The Amazing ‘Other-Side’ of Agbogbloshie.

When you want to know Agbogbloshie via Google you might lose your sense of taste after 20 minutes. For a long time, a single story has been told about this place. Most people are calling for a complete demolition of Agbogbloshie. Like many other ignorant people in Ghana and other parts of the world, I have always perceived Agbogbloshie with disgust because of the single-stories the media portray. It seems that nothing productive comes out of this place. The side of the story that often circulates is usually depressing and humiliating. It is true, and I’ve seen with my naked eyes, that harmful gases are being emitted into the atmosphere by the burning of copper wires. It is also undeniable that the working conditions of the scrap dealers are very unsafe. However, knowing about the other side of the story (which has not been told) will amaze you.
I visited the place recently with a group of Ashesi University students as part of a design program. It was my first time of visit and although I was anxious to see the ‘popular’ Agbogbloshie, I wasn’t too much excited. I did not have to be told we were nearing the place when we took a path leading to a market populated with vegetable sellers who are predominantly females. I had my impressions confirmed, when a sharp unpleasant odour saluted my nostrils and my wandering eyes settled on a choked gutter full of plastic waste. “Hhhm even in an air conditioned car,” someone said derisively expressing a grimace.
We alighted from the bus and entered the market. We were divided into groups of eight and my group met a jovial gentleman who introduced himself as Amiru. He took us on a tour of the place. Far from my first impressions, I was astonished with what I saw. People are making a livelihood in Agbogbloshie. I saw people who are manufacturing coal pots from scrap aluminium. I saw a pile of metals mounted some meters away and when I asked Amiru he told me they were aluminium scraps which had been sorted, waiting to be transported to a nearby steel company for recycle. This guy with very little formal education could easily distinguish the various types of metals and their worth. Steel and Aluminium companies in Ghana are benefiting from the activities of scrap dealers in Agbogbloshie. They would have otherwise imported raw materials at a higher price.

Scraps being hauled to a steel manufacturing company
Scraps being hauled to a steel manufacturing company

Exportation of ferrous metals has been banned in Ghana to protect our local steel industries. These companies acquire most of their raw materials from Agbogbloshie. If the activities of scrap dealers in Agbogbloshie are dissolved as ignorant people are advocating, will we be helping our steel companies then? What will be the fate of recycling in Ghana?
All the scraps, both plastics and metals, would have been left on the streets of Accra. Or even if they are collected, will simply be hauled to landfill sites instead of being recycled.
There was a plastic shredding machine which was being used to shred scrap plastics. (plastic chairs, buckets, plastic crates etc.) This will be followed by a melting stage for the manufacturing of other products.
The people of Agbogbloshie are amazing, talented and skilful. They are creators and innovators. They work tirelessly day and night, earnestly looking for scrap metals and plastics from the streets. They bring them to their ‘hub’ and separate the scraps into their various categories and sell them. I saw a group of people gathered around a scrap. It was when the machine vroomed that I identified it as a car engine. I was told it was supposed to be scrap but was fixed by the boys.
Making of pots with scraps at Agbobloshie
Making of pots with scraps at Agbobloshie

From a distance was a young gentleman who is said to have been building computers from scratch. He has been nicknamed Linux for that reason. I was impressed to have heard that he uses scraps to make functioning computers.
Another group of talent young people identified as Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform team are working hand-in-hand with the workers in Agbogbloshie to help improvise their method of recycle. They have a space where they brainstorm on how to make things from scraps. They prototyped a laser spectroscope as part of their research in spectroscopy. They also built a mini-kiln for moulding plastic tiles.
When we were told of the plans to visit Agbogbloshie, I felt very unenthusiastic about the whole idea. I thought it would be one of the experiences which will make me regret being a Ghanaian. But contrary to what I expected, I was really inspired by what was being done there.
Rather than see Agbogbloshie as an e-waste dump site, see it as a vital place for the first stages of recycling in Ghana. Rather than call for the demolition of Agbogbloshie, let us petition the government to rehabilitate the place. Agbogbloshie can be transformed into a top-notch recycling centre in Ghana. The government and Ghanaian entrepreneurs should invest in state-of-the-art recycling machines that will process the various scraps in the country. China remains the world’s leading importer of plastic waste because of her investment in the recycling industry. Ghana could likewise invest in this industry as an effective solution to her sanitation problems.
So next time you want to know about Agbobloshie, Google might not give you the full story.” Go there and see things for yourself, “as my design lecturer, D.K. Ossei-Asare will tell you.

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10 thoughts on “The Amazing ‘Other-Side’ of Agbogbloshie.

  1. I agree with you, Kwabena. These scrap dealers at Agbogbloshie need machines that are able to extract the coppers from small cables, which will prevent burning. They need people to advocate for them, to sponsor and to support them.

    1. I have read the article by Adu- Darkwa and I decided to go Agbogbloshie to find out things for myself. I have been there consistently for 6 months, anyway I live on the Korlebu mortuary road next to Agbogbloshie. I am wondering how Adu could ignore all those serious environmental and health issues at agbogbloshie and concentrate on scrap dealers making money at the expense of their health. We are talking about heavy metals if Adu know what that is.As for the Agbogbloshie makerspace platform or whatever you call it please give us a break, please do not waste our ears. It is a clear example of a waste pipe for the American people’s money and whoever is financing this project. American taxpayers money is being wasted. What innovation have we seen produced at agbogbloshie by amp. Oh yes metals have always been collected by africans in their countries and all over africa people make coalpots from metals I am 60 years old and I can remember coalpots being made from scrap metal AMP did not teach anybody how to do this. The real issue is about American recycling companies shipping their poisonous waste to Ghana -computers, television sets etc. Adu please stop this publicity stunt for AMP and their allies and open your eye, we live in Ghana and we know how these illegal exports are harming the environment and our health. Agbogbloshie has for a longtime been enveloped in toxic smoke, water and soil from illegally exported dead computers and others and somebody collects money from some Americans and Germans and tells them he is going to teach the people at agbogbloshie how to manufacture toys from the illegally exported electronic gadgets and you think that will make us happy. Or did you write this article just to please your teacher. We are discerning Ghanaians, we are educated and intelligent and we can read in between the lies.

      1. Mr. Iddris, I appreciate so much your interest in the environmental issues that have been ignored in this country. Just to remind you, this blog is dedicated to educating on sustainable environmental practices. Hence I’m not ignoring the fact that toxic substances are being emitted in that place. Instead I am saying that it has being the focus of discussion on the media for far too long. This has made people ignore the good things they are being done there. Just imagine where our unrepairable electrical gadgets would have been? Lying on the streets? Or in landfills? Let us not forget that a significant amount of e-waste processed there is from our home country. These people scavenge every corner of our streets to get these materials to make new products. They supply some companies in Ghana with raw materials. If all the bad sides of their work is done away with and the right support and investment is provided, this place could be converted into the biggest recycling centre in Ghana. That is the aim of AMP. They are not there to promote the importation of e-waste.

  2. Thanks bro for making my summer and giving me a new passion.Hope we “blow more bubbles and minds”.Great article, fellow blogger

  3. Kwabena thanks for sharing this story with us. We need to collectively solve these problems to make the world a better place for all. This will require a lot of us to come out of our comfort zones and go through these experiences. Cheers from theHobMob.com team

  4. Adu, for your information about 99percent of the stuff you find at agbogbloshie comes directly from the US and Europe including Australia and Canada. Take a ride with the boys on their four wheel carts each morning and you will realize that they go from e-waste warehouses to e-waste shops dotted around the city to get the discarded television sets and hifi, DVD players fridges fom Europe and the US and all the e-waste that you find at Agbogbloshie. Go to the Tema port and you will be shocked at the huge mount of e-waste that is shipped into Ghana your motherland. Whoever told you that the e-waste at Agbogbloshie is from homes in Ghana doesn’t know what he or she is talking about, GHANAIANS MUST BE SO RICH THEN TO DISCARD TELEVISIONS, FRIDGES, PHONES ETC WITH THE SPEED OF LIGHTENING. BUT WE ALL KNOW GHANAIANS DO NOT HAVE THAT MUCH MONEY TO JUST BUY AND THROW AWAY ELECTRONIC GADGETS. HAVE YOU SEEN THE HUGE PILES OF E-WASTE AROUND THE COUNTRY AND DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THEY ARE FROM HOMES IN GHANA? Lately there is so much misinformation on the internet about Agbogbloshie and e waste and these well planned and concoccted lies have been traced to some owners of some e-waste recycling companies in the United States who are unhappy about the exposure and publicity given to their illegal activities largely aimed at shipping e-waste to developing countries including Ghana just to rake in huge profits. Be patriotic Adu and resist attempts being made by these Americans and others to ship poisonous e-waste to Ghana to destroy the environment and health of Ghanaians. Be smart Adu and do your own research and find out how you can get evidence of the source of the e-waste killing people in Ghana. Please do not be fooled by these Americans and their accomplices in Ghana. shine your eyes. Yes I know Good things might be happenning at Agbogbloshie but that will not and should not justify the illegal exportation of e-waste and anyway what is good about working in a toxic, heavy metal laden environment such as agbogbloshie? Please find out from the AMP boss how many hours in a day or week he himself stays at Agbogbloshie. He know the place is severely polluted so all he has there is that structure and yet so much noise about AMP on the internet. He is hardly ever at Agbogbloshie/ What is the motive, why. This is what the boys at Agbogbloshie told me during my reserach. It is sad when some recycling company owners in the United states with so much interest in the illegal exports of e-waste to Ghana spew out lies and misinformation on the internet and some gullible persons believe it hook line and sinker. Ask yourselves what is their interest. Didn’t they tell the world climate change was not happening and yet what do we see now. By their deeds and pronouncements they shall be known. These foreign interests such as the e-waste recycling companies in the United States who are white washing the illegal exports of e-waste to Ghana and Agbogbloshie and telling the world these dead computers are for reuse in Ghana and for innovation at agbogbloshie are the very people who are confusing and dividing Africans so that they can rule them and continue to poison their environment. Eventually they arm citizens with money lies and weapons and they are told to fight each other. I am deeply appalled at the extent some people can go in defending illegal e-waste exports to Ghana just to satisfy their personal interest after all that e waste from these industrialised countries is doing to Ghana and Agbogbloshie. No amount of lies will change the story of e-waste, Agbogbloshie and Ghana we all know the huge amounts of e-waste found in Ghana is from Europe and America and its deliberate with foreign recycling companies behind.

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