The story of the toxic waste that has been killing people in Abidjan is appalling. What riled me even more late last night as I listened to another report about the incident, is that the company, Trifigura, tried to dump their rubbish in Nigeria. They've now released a press statement saying that the stuff wasn't toxic - as if that makes it better. This is what Western companies do. They go to developing countries where there is little or no environmental legislation, and commit crimes they'd get locked up for in their own country.
The oil companies do it in Nigeria with gas flaring, where more gas is flared than any other country in the world. In Bangladeshi, the government had to cancel plans to build a coalmine after adverse publicity from the project. Several people died during protests over a project that would have destroyed hundreds of villages. The company, Asia Energy, wouldn't let journalists travel to the area, for obvious reasons. The Daily Star newspaper of Bangladesh even says that there are lessons to learn from Nigeria's industrial and environmental experiences.
Africa is always painted as this verdant and fertile land, the place to be in tune with nature. Perhaps it was true 100 years ago, when rich explorers travelled to the Dark Continent to shoot game, but that myth is literally disappearing. Deforestation, overfarming, desertification, famine, flooding, landslides, you name it, the continent is afflicted by it. The saddest thing is that Africa gets all the environmental carnage you'd expect from the industrial revolution, but none of the benefits. No increase in technological know-how, no increase in job prospects, just plain old rubbish.
Nigeria has no waste disposal mechanism. There are piles of rubbish which engulf roads and trap communities in Lagos. I have seen enormous piles of rubbish being burnt in built-up areas like Maryland. Lagos, and Nigeria in general, can't deal with its own waste, so how on earth was it supposed to deal with excess waste from abroad? The Dutch company that considered disposing of the rubbish suddenly raised its rate to 40 times the originial price. 40 times. "This is too expensive, let's go to the bend-down boutique of waste disposal. Let's go to Africa", they thought.
And so the crap gets dumped in one of Africa's most beautiful cities (don't know if civil unrest has ravaged it). People die. Nothing changes. Some people have been arrested for the dumping, but what if the stuff hadn't been dumped in the largest city, Abidjan? If they had gone further up the coast to smaller San Pedro, nobody would have flickered an eyelid.
The defecation on Africa happens because the governments let it happen, and the companies can get away with it there. There seems almost no point to the law unless it's used. Trifigura and the like need to know what they're letting themselves in for if they go near the African coast with their crap.