I Was Looking for Africa’s Biggest Electronics Dump but Found a Community of Creators Instead

Felipe Araujo
5 min readJan 30, 2018
Osman, 65, in his workshop, where for the past 32 years he has melted aluminum cans to make make cooking pots for local women.

It is known as Africa’s biggest e-waste dumping site, a place where the outdated, discarded electronics from the West come to die. Locals dissect their components and sell them on to third parties, mainly from China and Nigeria. Yet Agbogbloshie, a sprawling slum in the center of the Ghanaian capital Accra, is much more than that.

Home to more than 8,000 people from Ghana’s four main tribes, Agbogbloshie has for years received unwanted international attention for the way some of its residents choose to make a living. Copper is worth good money in this part of the world, and it can be found hidden in the wires and motherboards of old PCs, laptops, and mobile phones shipped to Ghana from the United States and EuropTo extract the precious metals, young men from all parts of the country — mainly from the predominantly Muslim north — burn a huge amount of plastic, generating toxic fumes that have a devastating impact on their health and the area’s population.

That’s the backstory, or at least the story that first brought Agbogbloshie to the attention of the world’s news editors.

After all his monthly expenses are paid (rent, gas, electricity), Abdul Rhaman, 18, gets to keep 300 Ghanaian cidis scavenging for copper among the discarded gadgets dumped in Agbogbloshie.

What is less documented, however, are the secondhand computer shops and internet cafés scattered across Accra that rely on the used and recycled computers hailing from Agbogbloshie. Offices, schools, and homes all over Ghana also use, in some way or another, electronics that have passed through Agbogbloshie. Without Agbogbloshie and its activities, a vast number of Ghanaians would be unable to access the internet.

A local drives past a pile of electronic waste, an ubiquitous sight along the roads of Agbogbloshie.

The area doesn’t make for pretty pictures. It is polluted, and the conditions are dirty and unsafe. But what I also witnessed was a community marginalized and criminalized by their government. Left with no choice, they managed to create a whole economy founded upon recycling all kinds of waste. The neighborhood is composed of blacksmiths, carpenters, mechanics, artisans, and…