UK's African #eWaste Witch Hunt 5: Environmental Munchausen Syndrome?

While travelling to visit family members for Christmas holiday, I listened to an NPR story on "Munchausen Syndrome by Internet", which interviewed bloggist Taryn Harper, keeper of the #WarriorEliHoax blog.

Munchausen Syndrome is basically an addiction to getting attention by malingering or outright faking danger or illness.  It has reached the popular media in cases of "Munchausen by Proxy" - cases where a parent (usually a mom) endangers or imperils her children to "earn" sympathy and attention. The NPR study was about "Munchausen by Internet".  In MbI, sympathy whores (to coin an ugly phrase) create multiple fake online personas and histories which pose heartbreaking problems for public "Hashtag" sympathy.  The hashtag is the attention getting device on twitter, the heart wrenching or guilt-inducing story is the honeypot.

"Munchausen's syndrome is a psychological and behavioural condition where someone pretends to be ill or induces symptoms of illness in themselves. It is also sometimes known as factitious disorder.  People with the condition intentionally produce or pretend to have physical or psychological symptoms of illness.  Their main intention is to assume the "sick role" to have people care for them and be the centre of attention."
The Africans with roles in the #ewastehoax of Agbogbloshie aren't throwing the pity party.  But when they find themselves profiled by Western media, or as an NGO's "A Place Called Away," they have something... attention.  Ozark natives invested in New York City's fascination with poverty through Barney Google, Snuffy Smith, Little Abner, and Hollywood's fixation on Beverley Hillbillies and Green Acres;  So too, Africans can't help but try to turn the sour story into lemonade.

My Blog 10 Years Ago: 2005 Letter to Iraqi People

Realized this morning the tenth anniversary of the blog had recently passed.  Because of a platform switch to google blogspot, I don't have direct links to the 2005 posts, but I did transfer them with original dates.  The first few were on mining (alluding to the Lynn Scarlett and John Tierney anti-recycling first posts of the 90s), extinction, being an "Agent of Conscience" (AoC), and this one on the Iraq Invasion.  It was written a bit after my dad's cousin, Jack Hensley (a contractor CNN), was beheaded on film by Sunni insurgents who went on to found ISIS / ISIL etc. in 2004.

It was interesting to re-read ten years later.  I was 43.  Maybe someday I can edit these things, if I trust myself to not rewrite my history in the process.

December 17, 2005

Letter to the Iraqi People:

May God bring each of you peace and justice, health and sustenance to you and your families.
My name is Robin, and I am a father of three, and I run a small recycling and parts company in the state of Vermont. It is a cold winter here, but the people are used to the ice and snow, as fathers and mothers have taught the kids how to live in peace with it for many generations. I can imagine, for your children, the desert sun must be less of a burden than it would be for me, but they would not enjoy playing in the ice and snow as much as my children do. Both the sun and the ice must be enjoyed but treated with respect.


Carl A. Zimring's "Clean and White", A Premature Review

This is a pre-Review of a book I haven't yet read... on a subject I write about obsessively.  And because I can now be accused - literally - of "prejudice" (prejudging a book about environmental justice is like, a mind trip).

"Clean and White:  A History of Environmental Racism in the United States" by Carl A. Zimring.

Carl A. Zimring is Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies at the Pratt Institute. He is the author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. His new book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States is available from New York University Press. 

This is all in good fun, I will read the book and hope others will order it too, giving Carl A. Zimring some early buzz should be forgiven...

African "E-Waste" Witch Hunt #4: LCS-Judge Dawson-TinTin vs. Benson-Daniels

Why does the Crown Court threaten 60 months in prison to an illiterate African born TV Repairman?  Because it cannot prove its case and needs to "plea it out".  Here is the fourth blog in the E-Waste Witch Hunt Series, featuring men old enough to remember Ghana as a British Colony, getting their "facts" from Michael Anane, Jim Puckett, and TinTin Comics.  Posting publicly the prosecution's case and sentencing remarks against #FREEHURRICANEBENSON...

His Honor Judge Dawson's Sentencing Remarks

Judge Dawson and LCS Get Facts from Tin Tin
"Basically, the situation seems to be, if I can put it into, again, rather layman's language, that waste electrical goods can be exported to other countries quite sensibly and be used by other countries who perhaps cannot afford such things themselves, poorer countries in the main I imagine, but the rules and regulations to protect the environment say that that waste material must be converted back into items which have been properly tested and which therefore can be safely exported as properly tested secondhand items. 
"In essence, what happened here is that when the environment agency intercepted these containers they looked inside them and they found that a large proportion of the items were hazardous waste, were not tested or suitable for use abroad, and in reality what would have happened -- the percentage is about 50 per cent -- in reality what would have happened is that large containers would have arrived in these African countries and 50 per cent of the items inside would have been hazardous waste. What happens, I am told, is that although there are rules and regulations all over the world for the treatment of hazardous waste, the reality is that in countries such as these the hazardous waste is not properly policed and therefore creates a danger, an environmental danger, not only to the residents and citizens of that country but I suppose to the world because these hazardous materials can create a problem of pollution worldwide."
The bold italics I added to link to NGOs Basel Action Network, who made this claim in "A Place Called Away"... after describing the Metal Scrappers in Agbogbloshie as "children" and depicting them with ghoulish, halloween language, Puckett gives the story about Benson's containers.
"This material [at the Agbogbloshie scrapyard] made its arrival on African shores just some days earlier as cargo inside 40-foot intermodal corrugated containers — the shifting bricks of globalized trade turned techno-trash haulers. Around 400 of these, each containing about 600 computers or monitors arrive each month at the Port of Tema, Ghana, from the UK, USA, Canada and countless other rich and developed countries. They may find a quick stay on the floors and shelves of hundreds of second-hand markets throughout Accra. But those that do not sell — about half, even if they work perfectly — are then picked up by small boys pushing heavy carts and hauled several miles to the outskirts of town, to be thrown away — to Agbogbloshie’s scavengers." 
"small boys" according to Jim Puckett
For film of the "Small Boys", see the Alex Wondergem / Adu Lalouschek documentary titled "Scrap Metal Men". These are not small boys, Abogbloshie is definitely not on the "outskirts of town", and the display devices "working or not" are not thrown away.  But despite 3 preposterous, self evidently false claims in the paragraph, Judge Dawson appears to give the claim more weight than Benson's.

African "E-waste" Witch Hunt #3: BBC Whiffs at House of Commons "smoking gun"

BBC Panorama's episode "Track My Trash" has been given the dubious credit for a role in sentencing  Joe "Hurricane" Benson, Mark Daniels, and Ezenwa Ogbonnaya for alleged "ewaste" dumping in Africa.  Rowe seems pleased enough when we exchanged tweets.

Another BBC reporter, David Reid, went back and gave some "fresh" reporting in 2014.  I'm being very, very sarcastic.  Reid flew into Accra airport, got himself a hotel room, and a 9 minute taxi ride later surrounded himself, cough coughing, with young men hitting metal with hammers and burning auto wire.  About 80 scrappers work at Agbogbloshie, mostly in car recycling, but Reid heads to the tire fires where 25 or so young men stand about burning about 200 kg per day of wire.

"Making a Living from Toxic Electronic Waste in Ghana"

Gotta love that title... journalists and photo journalists certainly are making a living off of the witch hunts of Agbogbloshie.

Reid stands at the same bank I stood at, where no cars or trucks have access - only wheelbarrows and pushcarts.  And then he goes to Tema Port an hours drive away and films Africa's Tech Sector workers, Africa's "Big Bang Theory" importers unloading a container (like the ones shipped by Daniels, Benson, Ogbayanna, etc.)... the goods being unloaded are clearly a decade newer than the stuff hammered in Agbogbloshie, but Reid can't see that.  He just sees black people.  He's not making the distinction between the African valedictorian Tech Sector Big Bang Theory superheroes and the toxic wire burning guys at Agbogbloshie.

He asks how much the technicians think will work, and the tech shrugs and says "99 percent".  Reid scoffs.  It's like he's talking to one of the illiterate drop outs at Agbogbloshie.  He snickers and asks "how big is the one percent?"

Because that's the story he came to tell, that the guys in Agbogbloshie are burning England's e-waste.  And he's standing right with an imported load which was paid for at several times the value of scrap, plus transport and customs fees and transport.  He is looking at a truck that is not driving to Agbogbloshie and could not drive inside if it did.  And he's mocking the black guy.

The narrative of Halloween language and images of scary black people is something BBC is obsessed with, despite the HOUSE OF COMMONS openly admitting that only 19% of containers have ANY illegal material in them at all, and that the UK's priortity is to keep "strategic" metals for Big Shred.

Oh, did you miss that?  Read more... lots of research has turned up during writing of our report on Agbogbloshie. 

African "E-waste" Witch Hunt Continues: Part 2

I have the account of Mark Daniels.  I have the account of Joe Benson.  I'm looking for Ezenwa Ogbonnaya and M2 Ventures Limited ...  That will make 3 UK electronics recycling companies who were tried in the press.

Daniels Recycling prosecuted for African WEEE export

In Part 1, as well as the "Sodom and Gomorrah" blog, we traced the outrage and arrests back to two men, Jim Puckett and Mike Anane.

  • That Agbogbloshie was a very large e-waste dump... perhaps "biggest in the world"
  • That the Odaw River was a pristine, green African "Eden" just a decade ago, "teeming with fish"
  • That the lead in the soil at the dump does not come from automobiles, but from dumped electronics
  • That 80% of the electronics shipped to Ghana are "junk" and the other 20% "fail after between 2 and 6 months"
  • That most of the work done at Agbogbloshie is by children, orphans, under age 18
  • That the majority of workers at AGbogbloshie die of cancer in 2 years.

Well, well, well... this is the information that was recited by Anane and Puckett at an Interpol meeting I attended at EPA offices in Arlington VA in March 2010.   Puckett and Anane were introduced by the UK's Environmental Agency head, Lord Chris Smith.   

These horrible "e-waste facts" were also recited to Raphael Rowe of BBC in "Panorama".

If half of the "e-waste facts" were half true, it would indeed be understandable that the Environmental Agency prosecuted Joe Benson, Mark Daniels, and Ezenwa Ogbonnaya for dumping - or rather selling - used electronics to Africa's Tech Sector.

But the accusers, the prosecutors, never met anyone in Africa's Tech Sector, did they?

BREAKING: Lord Chris Smith's African Witch Hunt Continues: Part 1

UNEP doubled down, using photos of "primitive recycling" in its 2015 report on "e-waste".  But the actual statistics hidden throughout UNEP's own report told a different story from it's press release headline.  If the majority of sea containers of used electronics shipped from Europe are "illegal", then why do the seizures of hundreds of containers only find 1/3 which had anything illegal?

Just one of dozens of examples where the #ewastehoax needs to answer the simple question, "duh?"

UNEP is only pointing fingers, however.  One nation abandoned nuance with flair 5 years ago.  Indictments and prison sentences. While Agbo workers burn wire, England is burning witches.

The photo above shows Mike Anane of Ghana briefing reporter Raphael Rowe of BBC Panorama, on the ground in Agbogbloshie, Ghana.   Mr. Anane was back at Agbogbloshie 2 days before my arrival in March... briefing Jacopo Ottaviana of Aljazeera's #ewasterepublic... see below.

"When I look at these things, I would not call it importation. For me the bottom line is dumping, because from all of these containers that come, only about 20% are functional, and 80% are junk, garbage" - Mike Anane Aug 2014


Anane's accounts to journalists were covered on this blog a few days ago.  I met him face to face at an Interopol Meeting in Washington DC in 2010, where he presented between UK Environmental Agency Director Lord Chris Smith and Jim Puckett of BAN.  You know the claims... 80% dumping. 500 sea containers per month arriving at Agbogbloshie. The biggest E-Waste Dump in the World. Teeming with fish, Anane recounted, just 10 years earlier.

Mike Anane: "For the past 11 years. That was when I first saw the trucks with e-waste coming from the port to Agbogbloshie. Agbogbloshie happens to be a place I’m familiar with. I have been hanging around the area when it was a lush, green, beautiful wetland with lots of birds and some wildlife, and the river and the lagoon that run through the dump site had so much fish. The fishermen, the people in the communities depended on these rivers for their livelihood. Agbogbloshie used to be an amazing, beautiful wetland, a Garden of Eden. A wetland performs enormous environmental functions. When the water from the city goes to the sea, it goes through the wetland and gets filtered. Fish from the sea come and make babies. Wetlands are so important to every country, to nature, and to mankind.
"But now, the river and the lagoon are both dead: no fish, no organisms, nothing. The river and the lagoon both end up in the sea, and when the fishermen at the seaside throw their net, hoping to catch some fish, they get computers, television sets, and fridges. Their poisons spill into the sea every single day... So for me Agbogbloshie, which was a green Garden of Eden, is now paradise lost."
Note that this interview was in August 2014, describing "11 years" of experience.  But his 2010 interview with me at Interpol, he said it had been ten years.  And in his first interview, with Greenpeace in 2008, it was ten years.  And on PBS Frontline, it was since he was a boy.

My personal interview was during the meeting that set Lord Chris Smith up against Hurricane Benson. Lord Chris Smith, as I recall, introduced Jim Puckett and Mike Anane to the audience of Interpol enforcement experts.  It set up the first arrest and indictment of "Hurricane Joe Benson". And this week,, a British environmental online newsletter, reports that "Hurricane Joe Benson" has company.


Latest Pics of Kids at Dumps - #TakingTuesday #FloggingAgbogbloshie

Pics of Kids at Dumps - The Gift that Keeps on Taking.

See today's solicitation from our friends at Basel Action Network, photo of scrapper at Agbogbloshie. It implies your donation for #GivingTuesday will benefit "Children aged 11-18" scavenging at dumps to earn $1-3 per day.  Another waste NGO flogging Agbogbloshie.

Ages 11-18??  B******t.  See Journal of Health, Exploratory Health Assessment of Chemical Exposures at E-Waste Recycling and Scrapyard Facility in Ghana (Jack CaravanosDrPH, CIHEdith E. ClarkeDrPH, MPHCarl S. OseiMD, MPHYaw Amoyaw-Osei)
Demographic Characteristics:  "The ages of the 87 e-waste exposed subjects from Agbogbloshie ranged from 15 to 73 years. The mean age was 32 years with a standard deviation of 5.6..."
Mean age 32.  Median age of 25.5 years.  That's not "child labor". The mean age of women giving childbirth in Ghana is 22.2 years, for crying out loud.  The employment data at the recycling yard shows far less child labor than agriculture sector, in fact it's above average for workforce in Accra.

Remember, this is from the organization that "never, ever stated" 80% of used electronics were dumped.  They are shameless in their "data" when it's used to solicit donations. They have a view of math, as something that your wishes and intentions give you mysterious powers over.  And it's full of accidental racism, bigotry, povertyporn, and profiling.   Yuck.

The art of making up very specific, scientificky sounding stats and numbers is bad for environmentalism and development.  But you know what's REALLY offensive to the workers in Agbogbloshie (who I'm still in touch with every week)?  That they are raising money with POSTER CHILDREN and they do not share one penny with anyone whose photos they use.

NONE.  I think this qualifies for worst non-profit EVER.  They can't even do #PovertyPorn right. 

Welcome to #TakingTuesday

When Formal Market is Criminal, is Informal more Moral?

Quick thanks for a tip from a pal via Tweet, here's a thought-provoking article on Informal Trade in East Africa.  Kate Douglas writes in

Wheelbarrows of dollars: Understanding informal trade in East Africa 

"The Hand That Will Rule The World—One Big Union"I'll leave you to read it, it's about the underestimation of the power and importance of "informal" markets in Africa, and how "off the books" trade makes African commerce look smaller than it really is.  That's not a huge surprise - how much of the growth in China's economy came from record-keeping of trade previously off the record?

The thoughts provoked here are based on my sadness and disgust at the levels of corruption I witnessed while living in Africa in the mid-80s.  I remember going through checkpoints in East Zaire (Dem Republic of Congo) which were set up by soldiers on dirt roads in the jungle.  Using a fallen tree to block the road, the soldiers would stop taxivans and demand bribes, while waving machine guns.

When "formal" is run by criminals, the moral market may be the informal.

Africa's Tech Sector Becoming Africa's Banking Sector

WSJ Reports

"Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than half of the 255 live mobile money services across the globe in 2014, with monthly mobile money transactions in the region topping $10 billion in late 2014, according to GSMA."

Startup Fuels Africa’s Mobile-Payment Boom

MFS Africa’s mobile-payment platform is used by 55 million people in 17 African countries

Full article here (may be paywalled).  But check out the numbers.  This network is built on the refurbished cell phones and phone towers set up by Geeks of Color a decade ago.  This is incredible, and helps explain why it makes me furious that Basel Action Network, Greenpeace and PureEarth are making money by hustling and over-producing films depicting Africans as "primitive".

The Geeks of Color are going to inherit the continent, and people are fools to boycott America's access to the ground floor.  More Africans are going to college in China today than are going to college in the USA.



Sodom and Gomorrah? Fishing as a Boy? Mike Anane via PBS Frontline

"Photojournalism without data journalism jails and fails"

Immediately after our 3 week investigation of Agbogbloshie, Tema, Tamale region and Accra, I went to Vancouver to meet with Graham Pickren and Peter Klein, both professors.  Pickren was very kind to meet me for lunch.

Peter Klein initially returned my messages, but did not seem to want to meet.

Klein's at UBC Vancouver, which is responsible for the PBS Frontline episode in 2010 that labelled Agbogbloshie as "Sodom and Gomorrah."  The label was based on interviews with Mike Anane, who has been repeatedly represented as a "journalist" in Ghana.

Isaac Brown, left, films Mike Anane in Accra, Ghana. Anane is a ...
n'importe quoi
My interviews with the scrappers at Ghana led me to believe Anane is not a journalist at all.  I can't find any record of any articles published by him, or any newspaper, radio, or television station he has worked for.  The Agbogbloshie scrappers claimed he was "in cahoots" with AMA, the Ghana developers who wanted to evict them from the increasingly valuable real estate near the center of Accra.  I've written about that before.

Here's another UN sponsored report, by African researchers, on the sources of pollution at the Odaw River lagoon of Agbogbloshie (2002).  It's incredibly well documented, and none of it jives with Frontline.

What I haven't really had the guts to do is to question Mike Anane's credibility.  I interviewed him at an Interpol meeting in 2010.  And I've promoted alternative experts such as Grace Akese of Memorial University or Emmanuel Eric P. Nyalete of Georgia Tech.  But when it comes to being an American questioning an African about his depiction of Africa, I've only attacked Anane's figures, his statistics, his 500 containerloads per month story.  And independent scholars back us up ("Criminal Negligence?")

The claims of the Agbogbloshie scrap workers do appear to hold water.  Take a look at the specific Anane representation below, still on the PBS website.

Anane makes a specific personal claim:
"I've always known Agbogbloshie as part of the country's westlands. As a kid, I used to play football here.  Some of my friends would go fishing in the lagoon.  When I went back and saw the huge amount of computers shipped in and dumped here, it mad me angry that these children had come to break them up." - Michael Anane
Now this is specifically an eyewitness claim.  Anane is personally claiming to PBS to have seen computers "shipped" to Agbogbloshie.  In the AlJazeera E-Waste Republic series and Cosima Dannoritzer's "The E-Waste Tragedy" Anane makes the same boast... this was a pristine riverside, a fishing village. 

Now how does this square with all the reports of Agbogbloshie, and the Odaw River Lagoon, since 1960?  How does it compare to eyewitness reports from any of my own interviews?  And Anane's claims to have been an editor in 1991-95 for "Triumph Newspaper" (no record of the paper in Ghana, though there's a Triumph newspaper in Kano, Nigeria).  Either Anane was in northern Nigeria, or he was editor from a remote location before the internet. But if that's the timeframe when Agbogbloshie was ruined in Accra, it's at a time when 1) Agbogbloshie was a city dump and auto scrapyard for a city of millions, and 2) there were no strict "ewaste" regulations to avoid as "drivers" per UNEP / "StoryofStuff", and 3) it's definitely not near "the outskirts", it's in the middle of the gosh darn city, visible on Google Maps.  Nothing adds up... except Anane's speaking fees.   Oh, didn't know that? Ask reporters, like those of #ewasterepublic  about the Anane speaking fees, and fees to photograph his collection of plastic with asset tags.

Nyalete, Odoi, and Akese say otherwise, and the reports like the one linked above are pretty darn thorough.  Agbogbloshie was a polluted dump before personal computers were sold in USA, let alone discarded. It's larger and more polluted to the degree Accra is larger and more polluted. There is no international dumping link, and no evidence of Eden after the Akosombo Dam of the Volta River was completed in 1965.  Electricity led to WEEE as roads led to cars.

But Anane specifically says it was "teeming with fish" in 1999.
Dan McKinney and M. Anane report that Agbogbloshie river was teeming with fish in 1999.  Bullhockey

Refining the Fair Trade Recycling Mission Statement

"Recycling needs to be materials science, not a belief system. Collecting during bad markets is smart, shows reliable long term supply grid."

Fair Trade Recycling is pro recycling.  But we are not exactly defined as part of "Zero Waste" movements.  We are somewhat resistant to "producer responsibility", at least as a solution for secondhand goods markets - planned obsolescence and right to repair are opposing forces (if producer implies mining and virgin material extraction, we are all ears). If any group has a close affinity to Fair Trade Recycling, it's probably USA's "Net Impact"... young professionals in the business sector who are agents of conscience, making the world better by participating in, rather than reacting to, global markets.  The worst recycling is better than the best mining.

At the same time, while we defend and participate in the overseas recycling and repair and reuse sector, we are confronted with the eventual waste and unplanned obsolescence of goods we once exported.  Our vision is to turn this into an opportunity, a circular economy, rather than reversing course on the international trade which is clearly benefiting standards of living and information and education in emerging markets.

Our primary incentive is to create a transitional economy for Africa's Tech Sector, the reuse and repair markets for used electronics, which we project will face increasing pressure from new affordable devices (seen in Asia in the past decade).  We believe the value of the sector is in the minds and education and ingenuity of the repair market 

The "Tinkerer's Blessing" is the working title of a book I'm writing about development and "savior complex" and "charitable industrial complex".  It's actually very optimistic, a defense of trade and free market activity in Africa, Asia and other emerging markets.  Terry Gou, Simon Lin, Steve Wozniak, etc. were tinkerers very much like the laptop and cell phone repair shop gurus from Tamale and Accra, we want to pitch them as a functional distribution and maintenance market for inevitable growth of solar power models in Africa.

Where will Africa's Wosniak emerge?  Who will monetize the "good enough market" in a way that is scaleable (like Foxconn and Wistron), creative like Apple, and sustainable as Microsoft?

It will probably be in the energy sector.  Which brings us back to Solar power.  Can SolarCity (Elon Musk's transformational solar panel financing scheme) scale solar power in a cash-based economy like urban Africa?  Or do we need other innovative financing models, like cell phone plans, to secure investments?

We will need people.  Africa's Geeks of Color.  Africa's repairers, tinkerers, fixers.  We need to stop arresting the people who buy and sell teledensity equipment in Cairo and Lagos and Accra and Nairobi, we need to silence the charitable industrial complex which defines its goodness in misleading photojournalism depicting Africa as a "victim".  We need to push out of the closet the NGOs who use pictures of African kids at dumps to raise money which is never, ever spent on Africans.

Photojournalism without data journalism jails and fails.  Our mission will outlive me, because it's rooted in the same scientific method and inspired conscience which has made the world's best practices.

- Robin Ingenthron 11/9/2015

Lesson in CRT Cullet and Sintering: Size Matters

The EPA vs. American Mining Congress case in the early 90s resulted in the "remanded smelter slag" rule.  The mining industry convinced the court, and even EPA, that treating slag piles as "waste" with 365 day storage ("speculative accumulation") under RCRA statute, did more harm than good.   Today, it's an industrial mineral, and can be kept under basically the same conditions  as mined angelsite or other leaded silicate, because treating it otherwise is anti-recycling.

Anti-recycling means that the identical chemical solid is governed more strictly if it's recovered from waste instead of mined from the ground.

Fair Trade Recycling's 2020 Vision for Agbogbloshie Ghana

2020 Vision

In March of 2020, five years after Fair Trade Recycling toured Ghana, a thriving refurbishing, assembly, and recycling operation exists.  Chendiba Recycling Enterprises, headquartered in Tamale, has hired most of the Ghana scrap workers who previously hung about Agbogbloshie looking for copper on a barren and charred landscape.  The recyclers have uniforms, appropriate tools, and safety training.  They offer tours of the recycling operation to Western university students, reporters, regulators and photographers.  Visitors are housed in a new affordable housing complex, erected where the slum was bulldozed in 2015.  This “urban eco-tourism” has created opportunities for economic migrants in Accra, and also at similar “recycling parks” in Tamale and Kumasi.

Transforming attitudes, not Africans

The recycling staff are overseen by Technicians of Chendiba Enterprises, a computer, cell phone and television "R and O" (Repair and Overhaul) operation.  Chendiba was nearly shut down by misdirected environmental enforcement in 2015.  Happily, Africa’s “Tech Sector” workers are now recognized as the best and brightest of Ghana’s economy.

        “We would no more boycott the Techs of Agbogbloshie than we would a manufacturer takeback program,” said a spokesperson for an environmental NGO, who is taking university surplus property officials on a tour of the grounds.  Referring to the past decade of boycotts as “collateral damage” and “friendly fire”, the NGO leader now promotes a “Hurricane Joe Benson” scholarship to bring students from around the world to see “win-win” in action.  "The Tinkerer's Blessing" is seen as the best, most sustainable economy in emerging markets - the opposite of the Resource Curse.  Africa's geeks add value to e-scrap with their minds, and use the profits to clean up Africa's own recycling yards.

Environmentally and Economically Sustainable

The program is funded not only by the environmental tourism,  but by the very import-for-reuse economy once targeted by anti-globalization NGOs.  Chendiba is now the leading importer of, and recycler of, flat screen LED and LCD televisions worldwide, and employs hundreds.  “While the major cause of waste generation in Europe and the USA is physical screen damage, Africa’s flat TVs most often suffer from blown boards due to ‘fuzzy current’,” explains Muhammed Odoi. “We import and part out the TVs and use them to provide affordable parts in Ghana.”

The Fair Trade Recycling program does not need European customs agents or Interpol staff to interfere with Chendiba’s imports.  It encourages the import and export as a "value added, job creating industry".  Asked whether the parts are “properly tested” in America, African regulators now shrug.  They explain this recycling system is based on “carbon trading” models.  “For every ton of electronics we import to Ghana,” explains Muhammed, “we collect and recycle two tons of old electronics from Ghana’s cities.”  

Opportunity vs. Embargo

        The Fair Trade Recycling program has been much easier to monitor and enforce than "PAT tests" (which never accurately predicted African consumer demand or shelf life) or traditional "certification" programs.  The Chendiba traders order and buy what they want.   Chendiba must simply show it recovers and properly recycles at least as many pieces of "ewaste" from Africa's cities as it imports. VCRs, CRT televisions, Pentium 1 computers, etc. were imported in the 1980s and 90s, used productively for years, but now need a recycling solution; Chendiba is there.  

As more countries allow export under Fair Trade, the quality of imports has improved.  “We no longer have to choose between buying in back alleys and staying barefoot and off the internet,” says Kamal. "We benefit from more choice of suppliers, lower prices, legally enforceable contracts, openness, and transparency.  It is a "computers for clunkers", or needle exchange, or carbon trading model.  We recycle as much as we import, period."

Marketplace Solution vs. Enforcement

The 2020 “ewaste trading” project has been far more successful than western certification programs.  It is less paternalistic, more transparent.  It involves less liability for sellers, and frees up valuable Interpol time to pursue endangered species poachers, rather than "geeks-of-color".   This circular economy interferes less with the “good enough market” African consumers depend on.  The main question, students here ask, is "why did it take so long to accept a solution so simple?"

Just as it is more efficient for an airline to pay for carbon removal by planting trees than to squeeze more carbon from jet fuel combustion, it's easier for Africa's Tech Sector to recycle the urban e-waste than to "certify" every piece they import. Fair Trade Recycling assures that even if an item is damaged in shipping, that a recycling infrastructure is in place to manage it, and that another piece of junk was properly recycled in exchange.  The program brings Ghana’s poorest scrappers and drop-outs from the slums, and surrounds them not with Western “saviors”, but with the Africa’s high-tech entrepreneurs, Africa’s valedictorians.

Legal, Safe, and Necessary

American and European recyclers now get to meet the technicians overseas who were once impugned as shady characters, and pay less tax money to prosecute them.  They see that Africa is not a jungle, not a dystopia. They see that African techs, African consumers, and African recyclers are no more “primitive” than Americans, Europeans, Asians and Latinos.  They need affordable technology, and then have decades of older machines to recycle.

“Most Africans live in the Africa the media never showed you,” says Wahab. “Fair Trade Recycling sees Africa for what it can do and must do, not for what we cannot do.”

"We are transforming attitudes rather than Africans."

This is a pre-published excerpt from the 2015 Fair Trade Recycling report on Agbogbloshie, Ghana by This is our vision - not of boycotts and paternalistic "training" by Western NGOs. It harnesses what Africa's Best and Brightest already have, right now. Like most win-win paradigms, it can be self funding, but needs help in the development stages (e.g. to cross train Americans in Africa, and Africans in the USA). Please contribute to WR3A via to help make this real.

Why do we always define signs of intelligence as something we understand and recognize?  It usually turns out that we didn't recognize it because of our own "lack of intelligence".  - WR3A

Intercon Solutions vs. Charity Conjecture Complex NGO

Last week I had a brief telephone interview with Brian Brundage, CEO of Intercon Solutions.  Brian had texted me about his lawsuit vs. Basel Action Network, the NGO in Seattle which accused Intercon Solutions of illegally exporting toxic computer scrap to China.

I've written about Intercon before.  I don't really claim to know the facts of the case.  But I do know very well the modus operendi of the NGO in Seattle.  From Oxford dictionary...

con·jec·ture  ( kənˈjekCHər/) noun
  1. an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information. "conjectures about the newcomer were many and varied"
speculation, guesswork, surmise, fancy, presumption, assumption,theory, postulation, supposition;

  1. form an opinion or supposition about (something) on the basis of incomplete information. "he conjectured the existence of an otherwise unknown feature"

guess, speculate, surmise, infer, fancy, imagine, believe, think,suspect, presume, assume, hypothesize, suppose

"I conjectured that the game was over"

In several direct cases I am personally aware of, Jim Puckett of Basel Action Network defamed businesspeople on little evidence and lots of assumptions and a dollop of chutzpa.  PT Imtech in Semarang, Indonesia was one.  He was the primary source of the "80% of used electronics are junk" faux statistic, according to everyone from Terry Gross (Fresh Air) to Peter Essick (National Geographic) to the new generation of photojournalists (Benito, McElvaney, Hugo, etc.)

The photos of Agbo don't generate money for orphans or recyclers.  They generate money for journos, NGOs, lawyers and defamation cases.

At the EScrap Conference, held by Resource Recycling in Orlando for the last couple of years, Jim spoke to an audience that was shown direct evidence that Agbogbloshie never received a sea container of junk electronics.  Ever.  Not even accessible.  Two professional experts born and raised in Ghana (Grace Akese and Emmanuel Nyalete) were there with him in the audience, telling him that Agbogbloshie was a scrap automobile yard, and that the VCRs and computers delivered there are collected house to house in a metropolis of 4 million people who have had electricity for decades (Accra proper is about 2.5M, but the city has expanded. Agbogbloshie is a slum and market near the city center).

Jim went on to speculate that while the sea containers arrive hours away, that the junk electronics were distributed to shops throughout the city, and then collected by pushcart.  Effectively, Jim was accusing people like Joe Benson, Africa's Tech Sector, of being incapable of sourcing 95% good computers, unable to repair them, but somehow stupidly were laundering "millions of tons" of junk electronics... for free.  No, not for free.  That they pay for these junk pieces, paying typically ten times more than the copper is worth when it reaches Agbogbloshie.

Kevin McElvaney, the German photojournalist, was at the conference as a speaker and also in the audience.  The following day, McElvaney inserted himself to answer a question directed initially to Grace Akese, the Memorial University Ph.D. researcher from Ghana.  McElvaney basically gave Jim's version, that the junk is distributed through repair shops and secondary markets.  His evidence was not in any of the Secretariat of Basel Convention funded studies... it was based on what he knows... photography.

Ethical Photojournalism: Out Damned Spot

Ok I'm really honing in on the central theme of the blog.

Our species has evolved to react, individually and as a society, to stimuli.  But for an evolved social network, it goes beyond "greed and fear".
"Human nature is complex. Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control." - Steven Pinker
But if we also are motivated by beauty, by curiosity, and other inspirations (such as "faith" or "loyalty"), that does not mean that the "greed and fear" cease to exist as drivers.

My life goal at 17 was to grow up to be an "Agent of Conscience".  I also wanted to be a philosopher, but professionally to follow Hesse's Siddhartha, a path of hands on experience as a foundation for some revelation.

Not at Nirvana yet, but the meditation and self assessment continues to yield wisdom dividends.

Are we just animals?  Is there no higher power?  Do we just bounce off of each other in reactions to greed and fear?  Does "nurture" for people we don't know just spill over only when our own children are cared for?  Or does the power to nurture give us a justified pride in our self-worth, a self-worth which is tangible and real?

I definitely think it matters whether I'm an ethical and principled actor and agent.  To me it makes a huge difference if I'm given credit for a lie, for someone else's work, etc.  Sacrificing pride, or "spiritual materialism" in part prepares us not to get too "hooked" on the Choir's praise.

What does this have to do with recycling?

1. Recycling is positive energy.  You are avoiding mining more mountains and cutting more forests.  You are conserving energy.  Even if there isn't a good market from year to year, by continuing to recycle we are demonstrating the reliability of the secondary market as a source of supply, and economically rewarding factories which invested in recycled feedstock use.

2. Pride is addicting.  While we can enjoy the positive energy of doing hands on work and saving as much or more of the planet's resource than we consume, we can also fall to "moral licensing".  By using a reuseable shopping bag, we might feel justified in littering, for example.  An economics of credit, liability, and licensing is both evolved and culturally practiced.

3. Saving the World with a Hashtag is "easy".  Like easy money, money we inherit, don't earn, it's great.  If we stumble upon something happening that's bad for the planet, and just hashtag it into a viral movement, we can get all the great feelings with little of the effort.  We have evolved to accept low hanging fruit, literally and spiritually.

4. Honesty, Truth and Accountability is good.  If we make a mistake and "hashtag" the wrong cause and effect, and earn a job "doing what we believe in" but find out what we believed in was wrong... we can be saved by our integrity.  No doubt the Western medicine pioneers who discovered mercury worked as a laxative made a million dollar health care economy out of poisoning people.  But Western medicine saved itself by scientific method and accountability.  We didn't make Hg laxatives "holy" or make them proof of God, so we could fix it and move on.

5. Finding someone who is weaker than we are - morally - can also be used for moral licensing.  We are outraged by KKK racists, as we should be.  But are they really a thing? How many KKK members are out there?  Don't we play up other peoples racism to make ourselves feel better about our own "crossing the street"?  We have evolved to seek out majorities and not stick out, and skin color and culture is a currency with "risk and benefit ratios".  Perhaps whites oppose racism because we see the global numbers?  I don't think so... I think the German immigrants fighting the Irish immigrants and the Navajo or Apache fighting the Hopi are skirmishes which are "diluted out" by more and more mixing of culture.

Role of Celebrities and Poster Kids in NGO Fund Raising

While researching the term "poster child" for Fair Trade Recycling's report on Ghana (agonizingly close to completion... footnotes, footnotes!) I ran across some interesting articles on the March of Dimes - the anti polio campaign of the 1940s and 50s.

Wikipedia's article on the March of Dimes had a series of photos on the role of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the founding of a "National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (1938)". The campaign's use of photos of children in wheelchairs was effectively a merger of photojournalism and a public health campaign.  In the beginning, American children were asked to each donate a ten cents, and the "March of Dimes" campaign was so successful (if not in raising money from children, for leveraging federal and charitable donations) that it became a model for the charity or non-profit sector.

Bringing poignant images to stir emotional, nurturing responses from donors earned a label of "poster child campaign".  The term didn't really have any negative connotation until the 1960s.  As I recall from my MBA courses in non-profit management at Boston University (but don't have time to track down), it was a study on "diminishing returns" of a Unicef campaign that resulted in treating photo fundraising more cautiously.  We were taught, as MBA students, that there's a moral dilemma in using photos to raise funds for one non-profit cause if the campaign taxes the empathy of donors.

Celebrities and sad-eyed-children-photography make a powerful weapon.  But it isn't science.  And the worst kind of collateral damage is being waged via environmental malpractice.  Today's blog is about how I don't become cynical, even in the face of rigged bids and shaming attacks on my character.  My heroes stay fresher longer.

How Exports of Electronics Get to Agbogbloshie in 6 Easy Steps

At Fair Trade Recycling, we are fans of Dave Hakkens of the Netherlands and his maker & repair-stuff videos.  It was with a mixture of delight and gritted teeth that we watched his new video on Agbogbloshie.

His video "A Free Trip" does portray the ingenuity and skill we tried to document in Africa, and does it with more flair than I could.

But he also opens with the headlines that junk is exported directly to Agbogbloshie by westerners to be dumped.  That's just ridiculous and has been disproven by every study by USITC, MIT, SBC, etc.

So Dave, thanks for seeing people for what they can do rather than for what they cannot do.

But next time, do a little more homework.

  1. The goods are exported by African Ex Pats (like Joe Benson) who are in close communication with buyers (#2)
  2. The goods are imported by African Tech Sector shops which buy mostly working but also do repair for consumers (#3)
  3. The goods are sold to African consumers and businesses.
  4. The goods are then USED FOR 5-25 years!  Accra had electricity 50 years ago!  Ghana has 20 television stations!  
  5. At the end of 2 decades of use and storage and often re-repair, the "scrap" electronics are collected by scrappers from Old Fadama (not called "Sodom and Gomorrah"), house to house, via pushcart 
  6. The scrap is traded, bought and sold, at Agbogbloshie (an automobile scrapyard) based on metals or parts value.
The first item we saw being dismantled at Agbogbloshie was a VCR.  A VCR, Dave.  Try to sell a containerload of VCRs to an African.  Those were everywhere in Africa in the 80s and 90s, but no one imports VCRs today.

See Report at Resource Fever - Global Circular Economy of Strategic Metals (Bo2W)
Step 6 is 15-25 years after Step 1.  Improving testing, or arresting #1 Africans, or boycotting #2 Africans, or selling brand new product to #3 Africans, does absolutely nothing.  Donating money to E-Stewards has zero effect on Step 6.  Even brand new stuff wears out, and according to Africans does so faster than "solid state" used electronics imported from Europe and USA.

Most of the NGO's emphasis is how to somehow stop accidental breakage, non-functioning parts, shipping damage, etc. (7%).  But the point is that the ENTIRE chart above will wind up at a scrapyard SOMEDAY, and most of what's there today was imported decades ago.

Fighting Over the Poor (instead of For them)

Watching Hans Rosling's latest presentation at Swedish statistical institute "GapMinder".

"Don't Panic - End Poverty"

It is a bit long and overlaps a lot with his TED Talks, if you have already seen them.  But if you have not, it's interesting how his trips to Malawi, South East Asia, etc. put poverty in a flesh and blood, rug on the floor of the mud hut, context.

He starts with his trademark audience quiz.  This time it's not multiple choice, and only 3 questions.

1. How many people (out of 10) have electricity?

The audience answers average around 40% of people in the world have electricity, which was the rate in 1960.  The actual rate with electricity today is over 80% (I have read it's 87, but he rounds to 8).

2. How many children (out of 10) are vaccinated against measles? 

Highest audience response was 3 (followed by 1, 2 and 4).  The right answer, 83% of the world's children are vaccinated.

3. How many girls (out of 10) go to primary school?

Most of the audience answers range from 3-6.  But it's 90%.

Rosling is facing the same challenge that used electronics traders face in addressing "#ewaste policy".
Simple. The Press reports "if it bleeds, it leads".  Consumers buy bad news.  And one of the biggest concerns those of us working with Agbogbloshie face is that if the "Ewaste Scare" is a hoax, does Agbogbloshie just fall off the map?  Is there a way to harness these western eyeballs to achieve something good for the people who live in or near the slums of Old Fadama?

Rosling is doing a good job of correcting the exaggerated perceptions, but seems to also struggle with the temptation, therefore, to shrug.   So he emphasizes this time that while 12% extreme poverty is an amazing improvement over the past 3 decades, that it still represents a BILLION people.

How would Rosling react if he was in the audience, and the leader of an NGO was on stage, telling everyone the exact opposite of the truth, that things are getting "worse"?  How would he feel if an NGO called him a "poverty denier", comparing him to climate change skeptics?

Fortunately, the discourse over economic statistics is more civil than in the Waste business, where stock in defamation lawsuits is rising faster than scrap metal and plastic prices.

Soup Kitchen Essays - Summer Hiatus Blog

Normally one announces a summer hiatus at the beginning of summer, rather than in retrospect.  It was not really my intention to post less frequently, as my passion for the added value (environmental, social, and economical) of reuse, repair and recycling does not fade.  But I suppose I've had a growing awareness that a book on a hero cannot last forever, and my hero - the prototypical Geek of Color - would not ultimately be served in a soup-kitchen of essays.

I've still been writing, but the "draft" folder is burgeoning as I try to reflect more and more on what I'm writing which itself adds value, which is itself new, which is evolutionary.

The "e-waste" recycling industry is constantly evolving.  When I started my business, after leaving the regulatory field 15 years ago, the USA was "The Saudi Arabia of Reuse". Americans had evolved to a period where the US Department of Labor forecasts for TV and electronics repair jobs showed an unprecedented shrinkage.   Employment estimates of TV repairpeople were 100,000 in 1990, and they had fallen to 20,000.

So too, my blogging must evolve.  (listen to cover of Steve Earle's "Hillbilly Highway" below).

What a "Hurricane Joe Benson" load looks like

Over the past decade, the Wealthy Nation West (WNW) suffered under the heavy load of conscience-grubbing photos by Pieter Hugo combined with "fun anti-facts" by Basel Action Network and Greenpeace.  The bright regulators in Europe and PACE, Interpol, StEP and Secretariat of the Basel Convention were busy at work, designing tests and enforcement procedures to protect African consumers from the wicked or accidental fallout from Africa Tech Sector Importers like Joe "Hurricane" Benson.

The tests were difficult, a thankless task for scores of customs agents who struggled to program their VCR machines in the 90s, and who probably paid for Windows 8 upgrades and have 2 smartphones and 3 flip phones in their dresser.  The diagrams drawn by Europeans showed used PCs heading down a pipeline of decisions, like a stool down a chamber of drains.  The generator was the "actor", a fetish of guilt and liability attached to the used electronic "waste" device.

WNW could have saved a lot of money on sewers if Africans were at all motivated to come to America and Europe and pay to ship our feces and urine to unregulated rivers.  But of course, why would an African do that?

Interpol, UNEP, and others repeated ad nauseum the fake fact that TVs and monitors had lots of gold and were worth lots of money when banged apart by kids with hammers.  That millions of dollars were spent, and Hurricane Joe Benson imprisoned, based on the malarky that avoided disposal cost was an ATM for Africans is shocking because anyone who spent 15 minutes taking apart a display device and weighing the copper on a bathroom scale could tell you it was nonsense.

They counted the number of TVs in Joe Benson's containers, but they never employed the math to show that the value of the copper never paid for the shipment of the container, only the reuse did.  But far be it from Europe to take economics and African judgement into consideration.

The used electronics resembled waste, and anything downstream from Europe was to be mopped up.

As it turns out, "it's not about you".

Summary Quote from Africa EWaste Report at Agbogbloshie: #freejoebenson

The report from Fair Trade Recycling's visit to Agbogbloshie, Ghana, is nearing completion (60 pages).  Final draft abstract below.

"There is no evidence that Europe’s WEEE testing measures reduce the spoilage or benefit Africa, or that they are based on knowledge of supply and demand in the African market. Evidence supported some Africans’ speculations that those profiling Agbogbloshie as a significant story (reporters, policy makers, anti-gray-market manufacturers, shredding companies, metals recyclers, environmentalists, photojournalists) personally benefit from false or exaggerated portrayals. The report recommends incorporating Africa’s Tech Sector in managing Africa’s growing scrap generation, rather than impugning it.  The burden of proof on allegations of shipping junk should be born by the accusers who benefit from the reduction in trade."

By taking extra months to finish the report, I could find more secondary resources outside the "waste" world -  e.g. Odaw River sample data from the 1980s, rate of TV imports in the 80s and 90s, urban development reports, World Bank Data, etc.

This will be the worst single embarrassment to our environmentalist community if we don't get out in front of it, apologize for our implicit racism in profiling Africa's Tech Sector, and call off the dogs.  I'm serious, people.  I don't want this to come out in Rush radio.   We need to deal with this and stop this McCarthy tactics by certain ENGOs.  We were not immune from implicit racial profiling, and we need to show the guts to admit it and get in front of this story now.

FREE JOE "HURRICANE" BENSON.  Sign the petition to the top right of this blog.

Before you assume an old computer that you expected at your waste shredder was purchased and shippped by Africans as junk, look in this pile. Until we count them here, the "export percentage numbers" are just speculation.

Embedded image permalink

Who's the Troll: But how much are Fair Trade Recycling staff Paid?

See April 2012 Post "Useless Lists of Jobs Beneath Wealthy People"

I confess I've lost interest in the "rate of pay" issue in voluntary trade. 

What drives participation in low-pay or exploitative or criminal activity is generally a lack of other opportunities. A system where USA or EU "moral agents" are expected to give their imprimatur to each potential activity, when the EU-USA agents of conscience don't know the context of the choice between opportunities, can ironically limit opportunities.  

The agent of conscience too often plays an unwitting role (or bears responsibility) when labor finds its own level, in the vacuum created by limits on trade opportunities.  

Not buying a recycled product, or not supplying a recycled feedstock, unless you know how much the maker is paid, is usually a terrible idea.  The more consumers buy (demand) the product, the more opportunities the "marginalized" workers will have.  If in doubt, let the affected worker of your concern choose their opportunity.  

So what is the root cause of this market interference by agents of conscience?  Writing below from my own experience (I coined the term "agent of conscience" in a high school journal, btw)...

The "agent of conscience" in the west is initially fed a righteousness-rush.  That's a little jolt of ethical dopamine, for having made a righteous purchase (see also "moral licensing"). The purchase may simply mean "cash" to the "marginalized" producer, e.g. the African women in the business of washing scrap plastic bags to make tapestry, rugs, and purses... they often don't "get" the moral angst angle.  Learn more by reading about "spiritual materialism" (Trungpa) or Steven Pinker if your goal is to know thyself.

Here is film of Africans taking used film plastic, like trash bags, washing them and using them in weaving (replacing cotton).  I posted it and someone immediately asked me how much the people were paid.