Made in Agbogbloshie

Agbogbloshie is a challenging site. As a space, Agbogbloshie is sensory overload: soil and water darkened from pollution exude noxious vapours under the heat of the sun; toxic fumes emanate from burning sites; the clamour of slamming hammers and banging chisels fills the air… But that is only part of the Agbogbloshie story.

A closer look at the ecosystem of the giant self-organized open-air factory shows that Agbogbloshie is about more than destruction alone. A parallel set of activities support the livelihood of onsite workers: food and entertainment spaces — Agbogbloshie has both a cinema and foosball tables! Numerous mosques dot the landscape (we found a total of 14 mosques in the area surveyed) serving five times a day the faithful that are working nearby. Since believers must take ablution before praying, water circulates in plastic tea pots from water tanks, the few municipal water supplies and public toilets/showers that are sprinkled around the site. Workers also engage in making: making tools (such as chisels) to disassemble e-waste or other items into scrap that has a resalable value, making machines (such as a furnace blowing system using a bicycle wheel) to make these tools, and making items (aluminum pots and coal pots using metals harvested from refrigerators) to sell outside the boundaries of the site.

Agbo-maker-chisel
Furnace blower at a blacksmith workshop making chisels for e-waste disassembly

We love the hand-crafted bicycle tyre-powered blowers used to ventilate locally-fabricated furnaces for cottage industry smelters (seen in various places). They are a powerful example of the on-going knowledge transfer within Agbogbloshie and testament to the intertwined nature of making and technology development. Exactly what AMP seeks to further leverage in Agbogbloshie.

Here is the link to our Flickr album Made in Agbogbloshie. While (e-)waste processing is crude and hasty to maximize profit (informal e-waste workers earn a higher than average income compared to informal workers overall), we certainly see all the parts necessary to make the machine, the self-organized open-air factory, run smoothly. Making is just part of it.

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