History of Agbogbloshie: African Tech Comments on Ewastehoax

Just republishing Emmanuel E.P. Nyalete's comment to Resource Recycling this weekend.  Superbly thoughtful and interesting.   He's a laptop repair guru and graduate student studying coding at Georgia Tech... and a former Good Point Recycling staffer and current WR3 associate.

History of Agbogbloshie

I remember Agbogbloshie as one of the usual places in Accra where the guys from the northern part of the country work. They come knocking from door to door to buy alluminum and bottles and any other scrap item they could get. I remember saving coca-cola bottles that I sold to them to make some extra money for my next football. Over the years, Agbogbloshie has becomes a very compalext informal recycling site. It has grown from the recycling of bottles, glass and alluminun to heavy metalls from tractors and any form of motor vehicle. One of my friends who worked there told me that they prefer motor vehicles because they contained the larger quantity of metals and electrical wires. As Ghana's consumption of electronics grew so has the informal recycling of househould equipments grew. 
For over two decades, I have never considered this site to be the largest e-waste dump site in the world until I read the artiles and saw the videos in the mainstream media in Europe and the USA. I was surprised for a few reasons:
1. There are very few electronic items in Agbogbloshie to even consider it as Ghana's locally generated e-waste dump site.
2. The surface area of Agbogbloshie cannot contain the "world's e-waaste" considering the many junk auto parts that are already at the site.
3. The young men who work there use very simple tools and most of the time push carts to haul scrap. From my experience working in a recycling plant, there is no way these young men could haul "millions of tons" of e-waste and process them using hammers and chissels.
However, I acknowledge the fact that there is a problem, but its not about young men taking things apart with primitive tools. Neither is it an import issue. Ghana imports almost everything we use. The problem however is fire-burning wires for the valualble coper. 
To find the right solutions for this problem we need the correct diagnosis. We cannot find the right solutions if we keep exagerating the figures and the conditions on the ground. It does not help my country in any way if wrong statistics are published. A few projects have already failed at Agbogbloshie because they based their projects on false data. Incriminating African business men and women for crimes they have not commited will only lead to poverty and hence an increase in the fire pits at Agbogbloshie. Our country depends on these business men and women to provide technology at affordable prices to students and small businesses and hard working families. I am an example of how used electronics help families and young minds to aspire and dream for better tomorrow. 
Lets put in a liitle more effort to find the facts and then we will discover that there are so many talented technicians and inverntors in Africa who work hard and all they need is true partnership and opportunity. Thank you.

Emmanuel Nyalete

My own comment follows below

Brief History of Agbogbloshie "facts" ( #ewastegate)


I've just been trading messages with Peter Essick of National Geographic, whose photos of Agbogbloshie in the January 2008 "e-waste" issue triggered the storm.   Essick also photographed SKD factories (Monitex partner in Thailand was refurbishing 50,000 monitors per day then, he also photographed Net Peripheral in Malaysia).  Not saying he found Agbogbloshie attractive (except as a photo opportunity), but it was never claimed to be a large or significant import site, it was just part of the pallet.
In August 2008, however, Greenpeace Amsterdam took photos of the site and applied a Basel Action Network "estimate" given at Basel Convention COP, shaving BAN's "25%-75%" claim to "75%".
Then it got really wierd, as Essick won a journalism award for the National Geographic story and CBS 60 Minutes, which reported the "80%" statistic, won a Polk journalism award.   That created a feeding frenzy, and the Dagbani speakers Adam and I interviewed in Agbogbloshie named off more than a dozen photojournalists,  including McElvaney, Bellini, Dannoritzer, Delaney, Rowe, etc., etc. who have since descended, sometimes posing children who don't even work there on top of the few monitors and TVs at the site. We are not sure which of the photographers first made the (ridiculous) claim that Agbogbloshie was the "world's largest" ewaste dumping site.  Two separate photojounralists (not including Minter) showed up at Agbogbloshie while we were interviewing the workers there.  Our hopes for "facts" rose when the UN / Basel Secretariat funded studies in 2011 and 2012, which assessed actual seized sea containers, found 85%-91% reuse of imports, better than brand new product, but the photographers message was the one seized by Al Jazeera, the Guardian, The Independent, The Economist, Washington Post, NPR, The Atlantic, BBC, etc. etc. etc., to the point. that even Wikipedia claimed that "millions of tons per year" were dumped directly by sea container onto the sites.  Some of these stories were submitted as evidence in the trial of "Hurricane" Joe Benson as constituting "common knowledge".  Interpol's "Project Enigma" and "Project Eden" are gunning for these African importers as this story breaks, holding a major conference (with Mr. Jim Puckett and Mr. Mike Anane briefing enforcement agents).
My research team's estimate is that Agbogbloshie scrappers, in a city of 4-5M, handle 910,000 pounds per year. That is less than two percent OF ONE PERCENT of the number indicated by last month's UNEP report of "top 5 destinations for ewaste from 10 largest European countries. Number of sea containers per year = zero.  Material is delivered by hand pushcart, car and pickup truck.
Kudos to Minter, Lepawsky, and other researchers (Reed Miller of MIT, Katharina Kummer, Emmanuel Nyaletey, Josh Goldstein, Ramzy Kahhat, to name a few) who have persistently put the facts on the table for news outlets to use, and kudos to EScrap News for being the first to publicly air the "ewaste hoax" claim.  People are now asking questions about the $1.2M Blacksmith Instute grant that supposedly went to Agbogbloshie (but was apparently "FIFA'd" to coin a term), documentary makers are interviewing Joe Benson, and hopefully Africa's Tech Sector, aka "the Geeks of Color", is also being recognized for its spunk and savvy, and its role in providing what the World Bank calls "the critical mass of users" which provided the backbone of internet and television investments in West Africa.  If American firms could achieve 91% reuse, they would, and the people like Kyle Wiens at IFIXIT who are fighting to keep that condition need to show solidarity with African technicians who are being defamed, libelled, and impugned by this ridiculous, exaggerated, "jump the shark" coverage

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