Our life becomes more electrified. It seems that every day a new product conquers the market to make our boring days more enjoyable, efficient and entertaining.
Since we need to stay in touch with our friends at every moment of the day we have a smartphone. Lets make it two because of the important work-life balance.
When we are home we play around with our Laptops, PCs, pads and most recently added: the smartwatch (Seriously?)
Since the drums of our washing machines are no longer made from metal but from plastic, since our fridges better be energy class level A+++ and not only A, since we upgrade our computer at least every 2 years due to lack of technical understanding or because we develop a PCB-envy when our friends have this shiny new upgraded computer which allows them to run this one game or program so smooth that we start drooling, we will buy and throw away.

If we are a ‘conscious consumer’ we resell our stuff locally and feel good about ourselves. In the end it will be waste. No matter how conscious we are, when it comes to modern technology, there is an end-consumer.

When this chain has reached its end, some longer and others shorter, the waste is being thrown away. If you are lucky, your local recycling facility will take care of it and will extract the valuable resources and treat the rest as what it is: toxic waste.

Most likely someone will look at it and decide if it can still be used or repaired before it is destroyed. If that is the case, the ‘do-gooder’ awakes.

Haven’t you heard about the ‘digital divide’/’digital gap’?

Don’t you know that kids of Ethiopian pastoralists can learn way better if given a free ipad?

We need to give access to computers to everyone everywhere!

One laptop per child and everything will be fine!

Think about the sales! I mean kids!

When the idea of the digital divide came up in the 1990s as a consequence of the lack of African countries to access the global trade in information technology and the acknowledgement that without IT the African continent will be even further behind the global ‘development’ massive amounts of funds and policy makers attention went to the topic.

Today we find widely discussed programs as the OLPC (one laptop per child) initiative that started in India but is spread all over the less saturated do-gooder markets of our world.

Don’t get me wrong. Decent living conditions are an intrinsic part of my understanding of being human.

But is it necessary that everybody has a computer, TV and smartphone with internet access and high resolution display?

The fact that there is not only a global digital divide but also an national and regional, or lets say a huge divide between the income classes of a society makes it harder to tackle the problem.

Being around the more ‘global’ spots in Ghana I see people using two smartphones and an iPad nearly on a daily basis. Your phone got stolen last week? Look for it at Accra circle because it is most definitely in the hands of a guy selling it to finance his and his brother/cousin/friend’s life abroad.

The major problem is the starting position. On the one hand there is a huge lack of money to acquire products that are durable and possible to repair, on the other hand there is a huge desire to upgrade ones life. It takes modern IT technology to be part of a generation where friends are only two clicks away and drinks are always ice-cold.

If I can afford it to install an A/C in my 2 square meter shoe shop with no one inside I will do it. Why? Because I can.

The excessive use of anything that somehow seems to be modern or technological leads to the total overwhelming of a already rundown waste and sewage system.

The demand for fridges is high and the money is small. So the result is a vibrant trade in electronic goods.

Even though there is ‘a strong policy network to ensure the monitoring of the trade and reduce negative effects on the population of partner countries’, traders in countries like Germany, UK, USA, Korea, Netherlands, France and Japan find loopholes in the said policy network and declare the electronics as ‘second-hand’.

Through the growing turnover of the industry the recycling of electronics became fraudulent and lots of companies are involved in dumping and selling of used electronics.

The term waste is in my opinion misleading because it implies that it is actually worthless. It is not. And so we find all over the world waste economies specializing on the leftover of our fancy lifestyle.

One of this places is the neighborhood of Agbogbloshi in  Accra also sometimes referred to as ‘Sodom and Gomorrah due to high crime rates and prostitution. It got everything that you need: lots of internal displaced persons due to conflict in the north, swampland, neglected investment in health and other infrastructure as well as a lack of economic opportunities.

A vibrant trade has been established between the harbor town of Tema and the Agbobloshi community. An estimated amount of 122.000 tons of electronic devices is shipped into the community by big trucks. 75% of it doesn’t work any more and can’t be repaired. The remaining 91.500 tons are dismantled and separated by an uncountable number of informal workers who buy and sell small quantities of copper and aluminum to wholesalers.

Leftovers are dumped in the near lagoon.


The area is on the top 10 list of most toxic places in the world. Using Styrofoam and car tires to fuel the fires that burn away the coating of cables to give access to the copper inside. The released fumes are toxic and pollute the air, the land and the water of the near lagoon. High concentrations of cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxin and brominated flame-retardants are found in all of the neighborhood. The toxins stay in food and water and are found on high concentrations of those who work the closest to the fires.

Small kids as young as 10 work on the site and try to make a living. Being able to burn your own cables is already an upgrade, since most kids just scrabble in the dirt to find the smallest pieces of metal. Mostly dragging an old stereo speaker with an attached cable in one hand and a bag in the other, it looks like they are walking their toy-dogs.
But what you see here are only the pets of poverty. Being a child in a poor community like Agbogbloshi is a costly thing and you will start working very early. The boy on the picture looks like nine years old. In fact he told me that he was twelve. His voice was so hoarse that I had difficulties to understand him as well as difficulties to breath.
The fumes released contain high amounts of the named chemicals and affect the development of the nervous system as well as organs like lungs and brain. Direct links between mercury and BFR and cancer can be found in medical literature and it is obvious that the people are not in a healthy state. The average life expectancy of a Ghanaian is 63 years and there are plenty of 80 year old.

As always everybody is friendly and nice and no one harasses me.

Seeing this site and its social and economic dynamics makes you think about the complexity of issues of international development policies.

Sitting on the skeleton of an old PC monitor I look from a distance over the field where single columns of smoke are swirling into town.

There are development plans for the area to upgrade the community and end the toxic trade. The import of used fridges is banned at the moment with police squats in the harbor waiting for those who still import them to pick up their freight and arrest them.

The argument is, that fridges are using up to 40% of the Ghanaian electricity and due to the low energy-efficiency of the old devices they got banned.

The only thing that is going to happen is that the trade with repaired fridges will boom as usually and the average citizen will not be able to afford a new one.

The trade with new devices is in the hand of few and the quality of the products from Asia is very cheap since the Ghana Standards Authority actually has no standards.

Meanwhile in Agbogbloshi Nigerian intermediaries are trading with Chinese wholesaler in the market of electronic capitals such as Guangzhou over the copper extracted from the small boys on the dump site.
Shipped to China it is molten down and new cables are made for new fridges.

Features are added and a new generation of fridges, smartphones, TVs and washing machines with touchscreens and sensors for the freshness of groceries, fish and meat is waiting to be used, neglected, replaced and recycled.

It truly is a globalized world.

Bittersweet Chocolate

Everybody knows it.
Cocoa is a dirty business.

But the creamy sweetness that runs through your mouth is so tempting.
The tickling at the side of the back of your tongue makes you forget the bitterness.
It blinds out the origin of a global product that we enjoy so much.

The fact that most of the cocoa farmers have no idea how chocolate tastes like shows how perverted the market processes are that influence the cocoa trade.

Its a highly volatile market with a commodity that is traded at the biggest stock exchanges in Chicago and London, but produced by poor farmers in the rain forests of the West African region who have no say in the trade with the big market players.

The cocoa market is divided between 5 or 6 big raw cocoa buying companies and the big multinationals like Nestlé, Mars, Unilever, Danone, Cargill, Hersheys or Cadburry who buy the processed cocoa from said raw buyers and produce what somehow became an ideogram for a merry Christmas.

The global production of cocoa is 4.100.000 t. (or 9038953480 lb for my american readers.) More than 2.000.000 t are produced in and around Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire making it a key area of attention for market player and their strategic, long-term investments into a growing market. Nevertheless the countries face difficulties that seem sometimes too big to solve.

Widespread corruption in the trade created an unequal system of beneficiaries, reaching from the harbor authorities over the policemen at the toll stations all the way to the agric traders for fertilizers and other goods that are used to boost the yield and reduce the workload. If you are not part of the circle of favorites you might not have access to fertilizers or be able to hire labor, making it impossible to grow enough cocoa to survive the year.

The Ghana Cocoa Board, which buys all the cocoa in Ghana and sells it to the world market in exchange for hybrid seeds and investment in infrastructure, is a state owned institution in the business of the cocoa trade. Long before the independence the board was involved in controlling the market and (self-proclaimed) protect the farmers from price fluctuation on the market.

Like all institutions the board has its problems with widespread corruption and malpractice. Most common are the simple neglect of rural communities when it comes to the accessibility of markets or storage facilities as well as the provision with pesticides or other chemical substitutes. In addition the cocoa farmers face huge difficulties with the fact that the imported chemicals are controlled by the Ghana Standards Authority which is not really known for its excellence and customer service.
Every now and then hazardous chemicals are found on the farms and together with the lack of education and training farm workers health is affected. Since spraying trees is not difficult, the main group of workers to do this task are children. Which leads to the next problem that is child labor, modern slavery and unsustainability of the cocoa business.

According to UNICEF there are 1.8 million children working on cocoa farms in Western Africa. Most of them are direct relatives of the farmers and are supposed to help decrease the formal labor costs.
In Cote d’Ivoire, where most of the cocoa is grown on commercial scale big farms child labor is widespread and it is connected to a perfidious system of poverty, dependency and slavery.
Begging kids are being abducted in the streets of Burkina Faso and Mali and sold to farmers in the south. Sometimes bought from the desperate families for a handful of dollars hoping that they will send home money as soon as they start working in the city, which was promised to them.
Professional child trafficking gangs sell kids for as little as 150 $ into life circumstances that are not any different than the times of slavery in the 17th and 19th century.
It is extremely hard and dangerous work that is done by this kids. 
Mostly they are used to climb the trees and cut the ripe cocoa fruit. Kids use machetes to cut and later open the fruits to access the kernels. A lack of power, coordination and nutrition based fatigue leads to common injuries of hands and lower arms as well as legs. 
As for the rest, there is tropical climate and dirt as well as a lack of access to basic medical treatment, especially if you can get a new kid for just 150 $.
Blaming the farmer is not the right approach. According to the UNCTAD, more than 95% of all cocoa farmers live under the poverty line of 1.25$/day. Buying kids and cheap labor is a necessity for them to survive in the only business they know.

There are world wide schemes to fight child labor. Long names such as the ILO’s Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, one of the basic pillars of ILO’s policies that was ratified in 1999 has still to show substantial effect on the cocoa trade.

In the USA, the biggest market for chocolate worldwide, an introduction to a legislative amendment to end child slavery in cocoa business by issuing a ‘slave free chocolate’ label was first approved by the house of representatives but later crippled by lobbyists and changed into and agreement on voluntary basis that would allow the industry to react more flexible to the cause. The Harkin-Engel Protocol was set up to access data on child labor in the cocoa trade by the industry itself.
Deadlines for data collection in 2005 and 2008 were not met mostly because of a lack of independent verification of the data acquired. There is absolutely no legal binding measures and accountability due to involved institutions that are basically a mere joke in their inner structure and commitment.

The boy you see on the picture above worked in a cocoa storage facility in Hohoe when I visited the town in 2010. He was 17 and worker there for more than 3 years he told me. 

They would store about 150 tons of cocoa in that building and loading the trucks by hand as soon as they come to collect the bags.
66 kg or 130 lbs to be carried on the head. Over and over again until the 230 bags are on the truck which is a total of 15 tons. Moved by manual labor. By the hands of young men like him.

Now you might sit there and think: Thanks Julian! Now every time I eat some chocolate, not only do I feel the guilt because of my winterlovehandlesthatsoonwillbemynewyearsresolutions, but also I feel horrible because little kids starve, get beaten and cut themselves accidentally so I can have my chocolate for the cheapest prize possible.

And yes you are right. You should feel horrible.

There is no way to eat discounter-sold non-certified chocolate without eating the product of exploitation.

Look out for FAIRTRADE products. Ask your local store to stock up. If you can’t find any you can order online. If you can’t find any online which I doubt than you are too stupid to find it and you don’t deserve your chocolate.

I am not saying that fair trade labels are the ultimate solution to an intrinsic problem of market economy.

But if the problem itself is found in market economy, so is the solution.

Production methods are what you want them to be.

Merry Christmas from Ghana everybody.


Also: sign this petition and support them: http://makechocolatefair.org/


chainsaws and fishing boats

Everything is connected. Earlier in this blog I wrote about the decrease of the rain forest in Ghana and all over West Africa.

When the access to charcoal and firewood diminishes and prices rise in a country where nearly everybody is cooking on little welded stoves at the back of their houses on aluminum pots, the situation gets tense.

As everywhere else in the world, wood is a multi-purpose resource which is used in a large variety of businesses and trades.

Building houses, construction work, heavy-duty carts, cooking equipment, fuel and last but not least fishing boats all depend on the logging of the extremely dense woods of the tropical rain forest. The most vulnerable of all are the fishermen.

Their small margin is reinvested into their fishing equipment and the owning a boat is a dream for every fisherman that most of them will never fulfill.

The best boats are dugouts. Simply because they resist the aggressive saltwater longer and so the fishermen get more for their money.

Since most of the big trees are cut down already and replanting policies are non-existing it is really difficult and expensive to find trees big enough that can be used for fishing boats. Due to that, most of the boats are built from timber parts and beams which make the boat more vulnerable to the saltwater. Consequently the fishermen need to buy new boats more often, cutting back their already small margin from fishing and exposing them to an even more underprivileged lifestyle.

Sure, there are safer ways to dig out a trunk of a tree to create a new fishing boat than wearing sunglasses, a swim cap and walking bare-foot through the chippings from your four feet chain saw. But would you look as bad ass as him? I doubt it!
After watching him for 5 minutes cutting away wood at the trunk of the soon-to-be-boat I asked if I can take a picture. This was harder than I thought because unlike everybody else around me didn’t care that I was standing there and watching him doing his job for some time. With a simple nod he authorized me standing there and taking pictures.

The next thing, after finishing the work with the chainsaw is going to be the turning over of the boat. After that the starboard side of the boat is being processed with a flex.

All I could think of was: how are they going to drag the boat to the beach?
At least 100 meter just with muscle power. Through the whole community of Jamestown harbor. Through the little skewed huts and dusty alleys, passing big ovens to smoke the fish, the market hall (which is not more than concrete floor, metal poles and corrugated sheets) and tiny shops selling everything a fisher needs, from hooks and anchors welded from construction steel to nets as well as nails to build and repair the ships.

It’s a different world down in Jamestown and I feel that people here treat you as what you are. They remind you in their way that you are a social alien to their community. That no matter how silent you stand aside and try to be ignored and blend in with the houses, a crowd of kids will stare at you or passing fishermen will look at you suspicious.
I am very much interested in this community but feel that staying longer might only create tensions and this is the last I want.


Usshertown and Jamestown have a lot in common. Because so many people live in this oldest parts of Accra, the drive in the streets is even bigger than anywhere else. Nowhere in this town are so many shops and chop bars. There is an uncountable number of people on the streets and you can’t really tell what they are doing. There is everything in this part of the town.

I walk down the street, coming from the Accra train station and trying to find my way to the Jamestown Lighthouse, build in the 1870s and rebuild in the 1930s it is still run by a local family to guide the fishermen and other ships in a range of 30km. Apparently, for a fee of 5 Cedi, you can climb the tower and have a magnificent view over the community.

Even though the area is considered as the poorest and most densely populated in whole of Accra, the people are very friendly and welcoming, though I can see on their faces, that they are even more astound to see a young white man walking their streets.
These communities are used to Europeans, but mostly those being on a 4×4 socio-safari. Dressed in khaki shorts and hats they carefully look around before they take a picture or access their khaki colored money belt.
When the local culture is enough appreciated they like to go back to their AC cars and drive back to the Labadi Beach Hotel or Golden Tulip.

While I walk down the street to the coast, I can feel the breeze. Suddenly it is there. 30°C and a humidity level of at least 80% in combination with a skin-eating sun makes you crave for a some cold wind from the sea.
The thousands of little swat pearls on your body evaporate quicker as you might think and your body cools down significantly.

A lot of the building around are still from the colonial period. Adjusted to up to date standards with corrugated rooftops and satellite antennas. They blend in with other old storage buildings, some partly collapsed but still in use. Inside one of the storage buildings young men sit between huge piles of carton and fold boxes for the export of yam and casawa. All day every day. One of the old storage rooms seems to be a local mosque, another had a large fleet of NESCAFE cars waiting for their vendor.

The breeze is becoming stronger. The sun is still very strong at this time, resulting in the usual ‘shadow-hopping’ behavior that many of you know. While enjoying the cooling breeze from the ocean, I dive into a new world.

Standing in front of the lighthouse and looking around makes you think that you switched between time zones.

The 1871 build/1930 rebuild colonial era lighthouse is worth a visit. Not because you can climb it and look over the whole community all the way to the city center, but because it stands for the past. The restless city with its skyline in the making is a stark contrast to the Jamestown community. Nothing has changed since I’ve been here more than 3 years ago.

After some bargaining with the young women who is guarding the key to the lighthouse I am allowed to climb the stairs. I insisted to go alone. If not, I would have ended up with one of the local ‘guides’ telling me stories I heard 5 times and asking for money.

There is no receipt for the entering and I doubt that the fee goes to the local municipality.
Climbing the circular stairs and reaching the top was liberating. You step out and you are at the ocean. Strong wind, sunshine and you smell the sea. Salt and water are in the air as well as the smell of smoke and fish.

Pausing for a moment in this busy city.

I stay for about half an hour and observe what is going on around me. A soccer tournament, a car accident, fishermen repairing their boats, a lonely fisherman sitting at the beach and buzzards flying around and looking for leftovers from the latest catch.

The Jamestown lighthouse is a witness of Ghanaian history and local every day life.

In the area there are four of those structural witnesses.

The lighthouse which guides ships in a range of 30 km and is a beautiful viewing point.

James Fort which is a former prison with its most prominent prisoner being Kwame Nkrumah in the pre-independence phase of the 1950s.

Lastly, the piers of Jamestown. One a stronghold against the endless waves of the ocean, protecting the community against the forces of mother nature. The other being a space that gradually changes its meaning to the local community.

In the morning fishermen use it to load and unload nets and their catch. The original purpose is later followed by young men strolling around on the pier; The front with its nice viewing point and the old harbor lantern is a frequented hang out spot.

In the afternoon, when the fishermen are back from the sea and have rested for a while, they start repairing their nets and sit on the pier chatting. At this time it is hard to climb the piles of fisher nets to get to the front. also because there are no poles or lines that would assist you. Two meters below, the big waves are coming in and the thought of falling is giving me goosebumps.
What is interesting to see is, of course you have to be of the detail loving species, that the old colonial railway that went down to the pier can still be seen. If you look closely you can see the gap in the piers surface that was left after the railway was taken out.

The pier serves the local fishermen also as toilet, since the local sanitation situation is very bad. Even in comparison with the situation in Accra which is not good at all. The ocean is carrying it away and since all the black water from Accra ends in the ocean anyway, a few fishermen’s turds won’t make a difference.

The great communal space is the beach. Where local guys sit between the boats and smoke weed, fishermen repair nets and boats and naked kids are playing in the waves. The big pier to the right is protecting them from the full force of the ocean and it seems that this is the only place kids can play and swim without getting sucked out and drown.

Going back to the main road and passing by the Brazilian house, a house renovated to pay tribute to the connection between West African communities and the Brazilian society (through the slave trade), gives me no doubt about the cultural and historical richness of Ghana and this community in particular.


Next Stop: Accra Main Station

Because the traffic is so bad, I decided to get a motorbike. Not a big one or a fast one but just good enough to evade all the traffic in the morning. Sitting nonsensical in the trotro and sweating is not the best option to start your day. I heard that they sell bikes at Circle (Kwame Nkrumah Circle, one of the major traffic and public transportation hubs and the long distance station for anyone who wants to go to the West).

Because I was stuck in traffic and no car was moving for at least 10 minutes, I decided to go on a walk and find it myself. However, after seeing a couple of rundown bikes, I decided to go on a walk and somehow make it to Jamestown, one of the oldest parts of Accra.

I walked through Ussher Town and came across Accra’s old train station.

The gateway between two worlds is a narrow pass and highly frequented. Outside on the streets are gazillions of market women selling smoked fish of unknown quality and age. Little red sunshades are moving in the light summer breeze and dust and black rubber bags are flying through the air. Interacting in a ballet of filth and dirt applauded by thousands of pedestrians and security guards lying in the shade.

If it weren’t for modern accessories and cars, the whole place could be frozen. By-passed by history, rusting away in the tropical sun.

Early 20th century architecture, old German trains, junkies, poverty, gambling, the smell of urine and people staring. I thought I am home in Leipzig but no, this is Accra.

The small train station was run down and the beautiful small turret with an old watch, made in London of course, reminded me of scenarios long gone which I might have seen in movies or on old yellowed pictures.

In the shade of the canopy of the stations dozens of people were sleeping, sitting or selling their goods. Some waiting for the train who leaves twice a day.

Originally build in the beginning of the 20th century by the British to access the manganese, bauxite and gold mines as well as the cocoa rich areas of the western and central region, the rail road system is only a mere shadow of its former self. The former A-shaped road system between Takoradi, Kumasi and Accra, with an interlink on half of the way between the eastern and the western division, is only operable on two tracks. One is Takoradi – Kumasi for the mining trains, one is Accra – Kotoku, also for commercial trains.

There is only one connection that runs for transportation purposes, that is between Accra and Tema. Twice a day the fancy looking train covered in the colors of the Ghanaian flag rolls out and bringing workers from Tema to Accra in the morning and back in the Evening.

In 2010 the Ghanaian government signed a $6 billion deal with the Chinese state firm CNC to build a railway from Kumasi to Paga and from Tamale to Yendi, making all regions accessible by train, except the Upper West, which development is neglected anyway (but that’s a topic for another post that needs some travelling and field research).

If the cooperation is fruitful, nobody knows. If the Ghanaians learn from experiences from the past is also a question that awaits its answer. (when the stadium in Accra was renovated by a Chinese contractor, they brought in Chinese generators and when the first soccer game was about to start, of course with all the VIP guests etc, the electricity went down and nobody knew how to start the generator because everything was in Mandarin, so they had to bring a guy from the embassy of China to translate the instructions. The game started half an hour later)

Accra is a terminal station. At the railhead burns a large pile of trash. Old wagons are parked aside  and used by homeless and jobless people to take a nap.

The opposite platform which was used to access the trains from a storage building is used by a guy to wet-iron jeans and dry them on the railway later. The space between rails and platform is used as a public toilet, creating a sort-of swamp of urine, trash and mud.

The smell is intense. Burning plastic, urine, dust and frying fat from a chopbar very close. Oh Ghana!

While I mount my tele to do a shot, someone is hissing at me from the side to draw my attention to him. Someone from inside one of the old trains invites me to join him. I climb the wagon and step into a world 30 years before now.

I soak in the atmosphere and have the feeling, that something is familiar here. I look around and finally find what I was looking for. The wagon was built at the VEB Wagonbau Bautzen. A state-owned factory for trains of the former GDR. A little research later tells me that they were imported to Ghana in 1987 shortly before the reunion of Germany.

I climb over three or four sleeping men, stretching their legs on the seats. After we finished our talk and I have to turn down his question if I have any job to offer, my very friendly host encourages me to take a picture of the scene. While being suspiciously inspected from people outside of the train, I hope that no one wakes up and feels disturbed by my presence.

What I learned during all my travels in the West African countries I have been to is, that the most grim-looking people who might not even give much about my presence, are the most fun.

I am being eyed on suspiciously by a group of men. Maybe ten of them, sitting on the platform in the shade where a nice wind is blowing.
Cards and damii are the favorite games.

My ‘hello how are you nod’ is responded with short glances basically saying ‘what do you want?’

I decided to try to join them for a quick chat to ease the slight tensions and they turn out to be a very loud and friendly group of shady gamblers trying to make the day pass by.

I am urged to try myself at damii, which is a very fast board game with simple tactics. But be aware of Ghanaian men for they are trying to cheat you wherever they can. I earn their recognition by playing a draw game with ‘fresh boy’ my opponent.

After that they try to lure me into games with stakes of ‘5 Cedi’ and ‘double or nothing’ and you name it. Thankfully I am not that easily attracted to gambling and can withstand the temptation to spend the rest of the afternoon with them.

I continue my Journey to Jamestown, trying to reach the light tower and its fishers village beneath.

you want to chop, you need to chop

Cooking is a women’s job. Women cook, men eat what women cook.

The ideal of the traditional family is very strong in Ghana. I often witness conversations about women in the trotro.

The general idea goes like this: If she is big enough she is good to be a mother and cook your dinner. If she is girlish and skinny she is a good girlfriend/affair (if you can afford to support two women).

(classic picture of a ‘big mama’ cooking over an iron stove that is welded from an old rim and some construction steel)

Irrespective of her size, if she is the mother of your children and cooks for you and your family she will do so most likely using charcoal and a classic welded stove. So do 70% of all Ghanaians.

Ghana consumes approximately 700.000 tons of charcoal every year amounting for an annual per capita use of 180 kg. 30% of that in Accra alone.  The charcoal is produced in the northern and western region where the big lush forests are. The truck on the picture, together with a second one, came from Bolgatanga. So in addition this might be a case of coal smuggling from Burkina Faso.

An estimated amount of 3 million people live directly from forest production such as charcoal, traditional medicine, bush meat, fabrics, shelter, water supply etc. This people are poor and rely on business reliance with local traders and big coal producers who buy the freshly logged timber.

The interconnection between deforestation and water supply is extremely critical and its devastating effects if not dealt with can be seen in Kenya, where the Mau forest is being deforested despite its importance for five major rivers in the country.

If you take a car to the Volta Region or the Western Region you will pass by villages that almost entirely live off of burning coal and selling it on the roadside for a very small margin because they can’t afford the transport to the city center of Accra or Kumasi where the price is higher.
So others will take advantage of this situations and organize transport. Collecting all coal on a round trip and sell it in Accra.
Questions of sustainable forest management, biodiversity or communal outlook are staying unanswered since illiteracy is high and life is hard. Making quick money now is easier than thinking about difficult long-lasting decisions. A mindset that influences today’s economy very much and creates a lot of headaches for many.


Ghanas forests are shrinking every day.

Logging has been part of the economy since the very first colonial days but the rates are dramatic. Between 2005 and 2010 Ghana cuts down 2,19% of its forest every year. It seems to be a West African problem. Togo (5,75%) and Nigeria (4%) are also part of the game. To put it into perspective, Brazil’s rate is 0,42%. Or in a different view: Ghana’s forests are shrinking 5 times faster than Brazil’s.

Main reasons for this are widespread policy changes in the 1980s. The so-called Economic Reconstruction Program (ERP) of the famous (you know who I am talking about) IMF forced countries like Ghana to open its boarders and orient their economies export wise. Since then, in an environment of lack of monitoring and environmental awareness, the forests are being plundered. Leaving behind Cocoa monoculture or pasture area for farmers. Lack of funds do the rest and the communities suffer from erosion and income losses.

‘Don’t cut the branch you sit on’ is way too accurate here.


Besides the environmental influence there is a hidden one.

Coal fumes are dangerous. Carbon monoxide and other gases are attacking the health of those sitting closest to the stove. Women and children.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cook stoves (yes they exist) estimates that worldwide 4 million deaths are linked to household air pollution mostly from ‘dirty’ cook stoves.

Initiatives to help people understand this issues are difficult because they intertwine with local cooking culture, which is holy to mostly every culture on the face of this planet. I bet everyone, from any country can name a couple of examples what is unhealthy in their respective countries cooking culture.

Sitting in the trotro and hearing someone coughing in the back, I know, in 90% it is a mama with her baby on the back.







Greetings from Hamburg

I leave the house every morning at 6am.

Down the street at the junction I try to get one of the rare seats in a taxi and go to Zongo Junction to get a Trotro to stand in the traffic for the next 1-2 hours.

A big truck packed with used first world goods stands at the roadside and is being unloaded by several men.

Fridges, freezers, chairs, sun shades, ironing boards, toys, bicycles, TVs, sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, windows and other goods have just arrived on the Ghanaian market.

People from the neighborhood are coming to see what there is to sell, others leave while complaining about the high prices.

The woman selling the goods is greeting me with a friendly

” Guten Morgen, wie gehts?”

More and more I feel that either I became more obviously German, or Ghanaians became way better in guessing where I am from.

Deep inside myself I am hoping for the latter.

Since I am the only Obruni around, its pretty easy to recognize me. So we get into this conversation on how she thinks it so is funny, that I eat at the local place nearly every evening.

Fried cheese is the new thing to have with your Jollof. And its good and totally worth the 1 Cedi a piece.

Apparently she was worried that I might get sick from eating too spicy food. 

The guy on the trailer could have been a dockworker in Hamburg, judging by his look.