UK's African #eWaste Witch Hunt 5: Environmental Munchausen Syndrome?

While travelling to visit family members for Christmas holiday, I listened to an NPR story on "Munchausen Syndrome by Internet", which interviewed bloggist Taryn Harper, keeper of the #WarriorEliHoax blog.

Munchausen Syndrome is basically an addiction to getting attention by malingering or outright faking danger or illness.  It has reached the popular media in cases of "Munchausen by Proxy" - cases where a parent (usually a mom) endangers or imperils her children to "earn" sympathy and attention. The NPR study was about "Munchausen by Internet".  In MbI, sympathy whores (to coin an ugly phrase) create multiple fake online personas and histories which pose heartbreaking problems for public "Hashtag" sympathy.  The hashtag is the attention getting device on twitter, the heart wrenching or guilt-inducing story is the honeypot.

"Munchausen's syndrome is a psychological and behavioural condition where someone pretends to be ill or induces symptoms of illness in themselves. It is also sometimes known as factitious disorder.  People with the condition intentionally produce or pretend to have physical or psychological symptoms of illness.  Their main intention is to assume the "sick role" to have people care for them and be the centre of attention."
The Africans with roles in the #ewastehoax of Agbogbloshie aren't throwing the pity party.  But when they find themselves profiled by Western media, or as an NGO's "A Place Called Away," they have something... attention.  Ozark natives invested in New York City's fascination with poverty through Barney Google, Snuffy Smith, Little Abner, and Hollywood's fixation on Beverley Hillbillies and Green Acres;  So too, Africans can't help but try to turn the sour story into lemonade.

My Blog 10 Years Ago: 2005 Letter to Iraqi People

Realized this morning the tenth anniversary of the blog had recently passed.  Because of a platform switch to google blogspot, I don't have direct links to the 2005 posts, but I did transfer them with original dates.  The first few were on mining (alluding to the Lynn Scarlett and John Tierney anti-recycling first posts of the 90s), extinction, being an "Agent of Conscience" (AoC), and this one on the Iraq Invasion.  It was written a bit after my dad's cousin, Jack Hensley (a contractor CNN), was beheaded on film by Sunni insurgents who went on to found ISIS / ISIL etc. in 2004.

It was interesting to re-read ten years later.  I was 43.  Maybe someday I can edit these things, if I trust myself to not rewrite my history in the process.

December 17, 2005

Letter to the Iraqi People:

May God bring each of you peace and justice, health and sustenance to you and your families.
My name is Robin, and I am a father of three, and I run a small recycling and parts company in the state of Vermont. It is a cold winter here, but the people are used to the ice and snow, as fathers and mothers have taught the kids how to live in peace with it for many generations. I can imagine, for your children, the desert sun must be less of a burden than it would be for me, but they would not enjoy playing in the ice and snow as much as my children do. Both the sun and the ice must be enjoyed but treated with respect.


Carl A. Zimring's "Clean and White", A Premature Review

This is a pre-Review of a book I haven't yet read... on a subject I write about obsessively.  And because I can now be accused - literally - of "prejudice" (prejudging a book about environmental justice is like, a mind trip).

"Clean and White:  A History of Environmental Racism in the United States" by Carl A. Zimring.

Carl A. Zimring is Associate Professor of Sustainability Studies at the Pratt Institute. He is the author of Cash for Your Trash: Scrap Recycling in America and general editor of the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage. His new book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States is available from New York University Press. 

This is all in good fun, I will read the book and hope others will order it too, giving Carl A. Zimring some early buzz should be forgiven...

African "E-Waste" Witch Hunt #4: LCS-Judge Dawson-TinTin vs. Benson-Daniels

Why does the Crown Court threaten 60 months in prison to an illiterate African born TV Repairman?  Because it cannot prove its case and needs to "plea it out".  Here is the fourth blog in the E-Waste Witch Hunt Series, featuring men old enough to remember Ghana as a British Colony, getting their "facts" from Michael Anane, Jim Puckett, and TinTin Comics.  Posting publicly the prosecution's case and sentencing remarks against #FREEHURRICANEBENSON...

His Honor Judge Dawson's Sentencing Remarks

Judge Dawson and LCS Get Facts from Tin Tin
"Basically, the situation seems to be, if I can put it into, again, rather layman's language, that waste electrical goods can be exported to other countries quite sensibly and be used by other countries who perhaps cannot afford such things themselves, poorer countries in the main I imagine, but the rules and regulations to protect the environment say that that waste material must be converted back into items which have been properly tested and which therefore can be safely exported as properly tested secondhand items. 
"In essence, what happened here is that when the environment agency intercepted these containers they looked inside them and they found that a large proportion of the items were hazardous waste, were not tested or suitable for use abroad, and in reality what would have happened -- the percentage is about 50 per cent -- in reality what would have happened is that large containers would have arrived in these African countries and 50 per cent of the items inside would have been hazardous waste. What happens, I am told, is that although there are rules and regulations all over the world for the treatment of hazardous waste, the reality is that in countries such as these the hazardous waste is not properly policed and therefore creates a danger, an environmental danger, not only to the residents and citizens of that country but I suppose to the world because these hazardous materials can create a problem of pollution worldwide."
The bold italics I added to link to NGOs Basel Action Network, who made this claim in "A Place Called Away"... after describing the Metal Scrappers in Agbogbloshie as "children" and depicting them with ghoulish, halloween language, Puckett gives the story about Benson's containers.
"This material [at the Agbogbloshie scrapyard] made its arrival on African shores just some days earlier as cargo inside 40-foot intermodal corrugated containers — the shifting bricks of globalized trade turned techno-trash haulers. Around 400 of these, each containing about 600 computers or monitors arrive each month at the Port of Tema, Ghana, from the UK, USA, Canada and countless other rich and developed countries. They may find a quick stay on the floors and shelves of hundreds of second-hand markets throughout Accra. But those that do not sell — about half, even if they work perfectly — are then picked up by small boys pushing heavy carts and hauled several miles to the outskirts of town, to be thrown away — to Agbogbloshie’s scavengers." 
"small boys" according to Jim Puckett
For film of the "Small Boys", see the Alex Wondergem / Adu Lalouschek documentary titled "Scrap Metal Men". These are not small boys, Abogbloshie is definitely not on the "outskirts of town", and the display devices "working or not" are not thrown away.  But despite 3 preposterous, self evidently false claims in the paragraph, Judge Dawson appears to give the claim more weight than Benson's.

African "E-waste" Witch Hunt #3: BBC Whiffs at House of Commons "smoking gun"

BBC Panorama's episode "Track My Trash" has been given the dubious credit for a role in sentencing  Joe "Hurricane" Benson, Mark Daniels, and Ezenwa Ogbonnaya for alleged "ewaste" dumping in Africa.  Rowe seems pleased enough when we exchanged tweets.

Another BBC reporter, David Reid, went back and gave some "fresh" reporting in 2014.  I'm being very, very sarcastic.  Reid flew into Accra airport, got himself a hotel room, and a 9 minute taxi ride later surrounded himself, cough coughing, with young men hitting metal with hammers and burning auto wire.  About 80 scrappers work at Agbogbloshie, mostly in car recycling, but Reid heads to the tire fires where 25 or so young men stand about burning about 200 kg per day of wire.

"Making a Living from Toxic Electronic Waste in Ghana"

Gotta love that title... journalists and photo journalists certainly are making a living off of the witch hunts of Agbogbloshie.

Reid stands at the same bank I stood at, where no cars or trucks have access - only wheelbarrows and pushcarts.  And then he goes to Tema Port an hours drive away and films Africa's Tech Sector workers, Africa's "Big Bang Theory" importers unloading a container (like the ones shipped by Daniels, Benson, Ogbayanna, etc.)... the goods being unloaded are clearly a decade newer than the stuff hammered in Agbogbloshie, but Reid can't see that.  He just sees black people.  He's not making the distinction between the African valedictorian Tech Sector Big Bang Theory superheroes and the toxic wire burning guys at Agbogbloshie.

He asks how much the technicians think will work, and the tech shrugs and says "99 percent".  Reid scoffs.  It's like he's talking to one of the illiterate drop outs at Agbogbloshie.  He snickers and asks "how big is the one percent?"

Because that's the story he came to tell, that the guys in Agbogbloshie are burning England's e-waste.  And he's standing right with an imported load which was paid for at several times the value of scrap, plus transport and customs fees and transport.  He is looking at a truck that is not driving to Agbogbloshie and could not drive inside if it did.  And he's mocking the black guy.

The narrative of Halloween language and images of scary black people is something BBC is obsessed with, despite the HOUSE OF COMMONS openly admitting that only 19% of containers have ANY illegal material in them at all, and that the UK's priortity is to keep "strategic" metals for Big Shred.

Oh, did you miss that?  Read more... lots of research has turned up during writing of our report on Agbogbloshie.