"Ewaste Crime in Ghana": Day 4-5-6 Tamale Chendiba

Wahab Investor, and Kamal, Owner - Chendiba Enterprise in Tamale, Ghana

I've put most of this part of the trip into a 12 page chapter which I can't post by blog here, at least not yet.  Here's the rundown.   We were always planning on going up to Tamale, Ghana, in the far north, closer to Burkina Faso than Accra.  But my host, Wahab, was contacted with sad news last Thursday AM.   That morning, his father had passed away.

Muslim funerals don't dally, and we had to drop some plans (to visit MakerSpace in Agbogbloshie on Saturday, and to meet Emmanuel Nyaletey on his flight from Atlanta) and to head north in a hurry.

In a nutshell, Tamale has lots of recycled scrap.  The age of the scrap is proof of the UN 2013 Report that said 85% of the "e-waste" found in African dumps (like Agbogbloshie) was productively used by African consumers for years and years prior to discard.

If that means used goods should be banned, we should consider banning bicycles, used everywhere in Tamale, and imported by the thousands and thousands into Tema Port.   Because after repairing and using and using, they eventually wind up here.

A witches brew of Huffys, Schwins, and Panasonic bicycles

Tamale is very different from Accra.   If it was 1930 in the USA, Accra would be New York City, and Tamale would be Arkansas.   The young men (labelled "scrap boys" - a "boy" term that makes my skin crawl when I use it) burning wire and scrapping metal in Agbogbloshie are mostly from Tamale environs.   We were quite lucky, in fact, to have been brought to Agbogbloshie by Wahab and two of his cousins from the area.   After an initial scowling at the cameras, those young men of Agbogbloshie were engaged in conversation with the three visitors in their mother tongue, and came to shake our hands.

Anyway, we are now in Tamale.   And if Accra was Taxi-Mercedes-Toyota-Honda-Truck-Taxi, Tamale is Motorcycle-Motorcycle-threewheeler-TaxiVan-Tax-motorcycle-truck.    It's much more like the Cameroon I remember from the 1980s.  And I'm writing from the offices of Chendiba Enterprises, a 7-employee computer and electronics refurbisher, next door to an Internet Cafe on Tamale's Hospital Road.

First, what is Tamale like?  It's much smaller than Accra, with 225,000 residents, though it's a hub for many surrounding towns and villages, and for landlocked Burkina Faso.

Second, this is a huge market for used western clothing and bicycles.    Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul goods stretched for a city block.  And the crowds in the market were bustling.

Anyway I've got a lot to say about Tamale, but let me catch you up on Chendiba, which means to shake up or change, as with a strong wind.

  • Buiness Opportunities are smaller than Accra, but Chendiba has a large market share.
  • Reuse businesses are the main economy, from fridges to PCs to cars to bicycles to furniture, and used computers, laptops and screens are universally sought and accepted.
  • The door to Chendiba Enterpises is constantly opening and closing with constant clientelle.   Students at the local Engineering college and other higher education are the main customers.

Wahab is effectively the chief investor in Chendiba.  Wahab has spent a few evenings, telling me how six years ago, he noticed his teenage cousin was very good at tinkering with things, fixing computers, etc.   Kamal at the time purchased used goods from a trader who picked them up in Accra and sold them second hand.

Wahab was actually a Vermont state employee at the time, I think working at the refugee offices.  Wahab basically recognized Kamal's skills, despite is youth, and four years ago convinced his mother to give Kamal free rent at one of the main shops, on the busiest commercial street, across from a major bank.   Kamal started making his own trips to Accra, to buy PCs and parts (including from Agbogbloshie scrappers, who knew to keep certain goods aside for resale to Kamal rather than scrap them).

The business has grown steadily, and in addition to the 7 staff, a cluster of "next in line" techs frequent the shop, hoping to find work (similar to Agbogbloshie).

Wahab now imports not only for Kamal's shop, but for Accra reuse shops as well.    You could say that Accra gets second pick from Tamale, rather than vice versa.   The jobs created here are really fine opportunities for these young men,   They can be proud of what they are doing.

Next:  The Fair Trade Model.   Kan Kamel Recycle as well as fix?   My case for putting Tinkerers in Charge of Agbobloshie.

PS, should we think about banning city buses as well? Introduced into Accra in the 1960s, they do eventually wear out and wind up at Agbogbloshie, full of toxic radiator fluid, transmission fluid, oil and leaded batteries.   And those tires!  Oy!

Does every used product, even those used (like cars) for two or three times longer than the original "OECD" owner, become "illegal dumping" once it reaches the end of its life?  Ghana households have had television for 50 years.   Is this what "Project Eden" means?  Really?

Folks, this is the biggest environmental hoax ever.  More in this series to come.

Below is a shot from the street I walked through to technician Jaleel's house, to get his 2 year old to go swimming yesterday.   These kids saw the camera and begged to be photographed.   I'll have prints made at home and sent them to Jaleel.

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