by Project Censored

Africa, already suffering from poverty, drought, famine, locusts, “contra” wars, and the AIDS epidemic, now appears destined to become the world’s toxic waste dump. Interna­tional sludge dealers have tried to dump U.S. and European waste onto at least 15 African countries, a trend exposed over the last couple of years by European environmentalists but not widely publicized in the U.S.

The need to find a dumping ground is increasingly imperative. Although the U.S. produces an estimated 87 percent of the world’s toxic waste, West Germany exports the most. Switzerland lacks recycling or storage facilities. France, a big waste recycler, had to stop taking in its neighbors waste in 1988 because its recycling facilities were filled to capac­ity with domestic waste.

Until 1988, Europe’s favorite solution to toxic-waste was to incinerate it in the North Sea until the sea died and 63 countries agreed to stop waste incineration in the North Sea as of 1994.

Africa, unfortunately, became a prime target. Geographically, most sub-Saharan countries have vast, sparsely populated territories that are not really controlled by any authority. There is no serious control of Africa’s coastal waters. Populations are still largely illiterate and susceptible to persuasion. African countries lack the experts and facilities to determine the contents of shipments. Finally, the targeted countries are poor, in debt, and in need of the funds Western countries are willing to pay to dump their waste.

Efforts to find dump sites range from crude to sophisticated. A simple approach was taken by Italian dumpster Gianfranco Raffaelli, who found someone in the Nigerian port of Koko happy to rent out his backyard for $100 a month. The yard quickly filled up with 8,000 barrels containing some 4,000 tons of deadly substances, including PCBs, collected from various Italian, Dutch, American, Norwegian, and British companies. When it was discov­ered, Nigeria made dumping toxic waste punishable by life imprisonment.

A more sophisticated approach was promoted by Arnold Andreas Kunzler who was once Idi Amin Dada’s treasurer. Kunzler worked out tentative deals with Angola to build vast chemical-waste incineration plants for the Swiss chemical giant Ciba-Geigy. The con­tracts would bring Angola $2 billion that could be used to build schools and hospitals and to revive the economy. The deal apparently fell through when the two parties could not agree on the terms.

An obscure Gibraltar firm called SESCO got the government of Benin to sign a contract to take up to five million tons of toxic waste per year at an all-time low price of $2.50 per ton. Benin has a foreign debt of some $700 million and no other way to pay it.

The scandalous efforts to dump on Africa led to the 1989 Basel Convention which recognized the “right of every country to refuse to accept toxic waste.” The Organization for African Unity, concerned with having individual countries decide the issue, persuaded the African countries not to sign. But while the African reaction seemed to be a firm “no” to toxic-waste dumping, observers wonder whether it is not merely part of a bargaining process meant to raise the price of becoming the world’s garbage can.


SOURCE: IN THESE TIMES, 2040 N. Milwaukee Avenue Chicago, IL 60647

DATE: 11/8/89



COMMENTS : Investigative author Diana Johnston recently took a position as press repre­sentative for the European Greens in the European Parliament in Brussels and was not available to respond to the “censored” questionnaire. However, Sheryl Larson, managing editor of In These Times (ITT), said there were no media reactions to the ITT story. This sur­prised Johnson since she said ITT considered it one of the more important issues they’ve published. A review of newspaper and periodical indices for the first half of 1990 produced no references to articles about toxic wastes and Africa.