Author: Sapa

Ghana’s poor eke out a living from toxic e-waste

Johnson Amenume (45) and his son Kingsley, (14) busily sort through a scrap heap. With their bare hands and a couple of large stones, they break open a television set.

Next to them smolders a pile of cables they have set on fire in order to burn off the plastic coatings. Thick black smoke billows, but father and son go about their work unperturbed, caked in soot and dust.

They work on one of world’s largest electronic garbage dumps, located in Agbogbloshie, a slum near the central business district in Ghana’s capital Accra.

More than five million pieces of second-hand electronics arrive in the West African nation annually, mainly from Europe, the United States and China, according to a 2012 report by Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Those not in working condition – about three-quarters of the shipments docking at Accra’s main port – are dumped at Agbogbloshie, the EPA says.

Over the years, the landfill has morphed into a toxic graveyard containing tens of millions of discarded electronics, or e-waste.

It has also become a source of income for the poorest of the poor who search for recyclable metals, like aluminium, copper and iron, that they sell to scrap dealers for a few cents.

Environmental and health risks
More than a quarter of Ghana’s 25-million people live under the poverty line of 1.25 dollars a day, according to World Bank data.

About 40 000 of them, including young children, live in the slum next to the dump and eke out a living from toxic e-waste.

“I lost my job as a security guard five years ago. The only way I can feed my family is by sorting through scrap. My son stopped going to school to help me,” explains Amenume, who hails from the village of Alakple, in the country’s north-east.

“We know we can get sick from the smoke. But if we stop working here, we won’t have anything to eat,” he adds.

Burning the plastic off wires and cables releases dangerous chemicals that pose serious environmental and health risks. Some of the toxins interfere with sexual reproduction, while others can cause cancer and hamper development of the brain and nervous system.

John Essel, a medical doctor at the Tano clinic just two streets from Agbogbloshie, says he examines at least a handful of people who work on the dump each day.

“They report with skin rashes, abdominal pain, sleeplessness and fatigue. We also see cardiovascular diseases,” he says.

Ghana is a popular high-tech dumping ground because it has no laws that prevent the import of e-waste.

It usually enters Ghana marked as second-hand goods for resale or donations, but “some foreign traders label broken goods as second-hand to avoid high recycling costs in their home markets,” the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warned in July.

A Bill to outlaw the importing of e-waste is being tabled in Parliament. (Pic: Reuters)

Ghana’s EPA is now demanding the practice be halted.

“We are lobbying government to pass a law to make the import of e-waste illegal,” says EPA deputy director Lambert Faabeluon.

The Bill has been tabled in Parliament. Deputy Environment Minister Adiku Heloo said it might be passed into law before the end of the year.

“We are hoping to find a lasting solution to the menace,” he says.

The idea is not only to regulate e-waste imports but also set up sustainable e-waste management systems that will create long-term employment.

Until then, Ghana’s poor will continue to hunt for scrap metals that earn them a mere 25 dollars per 100kg.

“On a good day, I make about 30 cedi [10 dollars],” says Kofi Adu, while digging in a heap of broken computers.

The 18-year-old dropped out of school two years ago to support his ailing mother. Even if a law was passed later this year, Abu knows it’s too late for him to realise his dream: “I wanted to become a medical doctor, but now it’s totally impossible. – Sapa-dpa

Pride on show at Harare drag queen pageant

And the winner is … Ezmerald Kim Kardashian.

That was the stage name for a young man who won the title of Miss Jacaranda at a drag queen pageant in Zimbabwe. He refused to give his real name because he feared for his safety in a country whose president has described homosexuals as “worse than pigs and dogs”.

The flamboyant pageant, one of the biggest gay and lesbian events in Zimbabwe, was held discreetly last weekend in an isolated farmhouse on a forest-shrouded hilltop on the outskirts of Harare.. It was the finale of the annual ZimPride week, which included low-key events such as a film-screening and a launch of Out in Zimbabwe: Narratives of Zimbabwean LGBTI Youth, a book on experiences of young people coming out about their sexuality to families and society. The events were publicised by word of mouth and messaging on social media.

Sodomy is a crime in Zimbabwe, punishable by at least seven years in prison. President Robert Mugabe has said gays should be castrated. However, there were no police raids on any of this year’s gay pride events; gay activists say it is not an offense to dress in drag, a common feature in the nation’s amateur theater productions. Despite anti-gay policy, attacks on people in same-sex relationships are few and isolated to occasional pub brawls.

Some gays speculate that Mugabe, in power for decades, has harshly criticised gays to win popular support and is not intent on enforcing the sodomy law rigorously even though his government exercises tight control over society.

The 17-year-old winner Ezmerald Kim Kardashian wore a long, shimmering, purple dress and beat eight other contestants, many wearing makeup, high heels, skimpy beach wear and sequined dresses. Dozens of spectators cheered and whistled at the catwalk.

Contestants in the Miss Jacaranda pageant. (Pic: AP Exchange)
Contestants in the Miss Jacaranda pageant. (Pic: AP Exchange)

“I want you all to be proud of who you are, regardless of what anyone thinks about us,” pageant organiser Sam Matsipure told contestants.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz), the group that organised the event, said it wanted to celebrate its pride week with a street parade, as in other countries, but feared prosecution or even violence.

The farmhouse provided a safe haven for the young men who vied for the pageant crown, chatting in the dressing room while stuffing rolled socks in each other’s bras.

They said the pageant was a way of expressing a femininity that they keep in check while in public.

“Events like these raise my sense of self-worth in a country that hates us,” said one participant who identified “herself” as Coco DaDiva.

In 1996, the Galz group’s first exhibit of literature about homosexuality, safe sex and human rights at the annual Harare International Book Fair was trashed by members of Mugabe’s political party, forcing the group to abandon public displays.

It was at the book fair that Mugabe denounced gays as “worse than pigs and dogs” and declared that homosexuals “don’t have any rights at all”. – Sapa-AP

Nigeria’s cabbies face arrest for dressing ‘indecently’

Cutoff pants displaying a bulging calf? Sleeveless T-shirts showing off a well-muscled physique? Forget it in Nigeria’s northern Kano state, where Islamic police are deploying thousands of officers to arrest anyone sporting the “indecent dress” that’s fashionable among young men driving motorised rickshaw taxis.

Police also have orders to arrest any cabbie carrying men and women together in the confined space of the three-wheeled taxis.

“The way and manner some of the commercial tricycle operators engage in indecent dressing and carry men and women together is disturbing,” said Yusuf Yola, spokesperson for the Hisbah board that is responsible for ensuring compliance with Shariah laws in Kano.

He said such dress, with pants cut off just below the knee like Bermuda shorts, also was “un-Hausa,” referring to the biggest tribe in Nigeria’s north.

A cabbie in Lago, dressed in  a sleeveless T-shirt and cutoff pants - clothing considered 'indecent' by Nigeria's Islamist cops. (Pic: AP)
A cabbie driver dressed in sleeveless T-shirt and cutoff pants – clothing considered ‘indecent’ by Nigeria’s Islamic cops. (Pic: AP)

Usually it’s women who are the target of the Islamic police checking that they have properly covered their heads and limbs.

Yola told The Associated Press on Monday that 10 000 officers will be deployed to ensure the laws are enforced, including “a law in the state which prohibits gender mix in commercial vehicles.”

He said officers have orders to stop and search to make sure everyone obeys – including Christians.

Nine of Nigeria’s 37 states have introduced Shariah law since 2000 as some Muslims have become more fundamentalist. But the law is interpreted differently and enforced more rigidly in some states. Three other states introduced Shariah law, but only for Muslims who want to use it as an alternative to Western-style family law.

The rest of Nigeria is under secular law. Africa’s most populous nation of more than 160-million people is almost equally divided between Muslims and Christians.

In Kano on Monday, taxi driver Jamilu mai Babur, a Muslim, was rebellious: “I will not comply with this useless order because Shariah is not about violating human rights.”

Jamilu Hisba, another Muslim driver, agreed but said he would have to obey. “It’s against Islam, this forceful order, but they have power over us so I must comply because this is my means of survival.”

Ibrahim Garba for Sapa-AP 

Mandela epic sweeps Toronto film fest off its feet

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the film about the life of former president Nelson Mandela, received standing ovations and rave reviews when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday.

“The film received an unprecedented eight-minute standing ovation coupled with a rapturous applause at the festival venue, the Roy Thomson Hall, resulting in social media platforms buzzing with praise for the film,” the producers said in a statement on Monday.

Producer Anant Singh, who owns the rights to the autobiography on which the film is based, said the making of film was a long journey.

“I am delighted that I finally got it done. It has been worth the wait and also worth all of the hard work that went into it over all of those years.”

With a script written by writer and screenwriter William Nicholson – who has written Sarafina!Les Misérables and Gladiator – this adaptation of Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom is said to be an “epic sweep” in the film industry.

Singh began communicating with Mandela while he was still in prison and acquired the rights to the autobiography in 1996.

The film features Idris Elba, who plays Mandela; the UK’s Naomie Harris (SkyfallPirates of the Caribbean) as the struggle activist’s wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; and South African actors Terry Pheto (TsotsiCatch a Fire); Carl Beukes (IsidingoJozi) and Gys de Villiers (VerraaiersBinnelanders), to name a few.

The film will be released in South Africa in November and thereafter released to the rest of the world.


Baba Jukwa, ‘Zimbabwe’s own Julian Assange’

His name is whispered in buses, bars and on street corners by Zimbabweans eager for the inside scoop on President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party. One avid follower even climbs a tree in a rural village for a signal to call a friend for the latest tidbits from the mysterious yet stupendously popular character.

Baba Jukwa, or Jukwa’s father in the local Shona language, is a Zanu-PF party “mole” who says on his popular Facebook page that he is disheartened by the “corrupt and evil machinations” of Mugabe’s fractious party.

Since its launch in March, the Baba Jukwa page has at least 230 000 Likes – more  than Mugabe’s and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s.

Baba Jukwa's Facebook page.
Baba Jukwa’s Facebook page.

The page reveals what it claims are exposés by well-connected insiders of Mugabe’s health secrets, murder, assassination and corruption plots, and intended intimidation and vote-rigging ahead of upcoming elections scheduled for the end of July.

Zimbabweans who are fans of Baba Jukwa’s page now say they have unfettered access to what they have always wanted to know but never dared ask for fear of being arrested. Under the nation’s sweeping security laws, it is an offence to undermine the authority of the president and national security operatives.

Baba Jukwa claims on the page that there is a bounty on his head, although it is believed there are several authors behind his name because the writing style of the posts changes from day to day.

Inside info
After state-run media loyal to 89-year-old Mugabe said the president made a trip to Singapore for an eye check-up, the Baba Jukwa page stated: “When we welcomed him at the airport yesterday early in the morning our old man, ladies and gentlemen, looked weaned and very weak. It was clear that the chemotherapy process he went through in Far East Asia was still having effect on him.”

The page also said Mugabe was suffering from a severe recurrence of prostate cancer.

With the catchphrase “tapanduka zvamuchose,” a Shona term meaning he has “gone rogue”, Baba Jukwa gives details of secret venues and times of undercover meetings.

Zanu-PF insiders have reported they are afraid to leave important meetings to go to the bathroom in case they are suspected of firing off smart phone texts to Baba Jukwa. The page has reported getting tip-offs from the midst of meetings of Mugabe’s politburo, its highest policy making body, and other confidential gatherings.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 12-million mobile subscribers with 60% estimated to have direct access to the internet through their cellphones, according to commercial company reports from the three main mobile networks.

McDonald Lewanika, director of Crisis Coalition, an alliance of democracy and human rights groups said the Facebook page has provided ordinary Zimbabweans with a platform to access information on secretive state security operations. Lewanika said Baba Jukwa remains anonymous because of the dangers associated with what he is doing.

“It is a bad sign for the country that there’s no free flow of information,” Lewanika told The Associated Press.

The faceless Baba Jukwa vows to end Mugabe’s rule by exposing the alleged involvement of his top officials, secret agents, police and military in the violence that led to disputed elections in 2008 and corruption and internal plotting ever since.

Baba Jukwa says Mugabe won’t be able to withstand a gruelling election campaign.

‘He fabricates lies’
Zanu-PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo said that his party does not know the identity of Baba Jukwa and other possible contributors.

The posts are factually incorrect, he said. However, some have proven to be correct as events unfold. The distribution of private and secret telephone numbers of security agents and forecasts of political developments have been corroborated in later public statements by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.

“Whoever he is, he fabricates lies and is not doing any good to the morality of our society,” Gumbo said.

Baba Jukwa claims Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is incensed by the page, is making desperate efforts to establish his identity and has put a $300 000 bounty on him or other contributors being unmasked. That claim could not be verified.

“They are wasting their time as I am extremely careful and working from within the country and will never go anywhere as long as these evil old people exist I will continue fighting. My blood will water freedom and democracy for Zimbabweans if I die for this cause,” he posted recently.

Asijiki“, a word in the local language for “we do not retreat”, is the sign-off Baba Jukwa uses at the end of all the posts.

Baba Jukwa has been dubbed “Zimbabwe’s own Julian Assange”  by his followers, but he describes himself in the local Shona language as “mupupuri wezvokwadi” (the harbinger of truth).

Leaked information
A former minister from Mugabe’s party was killed in a car wreck on June 19 after a post from Baba Jukwa had warned of an assassination plot against him several times. The page claimed Edward Chindori-Chininga was suspected of being a Baba Jukwa contributor who leaked inside information on infighting in Mugabe’s party.

“I told you there will be body bags coming this year … The war has begun,” Baba Jukwa posted on his wall.

His posts have detailed the correct private phone numbers of police, intelligence chiefs and under-cover intelligence officers and urged readers to call them.

Saviour Kasukuwere, the nation’s black empowerment minister, publicly admitted to receiving least 50 insulting calls a day. Some even went to his children and aging mother.

He said the calls were taking a toll on his family but added: “It’s a price we have to pay for our country”.

Baba Jukwa has promised to revealed his identity in time.

“I assure you will know me in a new Zimbabwe where our government will be transparent,” he said. – Sapa-AP