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GH2013

Profiting off of Agbogbloshie, Ghana's Slum Safari

*Please forgive the delivery and language in this post. The reality of what’s going on on the ground deserves more eloquence than I possess. What I have discovered is truly disgusting, and it’s a new low…even for a country with dubious scruples like Ghana.

I have been doing so reading about Agbobgloshie lately to find out how the residents there have been faring since the government wiped out their homes and businesses with bulldozers flanked by armed personnel earlier this year. For those who do not know, Agbobgloshie is the second largest and most toxic e-waste dump on the planet. Not just in Africa…on the entire globe.

Most of the waste is illegally shipped in from Europe and America.

Agbobgloshie goes by many names. Some refer to it as Old Fadama. It has also been nicknamed Sodom and Gomorrah – everyone agrees it is hell on earth. Children who have spent every moment since birth breathing in the toxic fumes that burn round the clock routinely die of cancer in that area. Every step you take on the oozing, sludgy ground is perilous. The earth is pocked with broken glass from busted up television sets, exposed industrial wiring and sharp edges of the remains of freezers, vehicles, discarded things that the West no longer wanted. Once a wetland with crystal blue waters that you could see straight through to the sandy bottom, this now poisonous environment is home to thousands of people – some 40,000 by some estimates. They come from all over the country in search of employment in the capital city. Employment opportunities are already scarce for educated residents with roots in the capital that go back at least two generations. Nepotism is the order of the day and class-ism ensures that big breaks that lead to real opportunities remain in the ranks of a particular few.

It is in this hostile environment that economic migrants/refugees find themselves once they move with the hope of supporting themselves and their families outside of the Greater Accra region. Where the government is concerned -whether NDC or the opposition –  they are the recipients of very little beyond failed policies, broken promises and political rip offs. Still, these residents of Earth’s second most toxic dump nestled firmly in the seventh filthiest country on the planet are resourceful and have managed to eke out a living for themselves. And as if the insult of all that they have endured thus far has not been enough, they have been and are being taken advantage of in the most degrading way. Their poverty and suffering is being exploited as fodder for voyeurs who view their suffering as nothing more than a curiosity  or “a destination for travelers looking to experience another walk of life.

Ad selling tours to the slum

Ad selling tours to the slum

Just moments ago, I stumbled upon www.viator.com which bills itself as a TripAdvisor (R) company. Thinking that I had found what must surely be a hoax site, I called the toll-free number to speak with a customer service rep to get further information. The unidentified rep gave me as much information as she could (which means be read from the posted information from the website) and asked me if I would like to book through their company for a slum tour. It would only cost me a mere $34. Tours required a minimum of 12 participants for a 3 hour trek through the slum that would begin at 9 am. Quick math informed me that the amount generated for this tour would amount to a little over $400. According to statsghana.gov, the average Ghanaian makes $154 a month. Viator is a broker for the local company who organizes the tours. The rep would not tell me who that was until I booked and confirmed a trip. However, she assured me that this person or entity would ensure my safety and even offer translation services, should I need it when “interacting with the resourceful locals who have managed to make a new life for themselves in such harsh conditions”.

I find it difficult to conjure the vocabulary needed to express how disgusting this venture is.

You may recall the Emoya Luxury Hotel and Spa near Bloemfontein, South Africa which offers a shanty town experience for those who want to “experience poverty” without the inconvenience of actually experiencing poverty. Imaginatively named Shanty Town, the rooms replicate the experience of living in one room corrugated metal and wood homes, similar to those that many impoverished South Africans call home. The difference is, these campsites come with hot water, electricity and wifi. The venture shocked much of the civilized world for its insensitivity. Nevertheless, it thrives. Why? Because something about Black suffering is only strong enough to illicit shock, but never enough indignation to demand cessation of the offense …particularly if there is a profit to be made off of it.

slum

The idea that there are Ghanaians involved in a scheme to show off the injury, suffering and distress of fellow Ghanaians for their portion of $34 a head is reprehensible. How much of that money makes its way back into the community? If the slum tours that take place in South Africa and the Caribbean are anything to judge by, it’s very little. The least these unscrupulous operators could do is re-invest in the community to help meet some of it’s needs, or as an old lady whom I recently had the pleasure of dining with said recently: “If you’re going to f*ck me over, at least kiss me first.”

There is so much wrong with Ghanaian society. We’ve absolutely failed this generation, and quite possibly four more generations to come with the sort of depravity we’ve permitted. From corruption, to protecting perpetrators of child rape, to confining the mentally incapacitated to prison without trial or representation, the veritable erasure of what it means to be a Ghanaian and the pride that calling yourself by this name once held…the list is endless and frankly, exhausting.

I know for a fact that this Old Fadama tour will not only continue after today, but thrive. There is not enough outrage left in the country to spare for the invisible poor. People have to worry about the shocks and spasms of the cedi and whether or not there will be petrol for the generator and A/C this evening. So what if a few white people want to gawk and the beggarly, Black proletariat like apes in their natural habitat?

human

I wish it wasn’t that way. It hurts me that it is.

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