Nuance Delivery 3: Eyewitnesses To Hell - Oluu Orga

The Agbogbloshie waste site has really become a crucible for examination of the charitable industrial complex. The richer the African city, the more consumer electronic waste it generates.  When I go to Agbogbloshie, I don't see anything I didn't see in Mobile, Alabama.

But once, I thought did.  When Westerners go to unfamiliar places, something happens. We photograph something that seems exotic, and the more shocking and unfamiliar, the more valuable the photo.  It's interesting to contrast our Western photos of Agbogbloshie to those taken by an African who lived and worked at the place. Western photojournalists (e.g. Kevin McElvaney) earn a better living selling their photos if there's a nice Biblical Halloween Titled Hyperbole around them.

In Nuance 1 and 2, we focused again on Awal Muhammed of Savelugu, Ghana, the guy in his mid-20s who figured out that adding more gasoline - literally - to the ewaste (and tires, mostly) burning fire was a recipe for handouts. On my first visit to Agbo in 2015, he certainly stood out. (And he video calls me too often ever since, see last night).

Today, let's focus on an authority, Oluu Orga, who is everything Awal is not. He also came to Agbogbloshie from the North, he also pushed a cart around the city, but he didn't ever learn to perform fire tricks for the Photojournalist convention (which started in earnest a year after Oluu left).

Oluu Orga didn't have much to spend on film, but he took pictures of his friends doing different jobs.

In the mid 1980s, I returned from 30 months in Africa with 7 undeveloped rolls of film. When they were all developed at once, I could see where my priorities had been.  Excited to be in remote Africa, the place I had heard about as primitive and natural and exotic.. many photos apparently were intended to "validate" my time there. More shots of grass roofs than corrugated steel, no pictures of paved roads.  When I went through Oluu's photos of his time there, Agbogbloshie finally got real.

Western photojournalists or documentary "eyewitnesses" who "validate" their "experience" are part of the western economy.  But Oluu Orga's REAL EXPERIENCE in Agbogbloshie (3 years) doesn't fit the exotic Western narrative. In Part 4, I'll post film of him telling his own story. He MacGyvered his way out, through reuse partnerships with cousins in Africa's Tech Sector.

Oluu Orga is focused on people, not stuff  He began by burning wire and pushing carts, but moved on the more "added value" of computer testing and repair.

The contrast between German, Austrian, Australian, British etc. documentaries of Agbogbloshie and Oluu Orga's eyewitness accounts is very, very meaningful.  His roll of film is different than a foreigner's.  He was not trying to prove he's an eyewitness to "Hell".

Legitimate print journalist interviews Orga at Agbogbloshie scrap yard

Oluu never gets angry.  He's a father, a good husband, a grown up, with nothing to prove.  Orga's the opposite of a guy who'd take a bath on camera or hold a burning tire over his head while sporting a child's pink bicycle helmet.

The terms "charitable industrial complex", "poverty porn", SJW, "white savior" are not in Oluu's vocabulary.  I use them to show our desperation to halt the stat-bombing, halt the friendly fire from environmentalists. When they use pictures to raise money - and BAN / E-Stewards have raised enough to build a mansion on the shore at Agbogbloshie - there is a moral cost.

No young filmmaker who just spent a considerable amount of time and money flying from Europe to Africa wants to be told by some American blogger that they are exploiting scrap workers and Tech Sector entrepreneurs.

But ItsSashaRainbow, Kevin McElvaney, Jim Puckett, and other "eyewitnesses of Hell" have a moral accounting to do. We didn't begin by mocking them. WR3A invested a lot of years, including the California Compromise of 2010, trying to bring NUANCE to the discussion.  When INTERPOL's Project Eden started targeting the geeks of color - like Olu and his cousins - and Raphael Rowe (with cringeworthy irony) made his name with a racial profiling piece that landed Joe Benson in prison, I had to try to escalate the defense.

But Oluu makes a better defense than I can.

Olu Orga with Razak and Awal #PayAwal

If you are interested in Biblical parallels in Agbogbloshie, Olu cannot compete with the visions of Hell or Sodom you are looking for.  But we do have film of Jim Puckett "washing his hands", like Pontius Pilate, when I pleaded with him in person to after he denied knowing (asked on camera) who Joseph Benson was.
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!
In any case, it is Oluu's turn to speak.  Part of the reason we focus on Agbogbloshie is that Ghana was a British colony, and many people there (not including Awal) speak Englishe very well.

When WR3A visited Egypt, China, Peru, and Malaysia, we took film of impressive SKD factories and capacitor plague repair and chip reuse.  But we could not interview many English speakers.  And I note that at times felt obligated to also snap shots of donkeys to "validate" we were in the self-same "primitive" continents.  Over 4 years in Agbogbloshie, Olu has translated in a way that the scrappers respect.

Like a trip to Mecca validates an Al Hadji, a trip to China or Africa validates a social justice warrior.  The press is drawn to it, and if you look at LinkedIn photos of "Byline" journalists, one often sees shots of them with surgical masks braving the charcoal and tire burning smoke from Agbogbloshie.  But Narcissus has had his share of the airtime.  It's time to look at someone else.

All us white gals and dudes, let's set our cameras and mics down for a moment, and back away. 

As outsiders, we are all peacocks, taking pictures to "validate" our experience, which is stored as a value in our brains for impressing our peers. Oluu is not a peacock.

In Nuance 4, Olu will describe how, after high school, he left northern Ghana to pursue the "city life" in Accra, and wound up at Agbogbloshie / Old Fadama.  He is sincere, he's modest. It took me 3 years before I really "focused" on him.

I've learned that we can't fly in and create a story like "Welcome to Sodom" without racial profiling. On our first visit, we will be distracted by #PayAwal's flashy fires, and Mike "Fishing as a Boy" Anane's tall tales.  It takes a long time before our eyes will, shall we say, "adjust to the dark."  I has taken me 4 years NOT making a documentary, NOT producing my promised expose, to sort out and re-discover people like Oluu, who were NOT attracting (distracting) me with burning tires.

Ghanaians like Olu, and Emmanuel Nyaletey, and Grace Akese are the next generation of authority.  And there are others we have interviewed, like Baba the elderly TV technician-trainer of Karim Zacharia, and I hope to film interviews of men who worked at the Sylvania or Sanyo TV assembly plant in Tema, Ghana in the 1960s.

The charitable industrial complex cannot just "wash its hands", or burn the history books like Bishop Diego de Landa.  The ENGOs have Power and Responsibility (2010 Blog)

This blog is about the same thing since 2010.
… [I]f this blog is about making people care about used electronics, then it’s really going to wind up on the scrap heap. The blog is about people setting environmental policy, using guilt about poor people as their marketing gimmick, but remaining silent when the Geeks of Color get Clubbed to Death.   They tried to take used computers away from Pakistanis last year, and there was an uprising…
Next up, a good English speaker, Oluu Orga, relates his own drama.

- - - - -  ~~ ~ - ~ [blog end]

PS:  Here is the photographer (2015 Pure Earth Ball on Broadway Photo Auction) Kevin McElvaney's explanation of why he didn't pay the kids, and how he relied confidently on Mike "Fishing as a Boy" Anane's translation (Anane does not speak Dagbani).  And here's a link to the Polaroids.  In comparing McElvaney's photos to Oluu Orga's, I'm not attacking the young German photographer's intentions.  I did the same at his age. I do question how he continued to describe Agbogbloshie in exotic and dystopian terms even when introduced to Grace Akese (a co-speaker on his panel) and Emmanuel Nyaletey, and after ENGO BAN had abandoned the false claims.  Had he come clean, we may have avoided the new release "Welcome to Sodom" or the false statistics in Sasha Rainbow's Placebo video a year ago.

And below, a description from Kevin McElvaney's website, describing the speaking fees, paid articles, and auctions funded with these photos.  It's not about defending your intentions, photojournalists. We all believe you mean well.  It's about making corrections, as print journalists, bloggers, and data journalists are forced to do. It is a matter of integrity. #FreeHurricaneBenson.

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