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.

  • shocking i never knew most of all you said thanks for enlightening some of us

    • I feel like “you’re welcome” is such a poor sentiment for a situation like this. 🙁

      Thanks for reading. I saw you shared on your blog as well. The more people know, the better! *thumbs up*

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  • Am

    I think you should SERIOUSLY consider relocating to Ghana and running for a public/governmental post. There are so many issues that you bring to the forefront that are left in the back burner. I’ve come to learn a lot about the incompetencies of the Ghanaian government and the plight of its citizens courtesy of your writing. There is a lot you bring to the table. In any case, if I come to Ghana, I will be averse to bureaucracy because you will be an ogaress, and you know in Africa, connections are key if not everything.

    • Ummmm! After all these years, you don’t know me well? I can’t smash and burn things on the internet, so I’m forced to use words. If I’m given an Ogaship, my lack of decorum will only be exacerbated. And then if we add you to the mix???

      Oh no no no. Immediate deportation for us both!

  • Oh Oh I can feel your bleeding heart. Africa is littered with these unacceptable flashes of injustice. But it’s a job for all of us and every living soul must accept to do something in their means. It reminds me of the 19th century zoos in Europe where Africans/black people were paraded for the white people to enjoy seeing ape-like humans from the jungles of Africa. Actually some white fools claimed that it was OK to keep black people in zoo because the conditions in there were better than the squalid conditions they had lived back home on the dark continent and of course some justified it with the notion that black a less being than white people, so white people can do whatever they wish with all other creatures as ordained upon them in the book of Genesis.
    But now the oppressors are our own kins in black skin. It’s what disgusts me for sure.
    Indeed I truly bleed for Africa

    • I mean come ON! They are actually selling tickets to watch people struggle to live! No amount of flowery prose on their online brochure is going to change that!

      And you’re exactly right. It’s just like a human zoo!

  • Agree except it is not mostly western dumping. Average car and appliance and electronic scrap there was imported 15 years ago and used and repaired several times. Ghana Tech Sector has been ignored or impugned by the “poverty safari” journalists, who don’t realize that millions of people in Africa have had TVs and cars for decades and have the same junkyards.

  • Vera

    Robin Ingenthron is really a desperate man who wants the world to believe that there is no illegal shipment and dumping of e-waste in Ghana from the developing countries and America in particular. I understand Robin visited Ghana only for some few weeks and yet he “rediscovered” Agbogbloshie as a place full of old cars and electronic equipment used by Ghanaians and not shipped and dumped there by himself and other recyclers in the United States. Robin wants the world to believe that all that has been said about the illegal shipments and dumping of e-waste in Ghana by the developed countries its just a hoax, deception and plain lies. We all live in Ghana and we all know where all those container loads of old tv sets, computers, fridges, microwaves and all that come from, we know they come from America, Europe and the Scandinavian countries. We in Ghana call all that garbage used discarded electronics from the US and Europe Blofo Bola in local parlance. M meaning white man’s thrash. We in Ghana do not need any white man to tell us that our eyes do not see well or we are not intelligent enough to know where all the toxic trash is coming from. But the truth of the matter is that Robin Ingenthron is the kingpin of recycling companies in the United States that are illegally dumping their toxic e-waste in Ghana. And of course many Ghanaians now know how toxic e-waste is. The whiteman doesnt want his people to get cancer because e-waste contains cancer causing chemicals, so he sends them to Africa and Ghana for that matter and explains that the old computers and TVs are working and we can reuse them. Yes the African does not deserve brand new TV sets and computers and fridges. We deserve what the whiteman has used and discarded. Robin has now embarked on a well orchestrated campaign to whitewash all the exposures and revelations about the dumping of e-waste in Agbogbloshie by his cohorts and himself and the health and environmental consequences because some of his couriers a Nigerian by name Benson has been busted and jailed and Robin is so peeved and doing everything possible to get Benson out of jail. Robin is indeed a dangerous man and not fit to be allowed into Ghana. He has really insulted the intelligence of Ghanaians. Like the desperate climate change deniers and sceptics, Robin’s campaigns will not succeed, they are just laughable and he and his lies and insults should be treated with the contempt they deserve just like we did with the climate change sceptics and deniers. Now we all know climate change is real and and just like illegal exports and dumping of e-waste from America it is unfolding right before our eyes. Robin is a drowning horse and the law will soon catch up with him just like his boy Benson. Africa should indeed be careful of some of these white people who come to “discover” what we live with and have always known. Who in Ghana doesn’t know that the so called developed countries are dumping their toxic electronic waste in Ghana? from used mattresses, used and soiled toilet seats to even women and men’s used and blood stained underwear and even medical waste. Robin and his likes are the kinds of whitemen roaming all over other African countries such as Rwanda, Congo Sierra Leone, Liberia and others spewing lies, adopting divide and rule tactics to deceive locals and setting up communities and individuals against each other, confusing them and arming the factions with guns and pushing them into wars and then taking advantage of the situation to exploit and loot their resources. Robin Ingenthron is indeed a clever criminal and a dangerous man we should all avoid.

  • Kwesi Owusu

    Robin Ingenthron has been exposed, he denies before God and man that America is not exporting toxic e-waste to any country. Below is the evidence of what the recycling industriesin America of which he is their spokesperson is doing. I hope Robin will now keep his mouth shut. He cannot fool Ghanaians and the world, this is environmental injustice and a gross violation of human rights in the highest form. The Authorities in Ghana, the Environmental protection Agency in Ghana should take note.

    Please follow the links below.

    The Hunt For Toxic E-Waste In Hong Kong Scrapyards
    OPB News‎ – 2 days ago
    Dongxia Su and Jim Puckett peek over the fence of an e-waste scrapyard in the New …
    Where does America’s e-waste end up? GPS tracker tells all
    PBS NewsHour‎ – 11 hours ago
    More news for america e-waste hongkong
    Tracking Down America’s Electronic Waste | KCTS 9 – Public Television
    kcts9.org/programs/circuit/tracking-down-americas-electronic-waste
    2 days ago – … other unwanted electronics with toxic materials inside, an investigation tracks e-waste from the U.S. to unregulated scrapyards in Hong Kong.
    Where does America’s e-waste end up? GPS tracker tells all | PBS …
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/…/america-e-waste-gps-tracker-tells-all-earthfix/
    11 hours ago – High above the Pacific Ocean in a plane headed for Hong Kong, most of the passengers are fast asleep. But not Jim Puckett. His eyes are fixed …
    VIDEO: First E-Waste Recycling Facility n Hong Kong Under …
    https://waste-management-world.com/…/video-first-e-waste-recycling-fac…
    Jan 21, 2016 – E-Waste recycling firm ALBA Integrated Waste Solutions Hong Kong, … president of the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has told …