‘At a time of elevated political tension and hard biting economic malaise, thousands of people went to hospitals with burns, diarrhea and breathing difficulties’.
Abidjan, Ivory Coast, August 2006
A damning scientific report into the dumping of toxic waste in the country by Trafigura, a Dutch firm with offices in London, Amsterdam and Geneva, has been released to the public.
The most shocking result of the release of this report is not so much the presentation in twisted semantics of what the victims had already witnessed first hand, it is the cavalier way in which this malicious action by Trafigura is treated by the authorities in Europe, environmental protection authorities and groups such as the famous Greenpeace.
The questions here are “are they all silent because it is a European firm involved or is it business as usual for everyone when it comes to rubbing noses at Africa?
Or, is the paltry sum used to buy off the victims a clear sign that money can buy off a criminal prosecution and possible sanction in ‘international’ law”?
Though dumping of toxic waste is now a global issue on the scale of drug, arm and human trafficking, it is has not attracted the same amount of energy to fight it by the powers that be.
This is because the flow of this toxic waste only stands to benefit the industrialized world.
What garbage that cannot pass off as legitimate used items being exported for sale or as donations to the developing world, end up in dumpsites. The dangerous industrial waste is sealed in leak proof containers as its disposal is being ‘arranged’.
In Italy, recently, a mafia turncoat revealed the whereabouts of a consignment of highly toxic waste that they had been paid to dispose of- just off the Italian coast!
Africa, especially countries with coastal areas, has to be extremely vigilant to this threat considering that failed or failing states on the continent are particularly vulnerable and this has far reaching consequences on neighboring countries.
A continental agency leading the fight and prosecuting culprits is long overdue.
Its mandate should include harmonizing the functions of the various national bodies charged with checking standards of imports to avoid sophisticated dumping practices in the name of trade or aid.
In Rwanda, though necessary steps have been taken by the Rwanda Bureau of Standards to stem the flow of poor or dangerous materials into the country, the remaining challenges include dealing with the case of used items like phones, computers, tires and other such things that are brought in by unscrupulous businesspeople who pick them up from disposal sites in Europe and Japan and pass them off as legitimate imports and regulating, in tandem with REMA, the disposal of some of these items that contain radioactive elements and lead such as batteries of all kinds, computers and industrial waste.
The author is a social commentator based in Kigali