Agbogloshie, West Africa’s biggest e-waste dump
The city council and government have been slow to act and create legislation that would make it illegal to import electronic waste, but they are consulting with environmental and civil society groups to work on developing a bill that could be passed into law later this year. But environmental groups say that the issue must be tackled carefully, in a way that addresses the environmental impact while also taking into account that people’s livelihoods are bound up in this waste. The e-waste business is lucrative for large organised scrap dealers, many of whom are Nigerian, Togolese, Chinese, Indian and Lebanese. But for the young boys and men who work on the site, who have migrated from northern Ghana, they dismantle electronics and burn electronic waste.
Yaw Amoyaw-Osei, executive director of Green Advocacy Ghana says that while Ghana must develop legislation to ban the importation of e-waste, the government and NGOs must also work to ensure that e-waste be handled safely by the scrap collectors in a way that does not impact the local communities.
The dump at Agbogloshie is a poignant symbol of many things: the excess of global consumption and the environmental degradation that underlies it, the economic divisions between global north and south, and the disregard of Western governments and multinational corporations for the impact their production and consumption of electronic goods has on the rest of the world.
But Agbogloshie points to a deeper division emerging in Ghana as a whole — namely that between the northern and southern regions.
In 2011 Ghana was among the fastest growing economies due to the commencement of oil production and rising foreign investment. While cities such as Accra are developing at a break-neck speed, gruelling poverty in the country’s arid northern region is still commonplace. Leading development economist professor Geoffrey Sachs has said that although Ghana’s economic and developmental future looks bright, bridging the north-south divide will be the toughest challenge for policy markers in the small West African nation.
For decades thousands of northerners have migrated southward in search of employment and have filled the cities slums such as Agbogloshie and Nima. According to many NGOs and civil society groups that work with the urban poor, such as Peoples Dialogue on Human Settlements, headed by Farouk Braimah, these slums are expanding as cities such as Accra grow and develop. Young people, like the men and boys who burn electronic waste, come here in search of opportunity and new beginnings, a future beyond the limits of the gruelling poverty of their home towns. When one watches these men and boys set cords and computers alight it almost appears a metaphor for their hopes and dreams: bubbling, melting, and burning, rising like the black smoke billowing over Agbogloshie.
*Clair MacDougall is a journalist currently based in Monrovia, Liberia. She was previously based in Accra, Ghana. She blogs about West Africa at North of Nowhere and more of her writing can be found here.
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