Euro Agbo Photo Journos 4: Update Placebo Video (Sasha Rainbow) in Agbogbloshie

UPDATE: Life Is What You Make It (Placebo cover)

The 1990's European rock group Placebo has launched a new hits album featuring a haunting cover version of "Life is What You Make It". The Music Video used to launch the release was filmed in June 2016 at Agbogbloshie, a slum near the center of Accra, Ghana.  The rockers declared to fans on Facebook that Agbogbloshie is The Largest E-Waste Dump In The World. The slickly filmed and haunting video is "dedicated to the workers of Agbogbloshie", and ends with three austere warnings urging fans not to allow their cell phones and computers to fall into African hands.

Most recent academic research (Memorial U, USC, PCUP, MIT), has revealed the amount of e-waste in Agbogbloshie to be globally inconsequential, and many headlines to be wildly exaggerated. Agbogbloshie is not populated with thousands of orphans "pawing" through 500 sea containers of European e-waste per month. Nor is the site a remote wetland - its status as a heavily polluted urban river was established decades before personal computers were sold in the USA.  The modest sized scrap yard (mostly auto scrap) in a city of 3-4M does receive E-Scrap in scrap metal by pickup truck and wheelbarrow carters in an informal cash economy based on copper and aluminum - and reuse - value. Baseline World Bank data show millions of Ghana households had televisions in the 1990s. UNEP and UNU data show the site accounts for far less than 1% of the e-waste traffic in the world, and probably generates most of that on its own.

To get a professional assessment of the site, in 2015 The Smithsonian and Sci.Net each sent reporters who were experienced with scrapyards. Both experienced reporters found mainstream press coverage to have been grossly exaggerated and prejudicial. The NGO which had originally named Agbogbloshie to be a significant electronic waste dumping ground now claims otherwise, now from a defensive position of having "racially profiled" the Ghana Tech Sector who successfully reuse and resell 90% of the imported goods (a record superior to brand new product sales).

Placebo SashaRainbow Filmtaker Alasdair Mitchell with Awal, Razak, Abdullah, and unknown

Fewer than 25 "wire and tire burners" work at Agbogbloshie... So it isn't surprising that reporters who previously visited immediately recognized these characters in the Placebo video, or found multiple overlapping acquaintences on Facebook. USA based organization Fair Trade Recycling has contacted one of three central characters in the video by smartphone. Awal Muhammed Basit, who first appears on a pile of tires, claims he was unaware the film was being used to launch a rock and roll tour. Awal offered confirmation from 2 other scrappers who say he was not paid by the photographer, Alsdair Mitchell. The scrappers claim he did not sign a waiver, and express doubt anyone else was paid either.  Since they speak Dagomba, that's believable.

Mitchell seemingly made the film without advance payment from Placebo, and would presumably be responsible for negotiating the price with Placebo - which may not have included wages for the Agbogbloshie workers.  This would be typical of the inexperienced "wild west" nature of filming at slum locations like Agbogbloshie, where aspiring young photojournalists can find an exotic site 20 minutes from the airport, 9 minutes from Accra's finest hotel.

Awal related that Mitchell, a relative newcomer who works for Sasha Rainbow productions, was concerned with increasing the amount of gasoline he normally uses to burn tires and wire. Awal appears in the film holding a flaming tire over his head for the cameras. Alhassan ibn Abdullah, an experienced Ghana freelance journalist and Dagbani translator, appears in photos with the crew and scrappers (sent from the wire burners smart phones). He covered June 2015 forced evictions from the Old Fadama slum (Agbogbloshie District) for BBC, and Fair Tade Recycling will reach out to him in the coming days for advice on how to cover the filmmaking... Fair Trade Recycling has recommended him as an alternate go between.

At this time, Placebo (Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal) and their Record Company appear to be unwitting players in the filming, and may be passing information to Sasha Rainbow productions to handle these questions. Since our first blog, Ms. Rainbow has posted Awal, Kofi, and Lamptea (sp?) photos on her Facebook page, perhaps a first step in crediting the onscreen actors. We are therefore allowing time for the band, record label, and studio to assess the situation and provide a fair solution.

Fair Trade Recycling provides translators in the area and represents Tech Sector importers who are unfairly accused of importing junk. Fair Trade Recycling has no financial interest in payment to onscreen actors, and hope answers on the payments for the film are settled soon. Fair Trade Recycling's founder lived in the same house as Awal for several weeks in 2017, routinely objects to the exotification of the Africans recycling processes and Tech Sector importers who buy and distribute secondhand electronic products, and is requesting the workers the video is "dedicated to" simply be paid. But @OfficialPlacebo doesn't know us from Adam, and probably meant well in exposing "Sodom and Gomorrah" through their music.

The connections of all these filmmakers, translators, actors, and scrappers in photos on Whatsapp, Facebook and Messenger, help to illustrate just how small an area is involved in processing electronic scrap there. Fair Trade Recycling estimates the volume of electronics processed at the site as little as 20 tons per month (one sea container out of 400), perhaps 100 tons if other white goods and metas are considered.  Either estimate is exponentially less than the amount reported in the mainstream press by discredited sources.

More background at

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