west of the heart of Accra).  And thCe other curious thing - the reuse markets are in Tema, near the port.  If it's 80% waste, I'd expect the reuse material to be carted by wheelbarrows and the waste to arrive by container.  But it's the other way around.

The Italian film crew couldn't make the Tema trip, but the reporter who came with us to the Port Authority knows something about auto scrap and used cars.   And he saw a LOT of them.  And transmissions, and gently used tires, and auto batteries, and bicycles.   But not too many electronics.

Cars arrive, and if the client doesn't pay what it takes (ahem, what the custom agent says it will take) to remove them, they go to auction.   Wahab's cousin had just tried to buy one cheap at auction, and lost all his money a week before we arrrived.   As someone in the import-export business can tell you (I can), customs officials are to be reckoned with, in the Arkansas sense of the term.

In other words, if one of the loads of TVs did look like "e-waste", our customs agents may or may not admit it would be possible to get into the country, but it would be far more risky and far more expensive than importing gently used, new looking stuff.

Tema Port Authority is huge by Ghana standards, but not by world standards.   At 200 containers per stack, and 20 stacks, we saw a lot of material being loaded and unloaded,   But that many pass through Hong Kong or Los Angeles on an hourly basis.  If you want to locate the "largest e-waste dump" in the world, unloading in Tema and driving it to Accra to haul in by 4 wheel push cart is a pretty stupid strategy.   If you want reporters to believe it and repeat it, I guess, say it happens in Africa.

Meanwhile, what do we see much closer to Tema?

Lo and behold, that's what we say in the Tema marketplace.

Wahab, his cousin Peter, the reporter and I met the customs agent and Wahab's attorney in the town of Tema, inland from the port.  We went for lunch near the reuse market... where we saw many of the West's "throwaways".

- Hearses
- Purses
- Mannequins
- Microwaves
- Computers
- Bicycles (and more bicycles)
- Barber chairs
- Flat screen and CRT televisions
- Etc.

We approached one of the latter electronics shops.  They saw a two white guys approaching with cameras.   They started to shout and chase us away, or warn us not to take their photos.

Wahab decided to have some fun this time (these were professional sales guys, not teenagers burning wire).   He basically asked why they didn't want us taking photos of their "e-waste" and played the role of an anti-dumper.   It was ingenious, we got to hear them complain about the photography in their own voices, describing it to Wahab in front of the reporter (who later said he'd been to many countries, but never had he seen as much reaction to photographers as on this trip in Ghana).

Wahab then told them he was in the import business, and they began to talk trade (after a laugh).  They debated how many households in Ghana would buy a "non-digital" TV, and which USA CRT televisions were digital, and what the future of the market was... and what @#%-wads the BBC and other reporters were for spreading this crazy 80% junk rumor.   It just wasn't possible.

What they agreed on in the coming minutes is obvious to those of us who lived in Africa or met African buyers.

  • Ghana households can't afford brand new televisions.
  • The most affordable new televisions are less reliable than used TVs from strong warranty nations.
  • Most Ghana households have more than one TV now,and could never have gotten there if the port of Tema was importing mostly waste.

Africa has enough real problems, Wahab says, without Americans and Europeans having to invent fake ones to fight.

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