A further exploration of repair culture, in Ghana, centred on the capital Accra and surrounding districts. Accra has a well-developed economy but, has also figured in the politics of waste and recycling. It was identified in a 2008 Greenpeace report, as a major ‘dumping ground’ for US and European e-waste (e.g. electronic waste from TVs, consumer electronics, PCs and mobile phones) and one area, Agbogbloshie, described as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’, was viewed like a scene from Dante’s inferno, as locals attempted to recover copper and other metals by burning off the insulation.
Today's reality is somewhat different. There is a thriving and growing repair economy in and around the landfill site, and investment in a new recycling and repair training centre. In Agbogbloshie there are businesses recycling old car and lorry parts for spares (that is the main business - breaking and recycling cars). There are workshops casting new cooking pots from recovered aluminium, and in the process saving 95% of the energy that would be used to fashion them from raw material. Many of these are sold just a hundred meters away in a street market.
At the edge of the site, and around Accra, there are numerous repair and reuse businesses, all making use of the materials brought to Agbogbloshie on a daily basis.
A small group, led by Awal, still 'burn' and recover copper from e-waste, but it only 30-50 people on a site of around 40,000. But it still pollutes and still creates a plume of black acrid smoke that drifts across Agbogbloshie.
Ghana has a thriving repair and recycling economy, many second-hand goods are exported from Europe, via the container port of Tema, and distributed across West Africa. These import represent the 'top of the market, and are expensive. As they are used and reused, they are repaired.
There are districts such as Abosseyokai, that specialise in stripping old and imported cars to create spares and recycle the materials. Other areas, notably in and around Tema, specialise in refurbishing imported second-hand white goods, especially fridges and freezers and TVs. It is explained to me, by own workshop, that some of these goods arrive damaged beyond repair simply because they were packaged so badly.
Mobile phone repairers can be found all round Accra, from purpose-built workshops serving newer, high-end models to pop-up street side stalls. At such a stall, Achilles (a young Nigerian) offers to replace the screen and repair a Samsung phone for 45 cedi (around £7.50). His tools include recognisable items such as small screwdrivers, a jimmy and a soldering iron but also include a toothbrush, a razor blade and an old speaker (with its magnet used to hold the tiny screws). He keeps cool using a repurposed fan, that once cooled the inside of a desktop PC.
The repair activities here are intimately intertwined with the local community, providing important services, and that extend the importance of repair beyond the physical. As an example, a local bicycle repair shop does brisk business as bikes remain an important form of transport for this community. Ibrahim works on a bike with broken spokes, broken pedals, and no brakes and in less than two hours it is repaired and functional.
Interestingly, a recent research project (Lepawsky, 2020) identified over 600 iFixit on-line manual users; supporting evidence for the sophistication of the local repair capabilities.
The reality of Ghana, and particularly Agbogbloshie, are not as often reported in the media. It represents a thriving community of re-users and repairers whose endeavours delay the final end-of-life and thus make a significant contribution to sustainability.