Black Gold


Title Black Gold
Director(s) Marc & Nick Francis
Date released (year) 2006
Production company Speak-It   Films and Fulcrum Productions.
Length 78 minutes
Location Ethiopia
Keywords/tags Food, trade, neoliberalism, poverty
Link to film  

Synopsis From Tesfaye, B. &   Potter, J. (2011) Black gold: wake up and smell the coffee.   ( last accessed 6/4/13):

‘As westerners revel in   designer lattes and cappuccinos, impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers suffer   the bitter taste of injustice. In this eye-opening expose of the   multi-billion dollar industry, Black Gold traces one man’s fight for a fair   price (Source: Anon nda link).

The film follows Tadesse   Meskela, an Ethiopian man on a mission to save his 74,000 struggling coffee   farmers from bankruptcy. As his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest   quality coffee beans on the international market, Tadesse travels the world   in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price. Against the   backdrop of Tadesse’s journey to London and Seattle, the enormous power of   the multinational players that dominate the world’s coffee trade becomes   apparent. New York commodity traders, the international coffee exchanges, and   the double dealings of trade ministers at the World Trade Organisation reveal   the many challenges Tadesse faces in his quest for a long term solution for   his farmers (Source: Anon 2010).

Scenes in the film switch   between the disadvantaged coffee farming communities to the daily lives of   those at the luxury to consume it, which often exemplifies the absurdity   found in those gushing about the great wealth of a market built off the backs   of farmers who continue to live in poverty (Source: Reed 2008).

The spokesman, Tadesse   Meskela, who is the subject of Black Gold, together with the film’s English   makers, brothers Nick and Marc Francis, are a serious irritant to some of the   world’s coffee giants – in particular Seattle-based Starbucks, whose annual   turnover of $7.8bn (£4bn) is not much lower than Ethiopia’s entire gross   domestic product… ‘Our people are barefoot, have no school, no clean water or   health centre. They are living hand to mouth. We need $4 a pound minimum,   that’s only fair…Starbucks may help bring clear water for one community but   this does not solve the problem. In 2005, Starbucks’ aid to the third world   was $1.5m. We don’t want this kind of support, we just want a better price.   They make huge profits; giving us just one payment of money does not help,’   said Mr. Meskela (Source: Seager 2007 link).

By way of the farmers in the   cooperative and Tadesse’s efforts on their behalf, the film exposes the web   of trade regulations that keep farmers in developing countries poor, even   while transnational corporations in the global north prosper. Women   painstakingly sort millions of beans; and viewers observe the hunger and   substandard housing that accompany poverty. Juxtaposed with these images are   the cosmopolitan cafés of Europe and America, the comfort of conspicuous   consumption, the places of commerce where deprivation in one part of the   globe is turned into the wealth of another (Source: Fellner 2008 link).’


Reviews/discussion From Tesfaye, B. &   Potter, J. (2011) Black gold: wake up and smell the coffee.   ( last accessed 6/4/13):

‘When Marc and Nick Francis   were making Black Gold, they never expected the story – about the plight of   African coffee farmers paid a fraction of the amount a latte or cappuccino   costs – to attract the very multinationals the film criticises. ‘They want to   hear what the audience thinks,’ Nick Francis says. ‘We had this screening in   Seattle, and the head of corporate responsibility of Starbucks came to the   screening and participated in a panel and answered questions from the   audience. That’s what you call the power of film – how a film could draw in   people.’ … The film has prompted rounds of crisis management sessions at   coffee-shop chains such as Starbucks, which issued a statement calling the   film inaccurate and incomplete. Since the film’s release, the chain has also   actively promoted a new range of ‘Fair Trade’ coffee in its outlets around   the world, including those in Hong Kong. The filmmakers are surprised by the   chain’s response to their film. ‘It’s not a film about Starbucks, it’s a film   about coffee farmers struggling to survive in the coffee industry, and their   story is set against the backdrop of the coffee-consuming world of the west,   of which Starbucks is a part,’ Marc Francis says. ‘We didn’t tell it so much   about them but they’ve taken it very personally. Also, we did spend six   months trying to interview not just Starbucks but other big multinational   coffee companies to bring their side of the stories to the film. But they’ve   given us no response. Now that the film is out there and is beginning to pick   up public momentum, the companies are responding more and more to the film –   or trying to show [through] public relations where they position themselves’   (Source: Tsui 2007a).

’Black Gold’ portrays the   coffee industry as a whole, rather than Starbucks specifically. From our   point of view, this film is inaccurate and incomplete, as it does not explain   how Starbucks purchases coffee, nor does it provide any reference to   potential solutions to the world coffee crisis… Starbucks takes an integrated   approach to coffee purchasing. Our goal is to pay premium prices that provide   the coffee farmer with a profit. In our financial year 2006, we paid an   average price of $1.42 per pound for our coffee, 40% above the commodity   price and comparable with the guaranteed Fairtrade price of $1.26. Our   approach… [has] been recognised for…leadership within the industry (Source:   Starbucks 2007).

We are surprised that   Starbucks have gone out to discredit the film again. This is not a film   specifically about Starbucks, it’s a film about the winners and losers in the   global coffee industry and it shows the daily reality for millions of coffee   farmers. We spent six months during the production trying to persuade   Starbucks to participate in the film to give them the opportunity to explain   how they buy their coffee and how they work in Ethiopia, but they declined   our invitation. In a subsequent meeting with five senior Starbucks executives   at their Seattle headquarters, we asked them to tell us the exact price they   pay farmers for a pound of coffee – but they refused to disclose this   (Source: Francis & Francis 2007 link).

During the film’s most   painful sequence, his [Tadesse’s] efforts and Ethiopia’s persistent, crushing   famine are juxtaposed with the vapidly cheerful corp-speak of two Starbucks   baristas (Source: Hornaday 2006).

Yes, the baristas are   excessively perky as they purvey coffee and the Starbucks experience; yet   they are also model employees, supportive of each other, efficient, and proud   of their company. At the time of the filming, the young women were   entertaining a tour from the Specialty Coffee Association, to which the   filmmakers had attached themselves to avoid asking Starbucks or its employees   for permission to film. How could these young women know that they would be   featured as unwitting symbols of the harm that transnational coffee giants   inflict on poor Ethiopian farmers? (Source: Fellner 2008 link).

The Francis brothers are   good on showing the situation’s local effects – famine, ill-equipped schools   – but less so at analyzing the international economic context: the film is   frighteningly free of expert voices. More dynamism and knowledge in the   telling and fewer cheap shots at young Starbucks workers in Seattle wouldn’t   have gone amiss (Source: Calhoun 2007, np).

The baristas and shopkeepers   that the film ridicules through artful editing are the very people who are   the farmers’ best hope for teaching the public about the true value of these   coffees (Source: Marshall 2006 link).

While it may prompt some to   think again next time they’re in Starbucks, this astute insight into the   coffee business is better at lauding the good guys than taking the   multinationals to task for the iniquities of the global economy (Source:   Parkinson 2006 link).

Although some scenes   register with strong impact, there also seems to be a lot of padding, and the   overall narrative is ultimately too diffused and unfocused for the film to   have the sociological impact it so obviously desires (Source: Scheck 2006).

Compared to a documentary   like Darwin’s Nightmare, which found disturbing visual analogues for the   moral rot of global trade, Black Gold makes most of its points in words, not   pictures. (Source: Murray 2006 link)

The movie’s approach reminds   me that of the paternalistic and Western-centred [sic] 1970s-style theories   according to which only colonialism and international market (i.e. ‘us’ the   Western world) are to blame, and no others’ power and responsibilities are   recognised. Likewise, there is no mention in the movie of the roles that the   Ethiopian State could play in economic development and, for instance,   education (Source: Chiari 2007 link).

[I] found it confusing to   people outside the coffee field, partial, and intellectually not particularly   honest…In my opinion, the film completely overlooks factors such as   historical events (the Mengistu dictatorship which ruined plantations and the   coffee free flow), inept procedures such as the bureaucracy surrounding the   auctions system which hardly allows enough time for buyers to evaluate the   lots), and also the ever present corruption, probably less in Ethiopia than   in other parts of Africa, but then why generalize in the end with statements   about Africa’s share of world trade? (Source: cofyknsult 2006 link).’

Further Reading

Anon (nda) The DVD. (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Anon (ndb) Black Gold: wake   up and smell the coffee. (   last accessed j March 2011)

Anon (ndc) Black Gold:   sowing the seeds for change. (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Anon (2007) Ethiopia: smell   the exploitation. Africa News 25 December

Anon (2008a) Trademarking:   grown in Ethiopia. Marketing Week April 24, p.16

Anon (2008b) Ethiopia: Black   Gold premiere.   Africa News 24 March

Anon (2010) Mayor will take   to stage at screening to receive town’s award. Todmorden News (UK) 4   March

Calhoun, D. (2007) Black   Gold: movie review. Time Out New York 6 June (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Chiari, G.P. (2007) Black   Gold forums: about the movie’s paternalistic approach.   8 December (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

cofyknsult (2006) Black Gold   forums: the film completely overlooks key factors.   24 October (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Cycon, D. (2007) Javatrekker:   dispatches from the world of fair trade coffee. White River   Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing

Doane, M. (2010)   Relationship coffees. Structure and agency in the fair trade system. in Lyon,   S. and Moberg, M. (eds) Fair trade and social justice: global ethnographies. New   York: New York University Press

Fellner, K. (2008) Starbucks   vs Ethiopia.   Foreign Policy in Focus 15 September (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (nda) Black Gold: filmmaker Q&A. PBS Independent Lens (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (ndb) Directors’ statement. (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (2006) Black Gold – Fair Trade, Sundance, and Starbucks’ ‘Charm Offensive’   in Park City.   Huffington Post 2 February (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (2007) Starbucks issue press statement about Black Gold: filmmakers   respond.   16 January (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Hornaday, A. (2006) A spike   in supply chain muckraking: films explore economy’s social costs. Washington   Post 10 December

Marshall (2006) Black Gold   forums: guilt & ridicule. 25 November (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Murray, N. (2006) Review of   Black Gold. The   Onion A.V. Club 5 October (,3766/   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Parkinson, D. (2007) Review   of Black Gold. Empire (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Reed, N. (2008) Wal-mart   executives discuss future of ‘Black Gold’ at U. Arkansas. University Wire   (USA) 7 April

Scheck, F. (2006) Review of   Black Gold. Hollywood   Reporter 11 October

Seager, A (2007) Starbucks   stirred by fair trade film. The Guardian (UK) 29 January (   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Starbucks (2007) Starbucks   statement on Black Gold film. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre [download]

Tsui, C. (2007a) Film raises   hackles in the coffee shops of power. South China Morning Post 3 April, p.4

Tsui, C. (2007b) Using the   plot.   South China Morning Post 26 March, p.5

Source: From Tesfaye, B.   & Potter, J. (2011) Black gold: wake up and smell the coffee.   ( last accessed 6/4/13)

Links to other resources Oromia Coffee Union: Farmers cooperative union website ( under   construction 12 March 2011)

New Internationalist shop: Oromia Coffee Union products (   last accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   pages on Oxfam’s ‘Make trade fair’ campaign website (   last accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   Movie website ( last   accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   YouTube channel (   last accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   pages on US PBS TV ‘Independent lens’ series website (   last accessed 12 March 2011)

Starbucks’   ‘Corporate social responsibility’ webpage (   last accessed 12 March 2011)

Hidden Flow: The rising tide of European e-waste in West Africa

Title Hidden Flow: The rising tide of European e-waste in West Africa
Date released (year) 2008
Production company Danwatch
Length 5.11mins
Location West Africa
Keywords/tags Toxic waste
Link to film
Synopsis This investigative film produced by CI’s corporate watchdog partner   DanWatch reveals how a staggering 500,000 used PCs arrive in Lagos every   month – 75% of which go straight to landfill. This is just the tip of the 6.6   million tons of European e-waste dumped on the developing world every year,   despite international bans.
Reviews/discussion Greenpeace’s   supporting discussion:

How does it get to   Ghana?

Containers filled with old and often broken   computers, monitors and TVs – from brands including Philips, Canon, Dell,   Microsoft, Nokia, Siemens and Sony – arrive in Ghana from Germany, Korea,   Switzerland and the Netherlands under the false label of “second-hand   goods”. Exporting e-waste from Europe is illegal but exporting old   electronics for ‘reuse’ allows unscrupulous traders to profit from dumping   old electronics in Ghana. The majority of the containers’ contents end up in   Ghana’s scrap yards to be crushed and burned by unprotected workers. Some traders report that   to get a shipping container with a few working computers they must accept   broken junk like old screens in the same container from exporters in   developed countries.

What’s the   solution?

While working computers and mobile phones   can have a new lease of life in some African countries, they create pollution   when thrown away due to the high levels of toxic chemicals they contain. This   is why we are pressuring the biggest electronic companies to   phase out toxic chemicals and introduce global recycling schemes. Both of   these steps are vital to tackle the growing tide of toxic e-waste.

Some companies are making progress towards   taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products. However, Philips and Sharp stand out for refusing to accept that they are   responsible for recycling their old products. The stance of these powerful   multinationals is ensuring there will always be a digital divide that they   prefer remains hidden, a dangerous divide with unprotected workers in   developing countries left with the toxic legacy.

Behind the story

Mid-2008   a Greenpeace team including campaigner Kim Schoppink and photographer Kate   Davison went to Ghana to document and gather evidence of what really happens   to our electronic waste.


Links to other resources Earth Times:

Fabrice Babin’s 2011 film on e-waste in Ghana:

The Story of Electronics :

The Diamond Empire

Title The Diamond Empire
Director(s) Gavin MacFadyen
Date   released (year) 1994
Production   company Laurie Flynn
Length 102 mins
Location Africa
Keywords/tags Diamonds, colonialism, mining, natural   resources
Link to   film
Synopsis How an advertising slogan invented by Madison Avenue executives in 1948   has come to define our most intimate rituals and ideals around courtship and   marriage is the subject of this devastating documentary. THE DIAMOND EMPIRE,   which sent shockwaves through the world diamond industry when it first   appeared, systematically takes apart the myth that “diamonds are   forever,” exposing how one white South African family, through a process   of monopoly and fantasy, managed to exert control over the global flow of   diamonds and shape the very way we think about romance and love is an   achievement all the more stunning given that diamonds are in fact neither a   scarce nor indestructible commodity. Zeroing in on how “the diamond   empire” managed to convert something valueless into one of the most   coveted commodities in history, the film provides a riveting look at how   marketing and consumer culture not only influence global trade and economics,   but also burrow down into the very core of our identities. Most of the major   diamond producers belong to, or have cooperated with, the De Beers led   marketing cartel, formed to maintain the price of diamonds at a high level.   De Beers, under Harry Oppenheimer’s leadership, maintained its dominant   position in the industry by using its numerous worldwide companies to buy up   new sources of diamonds and to control distribution of industrial diamonds   and production of synthetic ones. In the last decades of the 20th cent.,   however, De Beers’ hold over the unpolished diamond market decreased, and in   2000 the company announced it would end to its policy of controlling diamond   prices through hoarding and shift its focus to increasing sales.


Reviews/discussion “In all my years of teaching,   this is the single most important video I have ever shown. No film has proven   as successful in showing students how a major part of their identities has   been constructed by a corporate, commercial culture. This movie changes the   way we see the world.”
– Sut Jhally | Department of Communications | UMass AmherstSource:
Links to   other resources
Madihlaba, T.   The Fox in the Henhouse: the environmental impact of diamond mining on   communities in South Africa. In McDonald, D. (ed.) Environmental Justice in South Africa,   University of Cape Town Press, CT, pp.156-167Diamond Mining and the Environment Factsheet:

The Greener Diamond:

Zimbabwe diamond circuit:

Blood diamond” regulation system broken   – but where to look for blame? By Khadija Sharife and Nick Meynen,


Uranium: a poisoned legacy


Title Uranium: a poisoned legacy
Director(s) Dominique   Hennequin
Date released (year) 2009
Production company Nomades TV
Length 52 mins
Location Gabon,  Niger
Keywords/tags Toxic waste,   mining, nuclear
Link to film

Synopsis A shocking investigation into uranium   mining in Africa. We visit three areas affected by the uranium industry;   Mounana where activity has now ceased, Arlit, where the mines have been   active for 40 years, and Imouraren, a future site.

French energy giant Areva pulled out of   Mounana, Gabon, in 1999. The uranium mine, Comuf, was closed down and covered   over. In fact, at a glance, it’s almost as if the mine never existed.   However, Mounana suffers from extremely dangerous levels of radioactive   pollution. The soil and the rivers are toxic; even the houses have a Geiger   count as much as 8 times the safe limit. They were built using radioactive   material. In Arlit, North Niger, we encounter similar problems, including an   abnormally high incidence of lung cancer. Now that Areva has left, the former   miners are left to pay for their own health care.

In spite of the horrific damage to local   populations at previous sites, another mine is being constructed, in   Imouraren. The result of a colossal deal between the governments of France   and Niger, this will be their biggest open mine yet. Areva claims that the   new mine will not poison the land, but local people are sceptical



Reviews/discussion Wednesday 4 April 2007, by Saïd Aït-Hatrit in
Wednesday, scientists, jurists, doctors, and victims drew up overwhelming   allegations concerning uranium exploitation activities of the French Areva   Company in Nigeria and Gabon. Considered opaque in its information   management, the ex-Cogema is accused of knowingly exposing its employees and   the inhabitants of its mining zones to important levels of radioactive   contamination.

On Wednesday in Paris jurists, scientists, doctors (Médecins du monde), and   representatives of Victims Associations from the Arlit and Mounana mines in   Gabon, shut down since 1999, presented their conclusions stemming from three   years of investigation.

“We have very serious reasons to believe that Africans and French expatriates   became ill due solely to Areva’s negligence” in matters of health and   environmental protection, explained William Bourdon, president and founder of   the Sherpa Association.

The Nigerian singer Abdallah Oumbadougou had explained last November in   Afrik, during an interview, that he was thinking about leaving his hometown,   Arlit, 250 Km to the north of Agadez, because he feared for the health of his   family. Guizmo, his French musical partner in the Désert Rebel Collective,   had told him about a press report according to which the exploitation of   Arlit’s uranium mine by Areva (ex Cogema) could be responsible for the pollution   of drinking water and for numerous deaths in the region.

Broadcast by the private Canal + Channel, in 2004, it showed the Sherpa   International Jurists Association and the team of scientists from Criirad   (Commission de recherche et d’information indépendantes sur la radioactivité   – Independent research commission for information on radioactivity) during   their first mission in 2003, concerning the situation of workers from the   ex-Cogema in Arlit. Airlit is a city built in the 70s in the middle of the desert   for the exploitation of the precious ore that now has 70,000 inhabitants.

Radioactive waste “in the open air”

According to the accusing associations gathered together on Wednesday in   Paris, Areva and its subsidiaries – Somaïr and Cominak in Nigeria, Comuf in   Gabon – voluntarily left their employees in ignorance about the risks   involved with working in the mines.

“It was only in 1986 that we began to be aware”, explained Almoustapha   Alhacen, a worker in the Arlit mines and president of Aghir N’Man, the   Nigerian Association for the protection of the Environment. Founded in 2000,   it called for Criirad’s help in 2003 to evaluate the radiological situation   on site. “We saw our friends die and didn’t know why” he recalled.

After having failed to forbid the exploratory mission at Arlit, the Cominak   manager succeeded in confiscating the scientist’s measurement equipment at   the Niamey customhouse, according to the associations’ report. However, the   scientists succeeded in preserving some of the instruments and their findings   were conclusive: “The contamination level of the drinking water system is   well over WHO standards”, stated Bruno Chareyron, director of Criirad. The   scientific laboratory also measured the highly contaminated scrap iron on the   city’s market and noted that the radioactive waste (500,000 Becquerels per   kilogram) was stored in the open air “exposed to winds and all types of   runoff.”

Areva has no occupational diseases

Areva responded to the Criirad’s controls with measurements carried out by   its own experts who found no contamination of the Arlit water supply,   according to Bruno Chareyron, who regrets this strategy of pure denial. The   associations’ report claims that Areva’s aim is to make it impossible to   establish a chain of causation between exposure to radiation and the diseases   developed, which could be very costly for the company. For this reason Areva   has kept the results of its investigations secret, just as they did with   those carried out in 1986 at Mounana.

Jacqueline Gaudet spent 15 years of her life in this town. In 2005, she   founded Mounana, an association of expatriated former mine workers, “for the   simple and good reason that there are too many cases of cancer among   expatriates,” she explained Wednesday.

She herself lost first her husband, then her father and mother because of   cancer over a period of 10 years after having returned to France. Areva told   her that they were not responsible for her father’s illness and death from   lung cancer linked to exposure to radon, as he was insured for this illness   by the Gabonese social security system. Moreover she has had no access to   medical records. Under these circumstances, “it’s easy for Areva to say that   there was no occupational disease involved,” she sadly stated.

Sustainable development at the heart of Areva’s strategy”

On 16 March, anticipating the media hype prepared by the associations, Areva   announced its wish to create “health-watch programs on its mining sites”. “A   positive breakthrough that we should respond to with all the necessary   precautions,” stated Sherpa’s vice-president. As for Almoustapha Alhacen: “I   must admit that I don’t trust them as they are experts in publicity”, he   explained looking rather embarrassed.

In the press release announcing the proposal, Areva assured that they put   “sustainable development at the heart of their strategy”, and also   contributes to “having an answer to the important issues of the 21st Century:   the preservation of the planet and accountability to future generations.”

Sherpa, which already pressured Total into compensating Burmese workers, has   warned that they have at their disposal enough elements to be able to   initiate “one or several long and complex civil procedures” in France.

AFX News Limited:  Source :

Anti-Areva protests in Niger supported by several thousand people – AFP
09.10.07, 3:44 AM ET
PARIS (Thomson Financial) – Several thousand people took part in a   demonstration in Nigerian capital Niamey on Saturday, calling for the   departure of French nuclear energy group Areva from the country and also   opposing a claim by Libya to part of the country’s territory, according to an   Agence France-Presse journalist.
The demonstrators, who acted with government approval, marched through the   city and held a meeting in front of the parliament building.
For the past 40 years, Areva (other-otc: ARVCF.PK – news – people ) has been   operating an open-cast uranium mine in Arlit, northern Niger, and an underground   one nearby. Areva obtained 43 pct of its uranium supply from Niger last year,   according to France’s Nuclear Energy Agency.
Niger, rated the poorest country in the world, is the third-largest producer   of uranium with a 9 pct global market share.
MP Sannoussi Jackou told the meeting the protest was against French   state-controlled Areva rather than the country or the government. The company   has extracted 100,000 tonnes of uranium without Niger getting the benefit, he   said.
The protest against Libya was in relation to a claim of ownership of part of   the Mangueni plateau, where oil prospecting is taking place.
Areva investment certificates fell 6.2 pct to 680 eur on Friday after plans   for the demonstration were unveiled, but an analyst with a French bank said   the key factor in the drop was an announcement by the chairman of Atomic   Energy of Canada Ltd that his company will target the Indian market.
Other reasons for the decline were a fall in the price of aluminium, the   making of which requires heavy use of electricity, and the previously   revealed delays in the construction by Areva of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear power   plant in Finland, the analyst said.

Links to other resources  

Toxic Dumpings in Somalia

Title Toxic Dumpings   in Somailia
Director(s) Mohamed Daud (Environmental   Justice for Somalia)
Date released (year) 2011
Production company EpicShots Studios
Length 14 mins
Location Somalia
Keywords/tags Neoliberalism,   toxic waste, dumping
Link to film
Synopsis Background into the TOXIC DUMPINGS in   SOMALIA that has been going for the past 2 decades. This videos illustrates   the main players responsible for the dumpings, and the complacency shown by   the western countries to this systematic rape of the Somali coastline.
Reviews/discussion The Ecologist, 1st   March 2009:


“Somalia used as toxic   dumping ground”

By Chris Milton

Pirates ruled Somalia’s   waves last year, but a greater crime is still being perpetrated by the   multinational companies using the mainland as a toxic dumping ground. Chris   Milton reports

The pirates of Somalia became bandits   of international notoriety during 2008, hijacking ever more prolific targets,   including arms ships, oil tankers and cruise liners, and extracting huge   ransoms from their owners.

National governments and NGOs decried   their actions as an affront to international maritime law, but few examined   the pirates’ claim that a far greater crime continues in Somalia: the illegal   dumping of toxic waste.

For more than 10 years, environmental   and human rights organisations have called on the international community to   act to stop this dumping, but successive wars have ensured the crisis has   only deepened. Now, as Ethiopian troops withdraw from Somalia and the piracy   becomes more subdued, there is hope the issue can be properly investigated   and resolved.

In 1997, in the Italian magazine Famiglia   Cristiana, Greenpeace published a landmark investigation into the   dumping, which showed that it started in the late 1980s, and exposed Swiss   and Italian companies as brokers for the transportation of hazardous waste   from Europe to dumps in Somalia. Subsequent research has also shown that the   company employed physically to ship the waste was wholly owned by the Somali   government.

When Somalia slipped into civil war   in 1992, the waste exporters had to negotiate with local clan warlords, who   demanded guns and ammunition to allow the dumping to continue. Many of the   ships, having brought weapons or waste, then became trawlers, and left Somali   waters with holds full of tuna for onward sale.

An investigation into the murder of   the Italian journalist Ilaria Alpi in Somalia in 1994 quotes the warlord   Boqor Musa as saying, ‘It is evident those ships carried military equipment   for different factions involved in the civil war’, and it is widely believed   that Alpi was assassinated because she had incontrovertible evidence of the guns-for-waste   trade.

The Greenpeace report briefly made   the news and was followed up by the European Green Party tabling a question   in the European Parliament about ‘the dumping of toxic waste from German,   French and Italian nuclear power plants and hospitals’ in Somalia.

It also prompted a large   investigation in Italy, a former colonial power in Somalia. This concluded   that around 35 million tonnes of waste had been exported to Somalia for only   $6.6 billion, leading the environmental group Legambiente to assert Somalia’s   inland waste dumps are ‘among the largest in the world’.

The Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 served   to reinvigorate interest in the continued dumping of hazardous waste in   Somalia. Rusting tanks of unidentifiable ooze were washed up on to beaches;   villagers began to die of unexplained illnesses and coastal ecosystems   collapsed.

In 2005, the UN Development Programme   (UNDP) concluded its own on-the-ground investigation in Somalia. Despite   being stymied by local political interests and finding no tangible proof, it   concluded that the ‘dumping of toxic and harmful waste is rampant in the sea,   on the shores and in the hinterland’.

A year later the Somali multi-clan   NGO Daryeel Bulsho Guud conducted its own survey. With greater local   co-operation, it was able to identify 15 containers of ‘confirmed nuclear and   chemical wastes’ in eight coastal areas.

At the same time, the UN and World   Bank put together a Joint Needs Assessment (JNA) to plan for Somalia’s return   to functioning nationhood. Updated in 2008, it recommends $42.1 million be   set aside for environmental activities, including ensuring all ‘toxic waste   [is] found and removed’. It doesn’t address the cost of human suffering,   however, and ignores the fact that the dumping of toxic waste in Somalia continues   to this day.

Field research in Somalia by Zainab   Hassan, a former fellow at the University of Minnesota and Environmental   Justice Advocate, has brought to light a whole range of chronic and acute   illnesses suffered by Somalis.

These include severe birth defects,   such as the absence of limbs, and widespread cancers. One local doctor said   he had treated more cases of cancer in one year than he had in his entire   professional career before the tsunami.

‘Firms are illegally dumping   hazardous and nuclear waste,’ says Zainab Hassan. ‘The international   community should do something in terms of cleaning up, and those responsible   should be brought to justice.’

EcoTerra, an NGO with strong   connections within Somalia, agrees, though it refuses to name the companies   involved or their countries of origin. Possibly with one eye upon the   assassination of Ilaria Alpi, it describes the situation as ‘deadly’.

The UN’s Special Representative for   the region, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, is similarly sensitive. He confi rms that   dumping continues on the Somali coast, likening the situation to the shipping   of blood diamonds from Liberia and Sierra Leone. His office refuses to name   which NGOs he’s asked to investigate the issue, however, presumably for their   own protection, or the companies suspected of being involved.

Bringing those responsible for the   dumping to justice may be hard. Under EU regulations 259/93 and 92/3/Euratom,   the originating country is responsible for disposing of its medical and   nuclear waste, as well as for its retrieval if it is disposed of illegally.

With many of the containers unmarked   and much of the paperwork probably long since lost or destroyed, however, it   will take a lot to enable any legal action to take place.

In addition, a UNDP source described   the search for hazardous material in Somalia as like looking for a needle in   a haystack. It’s not that they don’t know it’s there, he says, but that they   don’t know where to start looking for it.

This makes it all the more urgent   that stability return to the country. Only then will the dumping stop and the   clean-up commence.

Chris Milton is a freelance   journalist

This article first appeared in the   Ecologist March 2009


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