Dear Directors, Producers, and Stars of the Music Video "Life Is What You Make It",
About two weeks ago, I ran across the release of your new Placebo music video through my organization, Fair Trade Recycling / WR3A, which researches public posts on Agbogbloshie. Despite recognizing some of Placebo's hits from the past two decades, I admit I was not at all acquainted with the artists. Over the course of 2 weeks, I've developed a much greater appreciation for not just the art, but the social justice that Brian and others with the band strive for.
I know a lot more about African recycling than I know about music. I've been to Abgogbloshie and Old Fadama several times with our members from Tamale, Ghana. We have translated for or been interviewed by several documentary and print journalism investigations on so-called e-waste dumping in Africa. Here are 4 good articles and films on the topic of export.
But let me explain how we can work together to create clean and sustainable recycling jobs for the "workers of Agbogbloshie". There's a win-win here, and there are plenty of other people besides me you can go through if I've tarnished the relationship by introducing the subject. ("Alright then, I'll go to hell," often starts here).
Recently, Sasha Rainbow was promoting clips of my friend, Muhammed Awal Basit, in a NY Yankees shirt and pink girl's bicycle helmet, throwing some kind of gasoline-soaked wirey carcass, aflame overhead, in the empty space in the northwest bank of the Korle Lagoon.
Awal is someone I met more than two years ago, but we have stayed in contact, along with his (slum) mates Razak and Yahroo. We were introduced to them in 2015 when I traveled several times to the scrapyard with native Dagbani speakers from Chendiba Enterprises of Tamale.
African owned Chendiba represents the best and brightest tech sector jobs in Africa - they import surplus property and used computer equipment which they inspect prior to export, being in the same line of business as Joseph "Hurricane" Benson. Benson is a Nigerian expat TV repairman living in Essex, UK, who was accused 5 years ago (unjustly) of exporting containerloads of used equipment described variously as 50%, 75%, 80%, or 90% waste destined for "primitive recycling", allegedly dumped at Agbogbloshie in sea containers.
We expressed our concern that your video promotes a false narrative that threatens our friends in the Africa Tech Sector. We asked questions about compensation and credits to the actors. The comment left on the Independent, but typical of what I've said in public places.
It's a bummer to have produced an exciting new video, and then to have an unknown blogger show up and criticize it to fans. And twitter forces us to boil it down to 140 char.
So - I'm now writing about Sasha Rainbow's public description of our organization and me personally, which was shared with me indirectly.
So the questions are merely seen as something "to cause trouble". But then she makes a statement which I agree with completely, "considering these people live in real poverty."
So what is deeply upsetting about our proposition to raise $20,000? Sasha and Alsdair Mitchell clearly know Alhassan ibn Abdullah, Awal Muhammed Basit, Razak, Yahroo, and many other people with us in common.
Below, I'll explain what we were thinking... It's a project to make jewelry out of (clean process) recycled metals, using skilled African metalsmiths, who are willing to tutor Awal, Razak, Yahroo, etc. in making something. If it's sold online to thousands of @OfficialPlacebo fans, it would create demand for unburned, clean wire. We have been trying to launch the product for almost a year, we didn't create it opportunistically. "It's not about you".
What $20,000 means to Sasha is something I can only imagine. What it means to the people we are working with can mean life or death. Skepticism is warranted. Telling thousands of @Placebo fans not to even look, listen, or learn from us is certainly not "balls of steel". It's purest form of cowardly. But I guess she's afraid. She worked very hard, she wanted to feel good about the film, it is very beautifully crafted and edited. And her reaction is kind of understandable.
When we showed the link to the "Life is What You Make It" video to the record and t-Shirt sales for Placebo's new Australia tour, I can see that it could be taken as a crass swipe at a well-intentioned effort. But the video ends with provenly false statements which have been retracted by most of their sources, and they have a devastating effect on negro tech sector workers who purchase used electronics for export to their family and associates in Ghana. They are not dumping anything. Every study has found as much reuse in used goods as in brand new.
The stuff that gets taken apart by hand in the scrapyard near the Accra slum was usually imported used. But it was then reused for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 years before being sold to scrappers with push carts. The number of sea containers dumped at Agbogbloshie is not 400-500 per month. It is zero per year. This is a crashing, loud, serious mistake which has already put African TV repairmen in prison in the United Kingdom. Basel Action Network admits it and calls them "collateral damage".
So, if Sasha finds Blogger Robin of WR3A to be an irritant, here are some other names you can look up to ask whether you should be concerned about Sasha's due diligence. Some are generalists in the topic of "e-waste", others are experts in Old Fadama, Accra (aka Agbogbloshie).
|Dr. Josh Goldstein|
|Dr. Josh Lepawsky|
|Dr. Ramzy Kahhat|
|Katherine Kummer Peiry|
|Martijn van Engelen|
|Oscar Adrian Orta|
|Su Fung, Ow Young|
|Wahab Muhammed Odoi|
Some of these people will be sympathetic to Sasha's objections to my style. Some of them met me in the same way - having published something titillating about e-waste exports, and receiving my public rebuttal. But any of them can now tell you that Mike Anane's very specific claims about hundreds of containers of 80-90% waste being dumped on Accra, or Agbogbloshie being a lush green fishing village on the outskirts of Accra in 2002 (very specific eyewitness claims by Anane) are such complete falsehoods that I can't even make an analogy to them. And Jim Puckett's "A Place Called Away" description of Agbogbloshie as thousands of orphan children "pawing" and "seething" and "dying" is racist anti-African propaganda.
No one doubts that Sasha Rainbow or Brian Molko or Placebo meant well. And all of us are impressed with the visual artistry and the music.
But why can't you assume we meant well, too?
Why assume the worst in our offer of $20,000 to the workers there? I was there for almost over a month in January and February, filming processes to clean the copper wire without burning it, paying for it with proceeds from Tech Sector added value, using traditional Dagomba metalsmiths to make Fair Trade jewelry, and thought Placebo might want to offer that - even Placebo titled bracelets made by the very formerly unemployed Awal in the video.
We have jewelry made by Awal from non-burned wire cleaned at an African Tech Sector workers home, melded by an African laptop technician's dad, where Awal, Razak, and Yahroo were a part of the process and included and paid. Placebo could be selling a solution MADE IN GHANA, with metal sourced - unburned - from Agbogbloshie, creating jobs for the people who work there.
That might appeal to Placebo fans, and might be a better message than "boycott African geeks" which is what, unintentionally, your video now concludes. Jarring pictures of burning tires at African dumps means don't sell your cell phone to an African expat like Joe Benson.
But at the very least, you have a moral and legal duty to vet the "facts" in your video.
If you research what the World Bank shows was Accra TV and computer ownership in 2002 - Anane's year of "fishing and swimming in paradise" you will see that most urban Africans owned a TV 15 years ago, and if you find one in a dump 15 years later, maybe you didn't just miss the sea container.
We did use the hype of your video to get out Fair Trade Recycling's counter message. And yeah, I'm a huge critic of "povertyporn", "whitesaviorbarbie", and exploitation. But our message isn't all negative (or anti-negative). We have translators and professionals working on real solutions.
Our solutions may fail. But if you ask the people in the list above whether Sasha should worry about my relationships with "desperately poor" people in her videos, they may tell you I talk too much, or I'm fat, or have bad breath, etc. But I really don't think any of them believe my work with geeks of color and scrap sector workers in Africa is out to hurt anyone.
Sasha is describing me to laypeople, Placebo fans that may not know much about Africa, and who don't know about Fair Trade Recycling. My hunch is she's getting her info from Kevin "Still Not Sponsored" McElvaney, who she said introduced her. I met Kevin last year. He wasn't very talkative.
It's precisely the laypeople targeted that concerns us with your video's particular claims about Agbogbloshie. Summing up your entire video with a hyperbolic-ally false statement is, well, an attractive nuisance for social banter. I think we have a difference in perception of how social media venues (Twitter, FB) count, however. Twitter, by nature of its 140 char limits, can seem brutal and rude. But it's also a place no one listens to unless they are listening to that subject.
After several visits to Agbogbloshie, and after living with Awal, Razak, and Yahroo in Tamale and visiting their families in Savelugu last winter, we decided to try to bring a constructive message from Agbogbloshie. While we cannot deny the pollution, destitution, and poverty at the Accra slum, we have found that it has relatively nothing to do with e-waste, especially not recently imported e-waste.
After explaining this for years (with some success with some data journalists and trade journalists), we came to the conclusion that the cheap techniques used to film burning waste in Agbogbloshie were drowning out the facts. Photo journalism was trumping data journalism. And we tightened our communication to attempt to intervene before false hyperbole and innuendo pervades too far in the media.
If you want to meet us, don't block us.