“In January 2008, I went to Accra in Ghana to cover the African Cup of Nations. While I was there, I met a taxi driver who wanted to show me something going on in the city other than football. So he took me to Agbogbloshie fruit and vegetable market, then led me to its fringes, where there is a ‘cemetery’ of abandoned computers that stretches for 10km. People aged anything from 10 to 25 work there every day, burning electronic equipment that has been shipped in from America and Europe and dumped. Setting them on fire is the easiest way to get the plastic sheathing off all the copper wiring they contain, which they can then sell on.”
“My first thought was that it looked as if there had been an earthquake. I was overcome by the acrid smell, and I couldn’t see the horizon for thick black smoke. Computers are very dangerous to burn, mostly because of all the mercury and lead in them. The kids working there told me they suffered from headaches every evening, while others had more serious respiratory or digestive problems.”
“On one of my visits, I met this man – Yaw – but I didn’t take this shot until I returned in October the same year. Noticing that his little brother – who normally worked alongside him – wasn’t there, I asked where he was. Yaw said he had gone home one day after work and died in his sleep. He hadn’t been able to find out why because he might lose his job if he asked too many questions.”
“The burning had been going on for five years, but I was the first to bring it to light – and it has since had a lot of attention. I don’t know how long it will take, but I want the world to find another way for this work to be done without people getting sick.”
“Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo will be on display at Manchester Art Gallery until 16 September as part of We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today”
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