"Ewaste Crimes in Ghana": Intermission

End of Week 2 in Africa.

To catch everyone up, here are the cliff notes.

1) In 2002 three Americans were in Guangdong... Jim Puckett (BAN), Adam Minter (Shanghaiscrap.com), and yours truly.   We saw different things.   But the report with the least nuance (BAN's 80% dumping claim, claim that the water pollution was from e-Waste etc) got the biggest headline.  

Make the biggest claim, get the biggest coverage.

Where there's smoke, there's Tires.  Most of the visible smoke s from the tires.

2)  In fact Guiyu China was not receiving the CRT monitors, they were going to SKD semiknockdown factories for remanufacture, and the water pollution found in "Exporting Harm" was telltale from textile dying.    However, BAN ignored the nuance and created a Pledge of True Stewardship to raise more funds for their fledgling NGO.

3) In 2005-6, BAN turned to Africa, where yours truly had been working in reuse for several years.   We were both interviewed by Charles of NIH.   I claimed that the situation could benefit from more conscientious suppliers - again with the nuance.   Jim Puckett at BAN claimed some knowledge that most of the trade was illegal and dumped and burned by Africans.

4) I founded WR3A.org as an "Export Reform" or "Fair Trade Recycling" association and tried to participate with the Basel Convention's PACE initiative.   I also started a blog, in part to explain the difference between the Basel Convention (which ALLOWS export for reuse and repair) and Puckett's cause to AMEND the Basel Convention.   Still, Puckett announced to the press that African inports was 75% dumped and burned by primitive Africans in polluting processes.  I tried making two films with more nuance.   The louder claim won the press.

5)  We found BAN's only study in Africa;  it cited 90% reuse.  BAN had buried it.  There was NO study of 75% dumping.   BAN staff cited Mike Anane, I interviewed Anane and he cited BAN.   The statstic meanwhile began to proliferate in other studies.

Move along, nothing to see here.

6) Lord Chris Smith of the UK Environmental Agency appeared at an Interpol event I attended in DC and announced a strike against the illegal dumpers.  This led to the arrest of Nigerian expat and TV repairman Joseph Benson of BJ Electronics.   Meanwhile, Interpol's Emile Lindemulder studied the European trade and I intervewed him in 2009.  He said he was very surprised it was not EU recyclers shippipng, but African reuse companies were paying for the material, screening it, packing their own containers, and it was "African on African" wastecrime.  Benson, exhibit A.   Clearly he got an F in nuance, could not see past the pictures of the kids at Agbogbloshie.

7)  Ah, yes, Agbogbloshie.  The place is real, and noxious, but not the largest or most toxic on earth.  It's rather humble in proportion to BAN and Greenpeace's ridiculous, grandiose claims.  It was clear as day that BAN had lied about the 75% dumping statistic, and the very film at Agbogbloshie proves the opposite of the headline.   BAN's films with Pieter Hugo practically prove exporters innocence, as there were nowhere near as many people at Agbogbloshie, and nowhere near the volume of material BAN claimed.  World Bank data all showed the used appliance trade created the "critical mass of users" which led to infrastructure like satellite TV and cell phone towers.  World Bank also showed that Ghana and Nigeria had plenty of TVs two decades earlier and were by far, by far, the most likely source of material shown at Agbogbloshie.   The stuff at the dump got to the dump the same way stuff in a London dump gets to the dump... homeowners use it for 15 years and then upgrade and scrap the old.

Not much to see at the "largest e-waste dump on earth"

8)  Basel Secretariat, in part at  my hysterical urging, actually sent researchers to study the 279 sea containers seized at port during the UK "crackdown".    They  found 85%-93% legal reuse (depending on whether repair was considered "legal"..  It is).   BAN then mysteriously clamed never to have released the 75% statistic or 80% statistic.

Amazing.   They had said it in dozens of interviews, now deny saying it after the UN reports.

9)  When I tried to explain that the Geeks of Color like Joe Benson were innocent, I hear people say "I saw the pictures", "I saw the film", "BAN was there, you weren't".   So I had to come to Ghana, count the 27 young men at Agbogbloshie, document they generate less than a kilo of circuit boards (which they don't burn) per day, between 20-50 units including automobile wire harness.

10)  In the next posts, I follow the trail... the trail of young men who left agricultural villages offering jobs burning charcoal.    Into the mud huts.  In one village close enough to Tamale, we visit a medicine man and drum maker, inside his modest mud home, complete with a 1970s black and white television.   He can't even remember when he got it, says it still works.

I'm not excusing the recycling/burning practices.   I'm saying that's NOT where the imports go.  Yesterday's commenter said it was still a crime for rich nations to dump rubbish here.  I agree, it WOULD be a crime.   Right now the crime is "defamation" and "false accusation", because everyoe is saying this is a big site receiving western "e-waste" and it's just not.

10)  The biggest crime is the missed opportunity from boycotting Geeks of Color.

Showing close ups of sad looking Africans in a haze of smoke, with no numbers or facts, and then stating that most of the material was dumped here by Americans and Europeans avoiding (free) recycling, is hyperbolically exaggerated and defamatory.   The money raised by the NGOs like BAN.org, Greenpeace, and Blacksmith Institute does not even go to the poster children who are burning the small amounts of e-waste the City of Accra generates.

African Tech Sherif provides the critical mass of users to support internet and cell towers.

This was a hoax.   It is true that young men like Howell leave the outskirts of Tamale and burn wire because they can't find work as a tax drver etc. in Accra.    It is NOT true that most used electronics purchased by Geeks and Tinkerers like Wahab and Emmanuel and Chendba Enterprises go to Agbogbloshie.

The number of sea containers going to Agbogbloshie is not 500 per month.   It is zero.  The material arrives in such small amounts that it is delivered by young men with unmotorized push carts.

Accidental racism, environmental malpractice, occuring right now.   What are we gong to do about this mess?   Come back for part 6, Fair Trade Recycling as an actual progress, win-win, which pays for itself, rewards Africa's best and brightest, is legal under Basel Convention, and you get to meet cool people who you were boycotting as an "E-Steward" who won't sell to Africans.

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