Euro Agbo Photo Journos Redux 1: The Butterfly and the Whale (enacted by 2 roosters)

With the help of Ghana Tech Wahab Odoi, and the miracles of the internet, I have managed to put together a lot of the pieces behind the strange alt-coinish entry by the  band Placebo.  Their MTV video's use of Agbogbloshie as a backdrop for "Life is What You Make It" debuted during the middle of this blog's series on Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos.

As far as making friends with people you run into in strange places - well, chalk this chicken fight up to unfortunate timing.

I was in the middle of a "photo journo flog" series.  And Sasha Rainbow was thrilled with what seems her studio's most prestigious work to date. And the band and Placebo fans were unprepared to play a part in an environmental lesson plan.  What does work for photography often does not work as journalism?... um no it's about the music dude.

Artists look for simplicity - a simple, powerful photo can tell a thousand words. But those words may be false, and quite easily proffer mere racial profiling.  I brought their video into the "Free Joe Hurricane Benson" debate, and they seem angry and perturbed.  Easier to describe me as a trollish brute than to entertain the possibility that their depiction of poverty was bleeding with collateral damage, and wrapped in #ewaste activist folly.

How did we meet in this place?  All of us? How does Awal, Yahroo or Razak wind up with a Whatsapp treasuretrove of white contacts from UK, USA, Spain, etc?  Since just the last month, I've been sent photos and been handed by phone to speak directly to five "freelance documentary makers".  It's a land rush... but they don't know what kind.

What $20,000 Means: Blog to Sasha Rainbow, Brian Molko, Stefan Olsdal, @PlaceboWorld

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).

A Refreshing "Victimless, Villainless" Assessment of E-Waste in Chennai India: Naveed Ahmed Sekar

Mobile Consumption and Disposal in Chennai Metropolitan Region India (2017 Naveed Ahmed, Brandenburg University of Technology, Germany)

This short analysis of "e-waste" phones in the rapidly emerging market of Chennai (Tamil Nadu), India, is the kind of abstract approach that could make a good model for other products and other cities.  

Once again, it shows the "circular economy" is heliocentric, and does not revolve around Europe.  Telephones sold to families in India (4 phones average per household in Chennai) are not thrown into the sea.  The secondary market is not "competing against" the legitimate scrap market.

Instead, Naveed shows the issue is reluctance to let go of devices. When people remember the purchase as a great sacrifice, they hesitate to believe it is eventually worth only the sum of its raw materials.  This leads to the same "hoarding" documented by Massachusetts DEP in the 1990s.

Loving vs. Placebo? Sasha Rainbow, Life's What We Make It

First of all, happy 50th anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia decision, June 12, 1967.

Here is a thoughtful article in Salon, written by Dave Singleton, the godson of attorney Robert McIlwaine. 
“He” was my godfather Robert McIlwaine, Uncle Bob as I called him, and my secret was a surprise. I discovered recently that he was the lead lawyer on Loving v. Virginia, the iconic U.S. Supreme Court case on interracial marriage. He argued for Virginia and against the rights of the interracial couple.
Like Singleton, I spent all my summers Mark Twain country, where slavery had been legal. A lot of my own writing was influenced by conversations among grandparents and family members when I was 5 years old in 1967.  My parents generation was pro-Loving, but they argued with older Ozark relatives about it - some of whom I adore still.  

The anti-Loving marriage argument at my grandparents home was that "It's not right to the children, it deprives the kids of either society".  That is familiar now.  I've heard it said about marriages across religious lines.  And it struck me deeply because, at 4 years old, I'd asked the girl next door, Sally, if she would marry me when we grew up.  She explained to me we could not because she was Jewish.  I asked my parents if it was true that a Christian boy was not allowed to marry a Jewish girl.  They told me it was actually possible, but that family can oppose it, and that you have to "think of the children".

I could not, at that time, imagine ever loving a girl as much as I loved Sally.  And perhaps that's why the evening news of the Supreme Court case, Loving vs. Virginia, caught my 5 year old attention.

Today, I'm grateful to have grown up knowing and loving 'racists' who were just cautious, frightened people, not bad people - like the uncle of the Salon writer.  I think this prepared me to recognize 'accidental racism' in the environmental community. These are my friends, sharing my recycling passion, many of whom seem as stubborn as any family in the south when it comes to trade in used equipment with black people.  

Where I grew up, you learned that you can hate and detest a friend's idea, without thinking too much less of the friend. If you think free export policy will hurt Scrap Sector's children, and I think anti-export policy hurts the Tech Sector's children...  I don't describe you as a bad person.

But righteousness always hears it that way, doesn't it?  And when you become famous for being righteous, you invent and prosecute "blasphemy".

The nuance is sadly missing from the response I got yesterday, indirectly (posted to a fan group) from Placebo "Life is What You Make It" director Sasha Rainbow.  Rather than answer any of my questions, even my messages offering to introduce common third parties if she doesn't want to speak to me directly, she pasted a new sunshine on my bum, spank slapped me personally as a very bad human being who people should avoid talking to.  I'm thinking of writing in response to her characterization of me and Fair Trade Recycling. Maybe tomorrow.

Perhaps we are just competitors.  Perhaps she saw the teaser for the Joe "Hurricane" Benson documentary I'm trying to shepherd, and it's just business to position her own Agbogbloshie documentary ahead.  She has employees, mouths to feed, etc.  

Q and A: The Bitter End of UK's E-Waste Safari Exploitation

More information turned up on the Band Placebo and how the Agbogbloshie dump kids were chosen to launch the Band's Australia tour.  

The band's reps are researching us.  And we are researching the filmmaker and the band.  Feelings of saviorism and feelings of exploitation are both valid, and both come from good hearts.  We are all running uphill, fighting for higher moral ground.

Here is "Running Up That Hill", a song about trading places.  It is one of the band's hits from the past that got USA airplay, at least on college radio.  ... I remember this.

There's no direct communication between us (yet?), but a lot of evidence people are reading the blog and adjusting their message.  For example, the OfficialPlacebo Facebook page no longer ID's Abgo as "the largest e-waste dump in the world", and reciprocally, I can state this headline was also fake news ("Brian Molko highest paid singer on earth")

"The ‘People’ section is a humorous parody of Gossip magazines, all stories are obviously not true."

This is NOT TRUE, the lead singer of Placebo does not out-rank Mick Jagger, Beyonce, Eminem, etc.  But the fact that it shows up as the top Google listing for "net worth Brian Molko" shows that Brian has something in common with Wahab, Chendiba, Joe Benson, and other Tech Sector entrepreneurs in Ghana - who do NOT import 80% waste to what is NOT the "biggest e-waste dump on earth".  More in common than he ever knew.

Since my earlier blog and tweets, Placebo has taken down this claim on Facebook - that Agbo is the "world's largest e-waste dump".

Now watch out for someone simply swapping the words "in Africa" for "on Earth".  Some people imply that sounds like a small mistake.  But is is quite a correction. "The Tallest Man in the NBA" and "The Tallest Man on North Korea's High School Basketball Team" are two very different "Tallest Men". Because fewer Africans owned TVs and computers decades ago, their junkyards have fewer of them than ours do. Here's a photo of a pile in Addison County Vermont...

Seriously - we got WAAAAAAY more e-waste in Middlebury Vermont (pop 10k) than Accra has in Agbogbloshie.  Maybe I can pay Michael Anane to tell people he played mini-golf here as a boy, and we'll get some MTV screen time.

The photo of Agbogbloshie is, to us, even funnier and more obviously a joke than the MediaMass (Onionish) fake news.  The kid is standing on a single TV, on a barren landscape, carring a bag (no doubt on his way on some errand) and a Alsdair Mitchell pulled a McElvaney and said "kid, jump up on here a second".  Using it under the headline "the world's largest e-waste dump" a single kid standing on a single TV in a city of 3M is rather hilarious (and I'm not the one that choose that screenshot for that headline - Placebo's Facebook manager did).

Look, Brian Molko is closer to being the richest rock star than Agbogbloshie is to being the largest e-waste dump, but that's irrelevant.  My point is that good people - Ghana's Tech Sector and Brian Molko - can get thrust into conflict through misinformation and misunderstanding, and no one has to get bent out of shape.   It's dialectic. I know more about the band, and at the end they'll know more about Ghana, and the UK Press portrayal of its slums (no chaps, t'isn't about you).

So for the benefit of Placebo fans, it's ok to enjoy the video.  The camerawork is some of the best I've seen there (a little cheating with extra gasoline of the fires).  But below is a quick Q and A about Agbogbloshie, the myths and the facts.  Everything stated below has been the subject of many blogs.

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

PLACEBO Twitter Spat: UK Band Fans White Privilege in Agbogbloshie

"The Band is absolutely dedicated to its workers.  Our policy is to give a living wage to any employee, crew person, or extra, irregardless of their race or nationality.  We'll investigate Awal Basit's concerns, and if there's any validity to his claim, we'll make this right."
 - Nobody so far.  Robin Ingenthron made this quote up to be helpful.

That's is how Robin Ingenthron would have answered the question.  So far, no one from RiseRecords or PlaceboWorld, or any band mate, has summoned the courage to address Agbogbloshie scrap worker Awal Muhammed Basit's concerns. Awal says neither he nor the two other Scrap Workers the video is "dedicated to" were paid, or signed waivers.

It would have deftly anticipated the questions over white PRIVILEGE which infuse discussions over filming slums, teledensity, liability laws, and the prison sentence for African TV repairman Joseph Benson.

Like a lot of slum dwellers, Awal is nearly illiterate and struggles with English. Fortunately, I had Wahab, our Ghana Tech Sector partner here in Vermont to translate, and felt like we could get to the bottom of this quickly.  Maybe Sasha Rainbow, the video director, mistook Awal's enthusiasm for giddiness over being featured in a PLACEBO video.  Maybe he signed a waiver he hadn't understood.

Going directly to the band, via twitter, was I know a little likely to ruffle feathers.  But we were polite in the beginning, and my concern about the days of silence have to do with the narrowing opportunity to translate directly - while Wahab is here - for the band.

Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos 3: Credits Making Poverty Porn Placebo in Agbogbloshie!

Video Produced by Sasha Rainbow for RiseRecords and Placebo creates more "Collateral Damage".  

"Life is what you make it" music video, filmed at Accra city dump, uses gasoline fueled fire, children, and recycling images.

Well, well, well... it has been a busy week for Agbogbloshie.  We are looking for a release document for one of the "three musketeers" (Awal, Razak, Yahroo), who featured prominently in a new music video released for Placebo by Rise Records.  Not trying to scare them away, but to get them into their role in the dialogue.  They probably meant well, and are "collateral damage" from BAN propaganda... which they append at the video's final seconds, as if spreading fear for Africans victimization is compensation enough for a day of scrap circus performances.

First, some actual journalism happened the same afternoon as the video was released, and from the same state (Oregon).  Resource Recycling magazine had a thoughtful cover article on our Fair Trade Recycling "carbon offset model" waste trading with Ghana.

Same day, Rise Records (Beaverton, OR) released a film by director "Sasha Rainbow".   The music video for glam-punk-rock rerelease UK group Placebo advertises albums and t-Shirts.  The Song is "Life's What You Make It".

The film opens with the line "dedicated to the workers of Agbogbloshie".  Well, that's nice.  What's fascinating is that Sasha Rainbow uses only a handful of the people there, and the most prominently featured is Awal Muhammed of Savelugu (north of Tamale), who I spent several weeks with in January and February.

Here's Awal in the music video.  I am struggling to know how to feel about this.  His name, at a minimum, should be in the credits.  He's not a "nameless faceless worker of Agbogbloshie".

Here's Awal wearing my company T-Shirt (with Yahroo)

So I was kind of mock-exploiting these "most photographed dudes in Africa".  But I don't know if I paid them as much as Placebo or Sasha Rainbow paid them - or far more.  And I very much want to find out.  Because if Sasha Rainbow and Rise Records did compensate these workers, they should proudly name them (like a check would require) and say so in the credits.  Because Bellini, McElvaney, and other Euro Agbo Porno Photo Journos did not.  None of us assumes the scrappers are given more than a thank you, and if that's the case here, the Glam Rockers need to find out, and correct that.  If I see these people in a video that's making money, I want to read that the dudes were paid a fair crew wage.  The ironically titled video "Still Not Sponsored" is perhaps the grossest, most disturbing example, with smarmy ridiculing voice over by Mike Anane, a guy these scrappers detest.