Fancy putting your Africa knowledge to the test over some well deserved procrastination? Well now is your chance with the monthly CAS crossword!

Print out the puzzle from the link below and the first person to hand in a correct completed copy to Steve in CMB 4.13 will win a free hot drink at Ground!

Good luck!

Monthly CAS Crossword (October)

Our very own Wolfgang Zeller writes about his recent fieldwork in Namibia and Zambia. Wolfgang is a Senior Research Fellow on the African Governance and Space (AFRIGOS) project. Starting in January 2016, AFRIGOS will examine transport corridors, border towns and port cities in four regions of Africa. The project is funded by the European Research Council’s Advanced Grant scheme. Prof. Paul Nugent is the Principal Investigator of AFRIGOS.

Katima Gateway

Would you greet the visitors on your doorstep with the words: “Welcome! My home is a gateway to my neighbours”?

It seems the town council of Katima Mulilo in Namibia’s Zambezi Region has officially and explicitly internalized the colonial logic that, in 1890 as part of the Anglo- German Heligoland- Zanzibar agreement, originally established the German “access corridor” to the Zambezi and, by logical extension, to the interior of southern Africa. The town council has a very concrete reason to endorse that view.

Bridge ribbon cut

Opened in May 2004 and built with a bilateral German-Zambian development grant, the Katima Mulilo bridge across the Zambezi was the last missing link connecting the Namibian port of Walvis Bay with the mining areas of Zambia’s Copperbelt and the Katanga province of DRC via an uninterrupted 2600km asphalt road.


This road is one of four long-distance trans-boundary transport corridors converging on Walvis Bay. Developing the port into a major transport hub plugging the southern African region into the world of global commerce has for over a decade been a high official priority for the Namibian government and a wide variety of public and private interested parties organized, since 2001, in the Walvis Bay Corridor Group. Their agenda is well integrated with even larger-scale pronouncements by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), donors and investors around the globe. Investment in transport infrastructure is currently big business and high politics across Africa. The present construction of an entirely new container terminal in the Walvis Bay harbour is but one small piece in the puzzle.

Walvis Bay enlargement June 2015

Big words and big numbers of ongoing or projected investments are easy to come by in the media coverage and policy literature. But “uninterrupted” and “trans-boundary” are relative terms.


When you are behind the wheel of a truck arriving in Katima Mulilo, potholes, 2 and 4-legged pedestrians, and red tape are what you need to deal with. The gateway has many locks and they do not all open easily.

Despite its appearance of permanence and continuity, infrastructure is never separate from the physical environment. Instead it must be understood as alive and part of the natural landscape. Prof. Andrew Barryrecently pointed this out at the annual conference of the Centre of African Studies at Edinburgh University.Elephant road sign

Elephants, people and cattle crossing or using the road for their own purposes are all aspects of this. 11 years after it was entirely rebuilt, the fast-growing potholes on the first 60km of highway between the Katima Mulilo bridge and Livingstone in Zambia illustrate another aspect: roads require ongoing maintenance. Lack of drainage and canals blocked by encroaching vegetation has left sections of the highway’s undercarriage waterlogged and consequently unstable for months during the rainy season.

While Zambian work crews are doing their best to fill in the holes with an – evidently inadequate and largely cosmetic – mix of cement and gravel, their colleagues on the Namibian side have asphalt to do the job and appear to be on top of the task to keep the weeds down.

This abnormal sized convoy of altogether 16 vehicles (4 oversize trailers & their “horses”, 1 tanker truck, 2 managers, 8 escort vehicles and 1 researcher) is hauling 4 Dutch-built electricity transformers weighing 110 tons each from Walvis Bay to the Kafue Gorge hydroelectric power plant in Zambia.

Convoy near WENELA

For the drivers the difference between the road surfaces in Namibia and Zambia is easily put in numbers: A breath-taking 50km/hour cruise down the smooth open road or a nerve-wrecking slalom at 10km/hour to avoid as many holes as possible, and a lot more hassle with the after-effect such conditions have on the 18 or more quadruple axles per trailer.

Physical infrastructure is but one aspect of the ever-changing landscape navigated by the core team of the convoy: Wynand Prinsloo (supervisor), Hentje Rupping (soon retired senior supervisor), Rudolf Rupping (driver, & Hentje’s son), Chris Dean (driver), Israel Mollo (driver), Teens Nhlapo (driver) and Cecil Ramasenya (gofer & handyman), all from South Africa. Dealing with border post bureaucracy, traffic police and the pen-pushers back in the head office of Mammoet Southern Africa (pty) ltd in Johannesburg is at least as much part of their job as their technical know-how to keep 4 X 200 tons of steel & rubber on the road and moving forward.

Paper work II

By the time I join the convoy they have been on the road non-stop for altogether 11 weeks. One week has passed while they were waiting at a lodge in Katima Mulilo for their head office to confirm that the Zambian parastatal electricity provider ZESCO has indeed transferred the final installment of 33 million Euros for the merchandise which Wynand & his team are about to take across the border into Zambia. Their predicament was my good luck: I had plenty of time to socialize with the truckers.

What does a South African with extra time on his hands do? Beach or borderland, he fires up the braai.WENELA braai

I took the above pictures as the convoy, finally with green light from the head office but now dealing with yet more border bureaucracy, was settling in to camp for a second night in the no-man’s land between the Namibian and Zambian checkpoints. In the very same place, the official speakers at the opening of the nearby Zambezi Bridge in 2004 had loudly proclaimed the prospect of a supposedly more efficient one-stop border post. It has so far remained a happy fiction.


Despite their close and friendly relations, both the Namibian and Zambian governments have, instead, in recent years invested in separate brand new shiny office buildings housing their separate immigration, customs, police and road authority desks.

The architects have done a fairly good job to provide for the needs of the administrators and regular-sized personal vehicles and trucks. My Mammoet friends are not so lucky.

Stone ramp

Their oversized trailers barely fit through the gates and around the narrow corners of the border checkpoints. But, as the saying goes, the Boers make a plan.

But no Boer plan can help against the fact that the Zambian customs service has recently centralized its operations. Whereas before border customs stations were able to handle and process their local paperwork – albeit at their own chosen speed and often against unofficial or inflated fees – all procedures must now go through the national head office in Lusaka. They are supposedly working 24/7 but that’s the theory while in practice the electronic channels that should transport the customs documents between the central and frontline offices are just like some of the roads: potholes, inadequate bends, poorly maintained etc. So what used to take 2 days now takes 5, say my trucker friends. We wait and braai. Time to look around a bit.

Currency traders

The space between the checkpoints is bustling with the activities of currency traders, fuel smugglers and truck cleaners by day, while the working girls, gangs stealing diesel from the parked trucks, and private security personnel hired to prevent the latter are working the night shifts. The corridor route is space where many people live and try to make a living, and only few of these are long-distance transporters.

With the oversized cargo providing welcome shade, the white supervisors and drivers of “my” convoy are sharing the meat, beer and stories. We discuss how to best adulterate electrical equipment to cater for the needs of life on the road. The senior members of the team soon move into stories of their time spent in the area as young soldiers serving with the South African Defense Forces back in the 1970s and 80s, and the importance of their Christian faith to provide a moral compass for the hard life on the road. As the shadows from the steel hunks surrounding us grow longer the memories of the Voortrekkers are invoked.

Kazungula breakfast

Meanwhile, the black members of the team and their local female companions are gathering in their own separate circle, preparing Zambezi bream, cabbage and maize porridge and sharing their own stories in the shade of their own trucks. All members of the closely-knit team are well used to each other after years of life on the road together, but when making camp they do maintain that certain distance.

By the following morning all the paper work has finally been resolved. Before sunrise the diesel hearts are pumping hydraulic fluids through the veins of the monsters.

WENELA lock opening

The escort vehicles (Zambian law requires two per abnormal truck) are blinking and buzzing around them like nervous insects. Then the man with the key to the highway finally appears. I ask Wynand: “Are you excited to get going again?” “No, I just want to go home to my family” comes his prompt reply.

Minutes later, the convoy very carefully crawls across the Zambezi bridge, one truck at a time.

Zambezi Mammoet crossing

But as soon as they reach the other side they come to a full stop.

ZESCO cable lift

The mechanics from ZESCO, supposed to lift some power cables that are hanging too low for the tall cargo to pass, are nowhere to be seen. 16 vehicles, 4 of them far too wide to pass, are stuck in the middle of High Street in the border town of Sesheke and absolutely nothing is moving. Wynand has been working the phone for days to avoid precisely this scenario. But it’s too early in the morning to get angry. With a dry grin he comments “If we don’t move nothing here moves. That’s not my problem”. Except it will be his problem later on.

The ZESCO team eventually arrives at a leisurely speed to lift the cables. We start rolling again at 50km/h. Then the potholes start. The convoy ends up spending the night by the roadside half way to Livingstone, only half the distance Wynand an his team had hoped to accomplish that day.Potholes

Abnormal sized trucks are only allowed on the road during daylight hours. A Cape-to-Cairo cyclist adventurer has overtaken the convoy several times during the day and ends up pitching his tent in the safe proximity of the Mammoet convoy.

How long the rest of the journey may still take is uncertain. Once the convoy reaches Kafue, they must wait for the hydraulic lifts needed to unload the cargo to arrive. Those are currently stuck at Beitbridge on the South Africa-Zimbabwe border. And among the truckers of Southern Africa that border is famous for being very, very slow. At least the fishing is good in Kafue. And then they will braai.


The Walvis Bay Corridor Group is promoting the Walvis Bay Ndola Lubumbashi Corridor as an integrated transport route to unlock the economic potential of southern Africa. They market the promise of unrestrained movement of goods. What I have learned during those days on the road and crossing the Namibia-Zambia border with the Mammoet convoy is just how wide a variety of reasons there is for stoppage.

“Red tape” is just a word that masks a huge variety of administrative steps involving both state representatives in frontline and distant central offices, and corporate actors on the road as well as back in the headquarters of the transport operators and their customers. “Poor infrastructure” is just a word which masks a huge variety of hands-on problems, from deteriorating road surfaces and tight corners to low power cables. All of these constantly evolve, sometimes for the better and sometimes the opposite. There are patterns and seasonality but no matter how well prepared and seasoned Wyand and his drivers are, they constantly need to try and anticipate the unepected. In most cases “the unexpected”, when it finally occurs, means the wheels stop turning. Living on the corridor road appears to be very much about living with the absence of movement. The braai and the fishing rod, the smart phone and, for some, the bible are essential tools to keep going.

Living on the road, my friend

Was going to keep you free and clean

Now you wear your skin like iron

And your breath’s as hard as kerosene

From Pancho & Lefty by Townes van Zandt

Truck wreck

The ten University of Edinburgh students taking part in the Swahili Summer School have now been in Tanzania for a little over a week. This is an intense period of studies organised by Tom Molony and Steve Kaye, CAS lecturers. The students arrived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, on 25th July. The next day they flew to Mwanza, Tanzania’s second city on the shores of Lake Victoria. After Sunday lunch they continued to Butiama, the final destination and their home for the next four weeks. In Butiama they were greeted by their host Madaraka Nyerere, a son of ‘Mwalimu’ (teacher) Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania. Butiama sits at an altitude of around 1,400 metres above sea level (higher than Ben Nevis!), and is populated by the Zanaki ethnic group.

The daily routine in Butiama starts with breakfast at 0800, followed by the first lesson of the day at 0900. After a short tea break at 1100, the students are split into groups for tutorials and conversation practice with Gaudensia, Grace and Saidi, experienced Tanzanian Swahili language instructors from different parts of the country.


Photo 1

photo 5


So far the students have mastered: greetings in Swahili (there are many!); numbers and time; and food and market vocabulary. They are also now competent with the past, present and future tenses in both the affirmative and negative forms. Their first examination took place on Friday morning. The teachers were positively surprised by the fast progress of all the students. This is a reflection on both the quality of those who were selected for this Summer School course, and also the remarkable effort that each has put in to learning Swahili language.

After lunch on weekdays the students have the opportunity to rest and/or do their homework. In the late afternoon various cultural events have been arranged. The first activity this week was a visit to the shops in Butiama, where some of the students took the opportunity to play draughts with a local champion. Others put their basic Swahili to the test by buying mobile phone credit. Later on some evenings the students have taken part in dancing, drumming and singing lessons, given by John, a teacher from the neighbouring Sukuma ethnic group. The students will have eight dancing, drumming and singing lessons in total, with the aim of them performing a show before they leave Butiama.


Another visit to the village was to meet students and teachers at Butiama A Primary School. The schoolchildren sang ‘Tanzania, Nakupenda kwa Moyo Wote’ (‘Tanzania, I love you with all my heart’), to which the unprepared University of Edinburgh students replied with an under-whelming rendition of ‘Flower of Scotland’. This was later redeemed by a rousing performance of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.

photo 3


On Wednesdays the students and teachers visit the local market. This week students were split into groups of two and were tasked with buying different fruit and vegetables for the group meals. The coming week’s purchases will include buying basins for hand washing clothes. Zawadi, our local guide, gave a clothes washing demonstration today. Students also dyed pots that they have been making this week with the assistance of two potters from the nearby village of Busegwe. The potters – a grandmother and her step-daughter – have learnt the craft from their ancestors, and usually sell their wares at the weekly market in Butiama and in Busegwe. The students’ pots will be fired on Tuesday.

photo 4



This weekend’s excursion was to a settlement called Bujora, near Mwanza. The students visited the Sukuma museum and watched, and in some cases participated in, local dances. One dance involved a large python. In addition to learning aspects of local culture, in the late afternoons students also play sports – rounders is a favourite – and in the evenings they watch films. Amongst those movies they watched a Swahili language dubbed version of ‘Kirikou and the Sorceress’, an animated film based on a West African legend. Mariah has now assumed the name ‘Kirikou’. The other students have been given the following local names, which they use with varying degrees of enthusiasm: ‘Amina’ (Molly), ‘Baraka’ (Ryan), ‘Furaha’ (Lauren), ‘Jasiri’ (Saskia), ‘Malaika’ (Josie), ‘Neema’ (Jenny), ‘Pendo’ (Mairi), ‘Pipi’ (Emily) and ‘Warioba’ (Blair).


By Tom Molony (Senior Lecturer in African Studies)


photo 6

Ask a physicist how distant Edinburgh is from Glasgow and he/she will confidently produce a figure in kilometers. Ask a political geographer and you may be confronted with a disheartening reply: what is distance? The New Political Topographies conference last May, hosted by the Centre of African Studies in Edinburgh, convened not a few scholars of the what-is-distance breed. It was hardly surprising therefore that intricate questions surfaced every so often. As eager fellows of the what-is-distance brotherhood, Jana Hönke and I also contributed our little grain of sand to the mess conference. Thus our paper asked: which analytical road to go down to apprehend how African ports are governed? Topographies or topologies?

Queried about how ports are governed, many political geographers would cheer up with relief and provide a confident answer: ports are operated as territorial spaces and, as such, enforcing the rule over goods and people within their premises involves a twofold mechanism: exclusive jurisdiction by a handful of public agencies, and securitization of access. Only under that premise can cargo be inspected, appraised and taxed – the ultimate goal of state authority in African ports, as well as in ports anywhere. For many a political geographer, hence, scrutinizing the ways in which power is exerted locally – that is, a topographical approach – is the obvious analytical choice. Political topography tends to imagine ports as enclaves – like, say, mines – in order to disclose how intensively and extensively port authorities wield power.

Inspecting second-hand cars in the port of Dar es Salaam. Source: TICTS.

Inspecting second-hand cars in the port of Dar es Salaam. Source: TICTS.

The archetypical ‘what-is-distance political geographer’, though, might feel unimpressed by the hasty reply of his/her colleague. He/she would probably point instead to the fact that African port authorities have seen their arms twisted by, when not enthusiastically embraced themselves, a transnational utopia of unhindered logistical flows. Over the last decade the volumes of minerals and raw agricultural produce shipped eastwards from Durban, Dar es Salaam or Mombasa have multiplied. At the same time, mammoth vessels have become a common sight in African harbors. They carry cheap plastic homeware from China for the Mama Biasharas of East Africa as well as fancy smartphones for the rising upper class. Ports around the continent, since long the interface of extensively internationalized economies, have felt compelled to accommodate to a new paradigm of logistical expansion. According to a globalized logistics mantra, African customs and port authorities must now conceive of performance as a blend of revenue targets and expeditious cargo clearing. Accordingly, speed, dwell times and mobility have become the words of the day in the administrative jargon. Likewise, that jargon has also been colonized by fresh representations; bureaucratic imaginaries of ports as checkpoints have given way to representations of the latter as maritime gateways. Consequently, territorial strategies of taxation and securitization have muted in parallel. They have done so as a response to ideals – still to be accomplished – of seamless connections between ports, their hinterlands and nodes of consumption that remain distant in space yet not in time anymore. Unsurprisingly, for transport geographers, mobility as well as topological accounts of authority unrelated to physical closeness, have gained prominence vis-à-vis topographical perspectives centered upon authority over enclosed spaces. What-is-distance political geographers have felt vindicated.

Undeniably what-is-distance political geographers have much to say about how ports are governed. However, we also esteem conventional notions that claim, for instance, that taxation in ports remains to a large extent a territorial affair. Why not exploring then a métissage of geographical sensibilities? Our paper tries to do so, thereby advocating for a ‘topolographist’ approach cutting across topographies and topologies. The paper explores the fertile intersection of two processes: the production of territoriality and the topologies of proximity/distance in and around ports. Such an intersection lies at the core of a relentless respacing of Africa in which ports as well as cognate large-scale infrastructures play a chief role.

Future posts in this blog will explore how infrastructures are reshaping the political geographies of the African continent. In particular, we will share specific insights obtained from a ‘topolographist’ exploratory analysis of the port of Dar es Salaam, its vicinities and the broader East African region. In so doing we expect to contribute to the chorus of narratives accounting for how global and local economic forces are attempting to redraw African geographies according to their own convenience.

By Ivan Cuesta-Fernandez

Originally posted here

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues, people hugely underestimate the impact of the improbable. I find myself very comfortable pretending my personal interests are “objectively relevant”, that my chosen topic is intrinsically “interesting”. But I have to acknowledge that my discovery of Chad and its capital N’Djamena as a subject of study is accidental. I owe it to seasoned Chad specialists, such as Karine Bennafla and Géraud Magrin. They tickled my curiosity towards this fascinating country.

Thanks to a Global Development Academy (GDA) scholarship, I was lucky enough to conduct fieldwork in N’Djamena over the month of June 2015. A friend of mine, Mathilde, working for the CILONG, a centre of liaison connecting together NGOs, kindly hosted me and helped me gear myself up for my research. I was rapidly embedded in a crew of Chadian and French residents who made my stay amazingly human.

So many variables factor in the final topic one decides to research. I came to Chad with the idea of investigating the Chad-Cameroon oil development project, and more specifically the part of civil society in monitoring extractive activities since 2003. Well… a strikingly ambitious task for an overly-researched topic, I soon realised! Especially since the pioneering contributions brought by Chadian scholars such as Gilbert Maoundonodji or Remadji Hoinathy. Inch by inch, I modified my angle and paid more attention to the work of the oil watchdogs in observing the increased militarisation of the state, relying on substantial contributions made by Roland Marchal, Andrea Behrends, Marielle Debos and others.

Chad (Mazaaz)

I was especially impressed by the diversity of N’Djamena’s settlement; the particular location of Chad at the crossroad of Africa explains the motley crowds one observes in the streets. N’Djamena is not only an internationalised city due to the presence of NGOs, multinationals or U.N agencies on the ground. It is also because of various waves of migrations gathering nationals from all Africa’s corners. Having lunch with a Guinean medic narrating his staggering experience of humanitarian work in Central African Republic, jabbering about politics with the Sudanese manager of a café in classical Arabic, which this man masterfully commanded, or discoursing on Chadian military history with a Cameroon-born officer who went through the murky troubles of rebellions: here are a few of the situations one could be brought into, by keeping one’s ears and mind open. The variety of religious faiths, and manners of living them, also strikes the foreigner used to more monolithic expressions of beliefs.

I was warmly welcomed by 17 interviewees who openly shared their views with me on a wide range of topics relating to my research. I rarely felt I should avoid any sensitive aspect, and their replies would often go beyond my questions, sometimes turning interviews into lively debates on the future of Chad. I agreeably found a great deal of my Chadian interlocutors passionate about politics and history.

Obviously, Chad has its stains of dark, especially now. Boko Haram carried out its first deadly attacks in the capital city when I was there and the security context is deteriorating. I could witness increased restrictions being imposed by the military and the police; foreign nationals limited their movement to “imperative professional duties” and various NGOs went a step further, barring their employees from leaving their residence.

Foreigners take security issues seriously indeed. Prior to the attacks, the French embassy and other foreign and international institutions based in N’Djamena issued very strict recommendations with regard to behaviour. So the events brought everyone to the brink of paranoia, which is perfectly understandable.  Foreign officials advised against all public outdoor spaces such as markets (where several attacks then took place). Once, when my driver announced to me that we would make a detour since “Passing by the presidency is not a good idea” given the recent events, I understood some aspects of the fear instilled in peoples’ minds in a country historically marked by violence.

 Yet, as long as one follows the rules prescribed by common sense and N’Djamena’s residents, things are likely to be fine. Well, there is not much individuals can do anyway. “Be cautious” is not a really meaningful word of advice, my friend Mathilde remarked. One of the sentences I would hear on a frequent basis was: “We’re not gonna stop living because of this”. Indeed, what else can one do, than simply continue his or her life in spite of tragic events?

My main regret is tied to the brevity of my journey. I indeed cannot pretend I “know” Chad after three weeks in the capital, even if I did spend a reasonable time moving from one place to another. N’Djamena is special, and not representative of the country as a whole. Obviously, I wish I could have stayed a few more weeks and explored Abéché, Sahr or even Faya-Largeau in the North. I also wish I could have gone to the producing region of Doba in order to observe oil extraction and channelling. It would help me see the uneven geographical and cultural balances of Chad as a complementarity rather than a fault line, as it is usually portrayed. Indeed, Chad is depicted as a country profoundly divided between North and South. This narrative is historically constructed and, as such, questionable. There is no “naturalness” of the North/South divisions. The proof is that it is a quite recent one.

To wrap it up, Chad leaves me with the bittersweet and contradictory taste of a place filled with individually fantastic people embroiled in a turbulent context, which oversteps all of us. If Chad’s future is riddled with uncertainties, I am convinced that more researchers should pay attention to it, since it may be geopolitically decisive for the larger Africa.

Ismaël Maazaz

(MSc African Studies and International Development)

Off-grid solar power is flourishing in sub-Saharan Africa – affordable products are providing electricity to millions previously without access.  But this clean tech is also adding to existing rubbish dumps in the region.

E-waste – e-speak for used electrical or electronic goods – was born on 22nd March 1989 in Basel, Switzerland.  The Basel Convention, which opened on that day, is a United Nations treaty that restricts the trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste through export bans.  Its regulatory, government-level approach has set the tone for e-waste management ever since.  Although successful in some contexts (e.g. Switzerland), this tone is less relevant to those far from neoliberal centres of power, in countries where the face of governance itself is somewhat different and electronics are sold, used, and re-used in completely different ways.  Similarly irrelevant to the African setting is research dominated by economists and environmental scientists who focus on solving the e-waste problem in the ‘West’.  Their saving narrative obscures the non-Western setting and income-generating opportunities that handling e-waste can provide elsewhere in the world.

Despite playing a central role in global e-waste flows, as a recipient of illegal imports and increasingly as a producer of its own, Africa is under-represented in the research.  The unfortunate irony is that it is in the less influential, less regulated – less ‘developed’ – countries of Africa that one finds those closest to e-waste, those whose livelihoods depend on it and who are least equipped to process toxic batteries and circuit boards safely.


E-waste begins its physical life in China where the majority of electronics are produced, before the majority of those goods are sold and used in the Global North.  When broken or replaced by the latest model, what now constitutes e-waste finds its way, in spite of the Basel Convention, to countries of cheap labour such as Ghana or Kenya.  Here the waste is processed and useful components are returned to China to be input into new processes, leaving the rest in African rubbish dumps. However, the growing solar industry in sub-Saharan Africa is bucking this trend: moving directly from manufacture in China to first hand sale in Africa, the flow of solar products bypasses Europe and North America.

This unique geography undermines the effectiveness of the Basel Convention, and similar international agreements.  Their import and export rules are less effective when the waste they are trying to contain is already contained – i.e. when it has been domestically produced.  This direct Sino-African link is bolstered, and the volumes of e-waste increased, by the growing consumption of mobiles, TVs and computers in the region.

Figure 1 - The side of a collection truck at an e-waste processing centre in Nairobi, Kenya [2014].

Figure 1 – The side of a collection truck at an e-waste processing centre in Nairobi, Kenya [2014].


The Basel Convention and its imitators at regional and national levels target governments and manufacturers.  Consumers and those earning their living from e-waste are absent from the agreements themselves and their framing.  Whilst this is not surprising, the global nature of these waste flows necessitates universal involvement in its management.  Efforts to adhere to the legislative agenda are split between economic incentives and changes in product design.  Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) requires manufacturers to take back used products and organise proper disposal.  In Japan disposal fees put the ‘burden’ on the consumer, requiring them to pay upon disposal to fund producer take-back schemes.  Elsewhere, environmental scientists have pushed the idea of Design for Environment (DfE) sometimes known as Design for Disassembly (DfD) – reflecting the primary challenge of e-waste processing: the separation of its component parts.  But again, the disassemblers themselves are not present in design discussions.

The absence of reliable energy infrastructure is fuelling the growth of Africa’s off-grid solar industry.  The state is similarly absent in the management of waste.  This sparse state infrastructure, coupled with the prevalence of informal labour, makes sub-Saharan Africa, like much of the Global South, a unique regulatory environment – one where EPR and disposal fees might need to be rethought.

Fix it

There is insufficient research on e-waste in Africa – where much of it ends up.  Responses are not consulting the recyclers there who deal with it nor are they considerate of distinct political contexts.  Animations such as Annie Leonard’s Story of Electronics, CBS news features or damning reports from Greenpeace are effective ways to raise the profile of the e-waste problem.  However, responding to their dramatic narratives with commercially-driven, legally-framed, and environmentally-motivated measures is not the solution.

The case of solar products highlights the problems within current e-waste management.  The unique geography of Africa’s growing solar industry, the legacy of imported e-waste and the increasing internal generation of waste electronics needs a more effective and relevant response than producer-focused regulation.  E-waste may yet prove a positive opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa but only if the research on it and responses to it allow.

[Originally posted on Declan Murray’s blog]

Follow Declan on Twitter: @declanrmurray

Originally posted on Pete Chonka:

DSC_1282As a British, white and male PhD candidate doing research in Somalia in the field of ‘African studies’ the recent furore surrounding the #CadaanStudies has left me feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

This is no bad thing.

The debate which has been generated around the ‘whiteness’ of scholarship on the region (and, while we’re at it, the continent at large), its colonial baggage and lack of reflexivity is extremely relevant. The way it has coalesced around and been magnified by the power of the ubiquitous hashtag says a lot about the discursive zeitgeist of the twitter-sphere, and is  both remarkable and progressive. These are serious issues and it has been fascinating to see this outpouring of critique towards the structures of academia and the wider global inequalities which they reflect or, it could be argued, reinforce through the knowledge/power dynamics of academic institutions and policy-making.

From this debate has emerged a particular…

View original 1,145 more words


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