Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos 1: Flog African Tech Sector "E-waste"

My last post kind of took on European "White Savior Complex" in the e-Waste story.  I hesitated before hitting "publish".  Was I being too hard on Europeans?

The latest "European photo-journalist safari" came out the day after.  Italian photojournalist Stephano Stranges announced fundraising for his, well, somewhat creepy African series "Victims of our Wealth" or "Le Vittime della nostra Rizzchessa". Screenshots below...

From his website "Stranges Images" (which is largely in English, though he's Italian), you get the picture, so to speak.  The metal mining exploits Africans to make electronics, and then the Africans are exploited a second time by the selfsame electronics in Agbogbloshie.
Coltan, in other words, the mineral that everyone carries around in his or her pocket, is the object of a long commercial chain that implicates serious consequences in terms of human and environmental rights.   This mineral which is used in the production of various high tech materials, is especially fundamental in making smartphones

The compulsive consumption and the continual updating of these objects, fed by by the media’s barrage of ad campaigns, has caused the coltan industry to grow exponentially since the end of the 1990’s. From that point, there has been the exploitation on the part of large multinationals and the catastrophic consequences regarding the people from areas like DR Congo.   My photographic project, therefore, starts in this area of the world, as the initial link in a process that begins with the extraction of the mineral followed by the production of the object (South East Asia) and then moves onto the excessive use in every corner of the planet, ending up in the immense African dump sites (in particular, Ghana).
Now in fairness, I am greatly concerned by the Coltan Mining in the Congo (have been upfront that Congo and Amazon metal mining was topic Numbro Una since 1980s - that's WHY I got into recycling!).  So I have some schadenfreude of my own in Stranges photos of African mining.  (Some historical confirmation at bottom).

So I figured what the heck, I'll talk to them about it... by twitter (next page below).

Look at the specific claim made to support the photojournalism. Data journalists log, Photojournalists flog...
Its name is Agbogbloshie, but when you look for it, you better ask for “Sodom and Gomorrah”, everyone knows it with that name. It is the black dump of the West. 100,000 tons a year including mobiles, fridges, televisions, computers. Here, they are burnt, opened, selected, recycled and re-sold, to then enter again the cycle of production and sale. 80,000 is the estimated population, mainly coming from the North and the most depressed areas of Ghana. 
80,000 residents managing 100k tons per year of foreign waste?  What does that look like? Do you see that in their photos?

I saw 25 people in Agbogbloshie, managing 500 lbs per day of wire.  It was mostly from automobile consoles.  It was not EVEN hysterically remotely close to the photojournalist claims, and the photojournalists own photos prove my points - and disprove theirs!
Trying to introduce a little nuance, I told them both that the poverty in Agbogbloshie was real, and the mining pollution was real, but that the African Tech Sector was being "Victimized" by a false narrative about imports going directly to the junkyard.

Let's see how that goes....

When self-described reporter/ blogger Antonella Sinopola describes the project in her Voci Globali (voice of the world) blog, (requires google.translate) she links back to the infamous Blacksmith Institute / PureEarth "top ten list" from 2014-15.  That's the one where "Agbogbloshie" starts with "A" and was placed at the top of a list which - when I interviewed Blacksmith personally prior to my trip to Ghana - they claimed was not a ranking or data-quantified list at all.  They did show that photos taken of the scrap guys there were auctioned for tens of thousands of dollars, going to Blacksmith, who then bought a wire stripper that doesn't fit the electronics wires and auto wires that are burned in the first place... but I digress.

[Ed Note 5/31:  Blacksmith Institute also was involved with some very legitimate work from Dr. Jack Caravanos.  Caravanos's numbers on the laborers of Agbogbloshie were very reliable, matching what we observed. We assume his soil testing was also accurate - but distrust the link to "e-waste" dumping. Leaded casing on wires is mostly from older building wire and pre-computer appliances, and auto battery recycling was seen at the site.  Caravanos answered me back on one occasion and seemed to share my concern about the "Top Ten" list.]

I sent Blacksmith Institute data {Smoking Gun blogs} and offered to come visit their offices in NY to discuss our concerns, and was told "don't contact us any more".  But Antonella Sinopola quotes statistics that even the Blacksmith link she provides doesn't show.  Where does the statistic come from?

100,000 tons of European e-Waste, per Antonella and Stranges, are dumped on Agbogbloshie. A container's maximum weight is about 20 tons, so that's 5,000 containerloads arriving at Agbogbloshie per year.  13,6 per day.  Is there any evidence of that in the photographs?  Did the photojournalist see anything - remotely - resembling that?

It. is. demonstrably. false.  
Not slightly false.
Hysterically, exponentially, hyperbolic-ally false.

"Martin Luther King did not assassinate George Washington" false.

This is circular reference data which goes back to Jim Puckett's cringeworthy articles about Agbogbloshie and claims of "80% Dumping".  But when I shared info with Antonella via Twitter, she was rather dismissive.

Look, here's where Stranges makes the false claim which is not "strange" for Europeans to make, and he lists Antonella Sinopoli as his writer.  I don't know who's the source (Mike Anane?), but read the highlighted claim.

Does this photo supposedly show evidence of 100,000 TONS per YEAR of waste dumped by Europeans on Agbogbloshie?  272 tons per day?  Perhaps I'm overly sarcastic in my response:

Stephano and Antonella may not know what 100,000 tons of imported e-waste would look like... they are not professional recyclers (the photos shows maybe 3 tons, and not likely delivered "per day").  But if I claimed 100,000 Italian photojournalists per year visit the site, it might give them a sense of how ridiculous the #ewastehoax claims of Agbogbloshie seem to Ghanaians.

Kind of "Oooga Boooga".  Kinda Third World.  Kinda tone deaf.

So how did I inherit this role of calling out White Savior Complex and Poverty Porn?  As it turns out, an old chum of mine from Peace Corps Cameroon just uploaded this 35 minute documentary from 1985 interviews... and I appear five or six times, kind of reacting to what I saw even back then in my 20s... The Blindmen and the Elephant actually survives pretty well.  Peace Corps never released it, because (I'm told) we were all too candid about things like white saviorship and sexually transmitted diseases.

Recommend start at minute 3:20, John F. Kennedy and "mud huts", followed by the 1960s reference from another volunteer, followed by my terse description that we were lying to ourselves, that it was "free travel".

I was already pretty self aware, after my high school wrestling - debate matches with "spiritual materialism".  The photos below were also discovered in the last week, from a friend's photo album in Norway, where my daughter was visiting.

They show a time I became very concerned about the colonial nature of raw material mining, and the pollution that comes from such mining, which - I argued in several term papers - was being externalized.  Coltan mining is the latest example.

So this blog keeps going because of the reactions I get when I, as a long term supporter of Emerging Markets ("Third World") and tinkerism and environmental protection, to defending the Africans who are caught in the net of "Environmental Malpractice" through "Project Eden".

The way Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network defends the imprisonment of Joe "Hurricane" Benson as "collateral damage", or that Jaco Huisman (who I like) appears satisfied by the "guilty plea" (legal settlement) of a Nigerian born TV repairman who never went to primary school... These are prima facia evidence that photojournalists like Stephano Stranges and Kevin McElvaney are also collateral damage of the #ewastehoax.  Seeing young men who believe they are doing good, while feeding a machine funded by big shred and planned obsolescence, demands the type of philosophical debate Europe was once known for.

I love Europe, my kids have EU citizenship, and I return every year.  I know I'll be forgiven, and one day thanked, by the charitable industrial complex workers whose regulatory budgets are fed by PovertyPorn... because integrity survives, and is in the long term the largest Hidden Persuader (reference to Vance Packard's other book, which unlike the Waste Makers turned out to be mostly hogwash).

Datajournalists log, Photojournalists flog

#datajournalists log, #photojournalists flog

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