INDUSTRY Technology

Ghana, the World’s Electronic Graveyard – Myth or Reality

Apparently, Ghana is the foremost cemetery for electronics worldwide. Or so several reports have more than suggested. And they’re all tied to one particular place in Ghana, Agbogbloshie. In other words, Agbogbloshie is where the planet’s electronics go to die. Get rid of the euphemisms and it’s like this: Agbogbloshie is the world’s leading e-waste dump site. You really get the sense of this world-spanning perception when you compare the Wikipedia page for Agbogbloshie to, let’s say, East Legon. Clearly, the former warranted a full-fledged article—despite its peculiar and non-English name—precisely because of its association with electronic and toxic waste.

Image Credit: Kevin McElvaney

 Consider just some of the news headlines covering reports on Agbogbloshie, and the picture is self-confirmatory: Inside the World’s Biggest E-Waste Dump, A Global Graveyard for Dead Computers in Ghana, Toxic ‘Electronic Graveyards’ in Africa where the West Dumps, E-Waste Republic, E-Waste Magnet, Digital Wasteland, and (my personal favourite) Welcome to Hell. The consensus seems to be that if you’re looking for the word closest in meaning to ‘global e-waste dump’, then it’s Agbogbloshie.

Jon Spaull, however, showed concern about this depiction and begged to slightly differ when he observed a disparity between what he found and “the media portrayal of the site as a magnet for the world’s e-waste.” And he’s not alone. He said: “The reality was rather different. Compared with other dumps I have seen in Brazil and the Philippines, Agbogbloshie is not particularly large. And instead of masses of people scavenging across mounds of waste, it appeared to be more like a well-organised scrapyard.”

Other commentators have also affirmed that the e-waste materials being recycled were actually collected locally, rather than dumped from overseas.

Image Credit: Kevin McElvaney

The Legend of Agbogbloshie and the Scrap Dealers—In Pictures

As we attempt to unravel the truths and non-truths of media depictions of Agblogbloshie, one thing is, nonetheless, agreeable: the health concerns are very legitimate. Spaull notes how scrap dealers “extracting metals from e-waste” were “without any form of protection against the toxins this work released.” Kevin McElvaney, a German photographer, described the environment as a burning field having huge fires and enormous clouds of smoke dominating the landscape, where “youngsters between the age of 7 and 25 . . . start their day at sunrise and end their work at sunset.” And he has just the harrowing photos to set the scene.

Documenting his visit to the infamous Agbogbloshie, McElvaney presents the marriage between the people and the land in pictures here.

As you behold and despair (and, perhaps, get sick), also ponder: What can be done about the situation?

WRITER: Richard Yaw Baafi


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