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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 16:25 GMT 17:25 UK
Is enough being done to clean up Africa?
The natural beauty of many towns and cities in Africa has been spoilt over the years by increasing amounts of garbage.

Nairobi, for example, once Kenya's "green city in the sun" is now known to many as the "stinking city in the garbage". Across the continent, the beautiful beaches of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, have become a dumping ground for garbage and human waste.

Yet the situation can be changed. In Lagos the authorities have recently made great steps in cleaning up a city which was thought to have had an impossible garbage crisis.

How deep is the problem of rubbish where you live? Do you think people care enough about litter? How can we help to make the continent cleaner? Is there cash in trash? Could local authorities be doing more to tackle the problem?

This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.


If a citizen of a country cannot afford a slice of bread for the day, it is unlikely that that person would distinguish what is clean and what is not. In the presence of social and economic stagnation it is difficult for some member of the society to care much about cleaning garbage. In fact, in most cases, the garbage problem can only be solved in a presence of stiff law from the government and the awareness of the society of the cleaning benefit. Here in USA littering alone could cost you up to $500 and more. Such fines can also serve as a deterrent and force citizens not even to think of dropping a small piece of paper.
Eyob Tadesse, Ethiopian in US

The biggest problem is mismanagement and corruption by the city councils. The problem lies with the city administrators. Most of the authorities are given the chance to administer the city just because they support the ruling party Authorities must also put in place a system where the rubbish is collected and disposed of regularly and efficiently. Recycling, (composting household scraps, plastics, aluminium, etc.) is another way to lessen the amount of waste. The media can play a vital role in teaching the communities about the seriousness of this problem. If Africa wants to boost tourism to help its economy, if it wants to reduce the spread of certain diseases and improve its overall health and environment, it cannot sit by and do nothing.
Raymond, Kenya


The main key to a cleaner environment is education

Sinoe Forleh, Monrovia, Liberia
The main key to a cleaner environment is education. Once my people are educated about cleanliness, breathing good air, drinking clean water than I say we don't need the government. The individuals can keep a clean country. Once you see you are living among dead bodies, daily cooking trash, rats, etc. at some point you are going to get tired and take a stand. Most people are complacent with their living situations but once they see other people doing something about it that is when they join in. No one can have a thought, a dream a sense of urgency to clean the mess up until they see others doing it. Africa need to become independent, knowledgeable, concern and responsible for her actions and clean up the mess that the present leaders brought upon the citizens. We pray that things will get better for Africa because we all know Africa is a beautiful continent in and of itself.
Sinoe Forleh, Monrovia, Liberia

The problem with African cities as well as there Western equivalents can be best attributed to population explosion -- cram 11 million people in a city the size of Paris and see the results. Africa has fewer cities and the trend for migration from the villages to these inadequate and low-budget townships creates these environmental dilemmas. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria. My parents hailed from south eastern Nigeria. Back then (in the 60s), you could count a handful (about 15) of my kinship in Lagos (the majority lived in the villages). Today, there are many more of them in Lagos alone. Gone is: tranquillity; the grass and flower hedges we kept; the dust bins managed by the local city council and the silence of the nights. As humans, Africans migrate in search of greener pastures, but find out (the hard way) that these cities, hold not a glimmer of hope but despair.
S. Ike, Nigeria

The main problems of garbage in most African cities are due to mismanagement by our city-council leaders. Due to corruption and maladministration, no one will ever give out funds to employ people to clean Nairobi, the best idea is to prosecute the dumpers, and Nairobi will be a green city as in 80's. Let the government set laws and implement them regarding disposal of rubbish.
SAM WAT, UK

Africa cannot be cleaned from the garbage until the living conditions of Africans are improved. Uncleanness is one of the symbols of the poor person.
Xariri, Somalia


If the government is not acting, we the people can make the difference!

Imam, Ethiopia
It has been a couple of years since I left Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, but still I can attest to the fact that the city is getting dirtier by the day. That has to do with the multitude of problems the responsible bodies have on their hands and cleaning up the dirt seems way down on their agenda. True, that is no excuse, but it's so disheartening to see such pessimistic and accusing tones from most of you. Why not applaud those who are doing their best and find out how we can help them. In Addis one artist by the name of Seleshi Demissie is leading a successful campaign of cleaning up the dirt by teaching high school students, street children and the public at large using songs and poems. Armed with thousands of volunteers and donors, he is turning dirty corners in the city into beautiful urban parks. This has also created a way of earning a living for numerous street children. Seleshi has shown us the way - if the government is not acting, WE, the people can make the difference!
Imam, Ethiopia

I visited Lusaka last June/July - it seemed cleaner than before. I understand several steps have been taken by the people themselves. I found trash bins in the city. I do not know how clean the other areas are but that was impressive to me. The restaurants were places I could eat like a hungry lion.
Elliot Munsanje, Zambia, currently residing in US

How would people care when they are ruled by uncaring, cruel and mean governments like the one we have in Addis? First we had seventeen years of torture by the previous leader, Mengistu, and now almost ten years of barbaric and sugar-coated leadership under the Tigre thugs! Ethiopians are very unfortunate. All they do is pray. Survival is their main concern now.
Workineh, USA/Ethiopian


Citation is given for any improper disposal of garbage

Medhanie, Eritrean/USA
In the midst of discussion about African cities' garbage problem, I think there is a city where the answer to the problem may lie. Even long before independence, the capital city of Eritrea, Asmara, is always known for its immaculate avenues and pedestrian roads. Strict sanitation codes are implemented. Citation is given for any improper disposal of garbage. You don't see or hear about street dwellers or beggars, which, by the way, contribute a great deal to the problem. Its people along with city authorities have always managed to keep the city clean. Other African cities could take a lesson.
Medhanie, Eritrean/USA

The great city of Kumase, the capital of the Asante kingdom of Ghana, was reckoned the "most beautiful city in West Africa" prior to independence, according to a traveller's book of the time! Such was the beauty of the tree-lined boulevards, that Kumase earned the moniker "The Garden City"! People still refer to Kumase as Garden City, though one will be hard pressed to find any shade from the sun these days. The city centre looks like a desert with hardly any trees left. The problem is exacerbated by all manner of refuse thrown onto the streets by vendors and the general public. When Kumase was founded a little over 300 years ago a law was passed whereby the residents were required to burn their trash. It is gratifying to note that the current king is taking steps to ameliorate the problems his forbears accomplished.
Kofi Ellison, USA via Asuonwun, Ghana.

Why is it every problem in Africa somehow has as its source the West? How about, the garbage problems in Africa are further evidence of a values issue on the part of Africans? They don't pick up the garbage because it doesn't matter to them. I've seen several cities in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Mozambique. Where people value themselves, their neighbourhoods and their cities, it is clean. Where people don't care about anything save themselves, the cities and neighbourhoods are a mess. There won't be any change on the outside of a city until there is change on the inside of a city's people. The values a person chooses are not the fault of someone or something outside of that person. It's time for people in Africa to be told they are responsible for themselves and the consequences of their actions.
Jim Middleton, Glendale, Arizona, USA


Taxes paid for the collection of garbage often ended up in the pockets of fat government elites

Stephen Okot, UK/Sudanese
The main problems of garbage in most African cities are due to mismanagement by our city-council leaders. Taxes paid for the collection of this garbage often ended up in the pockets of fat government elites. To me the problems can be stopped by privatising all the city councils. Instead of public garbage collections, the government can introduce recycling systems within individual homes or centres. This can enable the garbage company to collect the garbage promptly. Through this policy our towns will be clean.
Stephen Okot, UK/Sudanese

Where is the real garbage and pollution problem? I lived for several years in Gabon and it seems that the average family of six there creates less waste in a month than a single American creates in a day. The Gabonese use scrap paper to wrap food. I saw children make balls out of strings and plastic bags, and toy cars out of tin cans and wood scraps. Just because western countries hide their garbage, does not mean our environment is cleaner than that of African countries. The U.S. has seen the rate of cancer and birth defects skyrocket in the past 50 years, which corresponds to the increasing number of new industrial chemicals polluting our atmosphere and increases in the amount of toxic fumes from garbage dumps. Once again the western media paints a gloomy picture of Africa when in reality, westerners could learn a lot from Africans about not being so wasteful.
Susan Feldmann, USA

The problem lies with the city administrators. Most of the authorities are given the chance to administer the city just because they support the ruling party - not because they are qualified. Most of them are ill-educated and inexperienced, and do not have a sense of belonging to the city -most of them were born and brought up in some other area.
Assefa, Ethiopia

Luanda, Angola is a great place to begin a discussion on Africa's garbage. Twenty five years of war and an exploding refugee nightmare has meant that this city's trash had not been collected in a quarter century. However, the governor of Luanda, Anibal Rocha, has begun an aggressive campaign to collect garbage and beautify this once jewel of a city. He is an example of what can be done by public servants who are dedicated to their constituents rather than their own betterment. Everyone who revisits Luanda comments on how much cleaner the city is than their previous trip.
John Rosenberg, USA


Certain African countries have been deprived of so many basic necessities by their so-called leaders

Teshome/H, Canada
So far Africa has a more serious problem than the garbage crisis even though this is still one of the major problems that we are seeing currently. I think certain African countries have been deprived of so many basic necessities by their so-called authorities and leaders. We should not blame the people at all, the ones to blame are those in power and they should be ashamed of themselves.
Teshome/H, Canada

The most distressing sights in this country are those of human poverty - people living on the streets, lacking food and drinking unsafe water, to name a few. My - comfortably off - western eyes also see the plastic that is taking up what seems likely to be a secure long-term tenure on much of the open ground in Addis. If only a use could be found for these bags, it might then be possible to offer a small amount of money to people to collect them. This in turn would provide work for some of those most in need of it in this city.
Dave, Ethiopia

In Malawi's capital Lilongwe, street vending and inadequate market facilities have led to littering reaching intolerable levels unseen before. The root of the problem is the lack of political will among local leaders to enforce bylaws that relate to sanitation. The street vendors are virtually untouchable because of the many votes that they provide during elections. Local leaders need to realise that political expediency and dictates of necessity do not always coincide and that it is necessary sometimes to pursue the latter for the greater good.
Cyprian Kambili, Malawian in the UK

Zimbabwe is also getting filthier by the day. It used to be admired for being so clean but is now an embarrassment. The majority of the population just doesn't care enough. There are plenty of refuse drums around so there is no excuse for the filth on the streets. You can be driving behind a bus and next moment a maize cob or other litter is thrown out of the window with no regard as to who it might hit or at the end of the day who is going to pick it up. I am African born but was taught to be clean and tidy. Maybe it is a cultural thing but Africa is deteriorating rapidly. It is very sad but Africans can only blame themselves for this.
Concerned, Zimbabwe


Education, recycling, mandatory clean-up exercises for offenders are just a few solutions

L Sabino-Foli, USA
Poor does not have to mean dirty. There is much more that can be done to tackle this terrible problem. Education, recycling, mandatory clean-up exercises for offenders are just a few solutions. We could start by educating children about the environmental hazards and the role poor sanitation plays in disease. However, the authorities must not just provide lip service, they must provide dustbins around the cities and encourage businesses to have them outside their shops. Authorities must also put in place a system where the rubbish is collected and disposed of regularly and efficiently. Recycling, (composting household scraps, plastics, aluminium, etc.) is another way to lessen the amount of waste. The media can play a vital role in teaching the communities about the seriousness of this problem. If Africa wants to boost tourism to help its economy, if it wants to reduce the spread of certain diseases and improve its overall health and environment, it cannot sit on its hands.
L Sabino-Foli, Ghanaian/Brazilian, USA

The local authorities are not interested in cleaning up the city. They are elected, they are paid whether the city is clean or not. The best way to clear African cities is to give the job to a private business committee so they might charge per service.
Kumass, Canada

Garbage heaps in major African cities are symptomatic of the crass administrative inefficiency that is the order of the day in most countries. You cannot deal with the problem without first installing a leadership that is responsible to the people and to the environment. I see the filth in African cities as a sad metaphor for the political and moral decay on the continent.
Moses Ebe Ochonu, Nigeria/USA

Moses Ochonu is absolutely right in comparing the filth in our cities with the state of leadership on our continent. This has to be one of those very rare but refreshing instances when a fellow African has not blamed the West for our people's suffering. On a recent visit to Lagos, I was most saddened to see our people selling and consuming food right next to raw sewage. This, I was told, was because most of them had neither homes nor jobs of any description - in effect, they were being forced to live like rodents, literally! Is it not regrettably ironic, that even our so-called "uncivilised" ancestors would have been horrified at the thought of living like that? It angers me even more to have learnt that there are a number of "Honourable Ministers" who have direct responsibilities to these people, but who never even see them. This is what self-governance has meant to us.
UE, UK/Nigeria

It is time for African Greens to wake up and fulfil their role to educate African people about environmental issues and the party's policies.
Somali Green party, Somalia


We should not allow ourselves to lose hope

Hauza, USA/Ethiopia
I have not been to my city Addis Ababa in almost a decade. From what I hear from friends and family who had the opportunity to go back, it seems to have got a bit dirtier, to say the least. For some reason, both city officials and dwellers seem to have given up on the idea of making the city clean. I think there needs to be an effort made to make both parties aware of the problem, and aware that it is a manageable problem. We should not allow ourselves to lose hope. This seems to be the case in many parts of Africa.
Hauza, USA/Ethiopia

I would like to know what the problem is. Is it a problem of money and funds? Is it a problem of pride? Is it a problem of scarce resources to tackle trash? This is one of the things I didn't like when I was resident in a city in Africa. Rubbish is not good, since it fuels epidemics such as cholera. Perhaps it will be good if industrial societies and other nations find ways to make products that are biodegradable and that will not create such waste that may be hard to dispose of in some instances. But this is one thing that bothered me - seeing the trash in the city. It made me long for more rural areas where there tended to be more cleanliness, or places in the West.
MR, USA

I was lucky enough to live on the beautiful island of Malta for a year (which some will say is part of Africa, others part of Europe). Despite its historical and natural glories, the eyesore of rubbish was everywhere. Garbage seemed to float through the streets some days, and many parts of the island had terrible smells of rot. As a foreigner, I regarded the problem of pollution as a national shame to the Maltese. On many occasions I saw Maltese dropping their litter in the streets, and there didn't seem to be any social stigma attached to doing this. I'm sure the Maltese care about their country, but they really didn't show this care in keeping it clean.
Jay S. von Bethke, South Dakota, USA

Nairobi's middle name should be changed to Garbage City of Kenya instead of Capital City of Kenya. Nairobi should win a medal for being so dirty/filthy and ugly. Soon tourists from all over the world may have a new attraction, garbage, in Nairobi. The leaders of Kenya do not even listen or care! What a tragedy!
Pius Masioge Aoga, Kenya


Cleaning up Africa is an Africans and only Africans concern

Befekir Kebede, Australia
Yes it certainly is another problem of the continent and most certainly another 'darker' aspect of Africa that the Western world could laugh and joke about. Africa is somehow a day - after-day deteriorated continent and no international organisation and any Western government seems to care. Cleaning up Africa is an Africans and only Africans concern. But remember Africa would be much appreciative if it believed that the West has a genuine intention of being concerned about it. But Africans know very well that Western deceiving concern is not trustworthy. If you want to help, just leave the continent alone altogether.
Befekir Kebede, Australia

Uncontrolled littering and garbage not only pollutes the environment in Africa, but is also a serious health hazard. While the government should take more strict and persistent measures to curb this bad habit of littering the towns with household dirt, the families must also take the responsibility towards keeping the towns clean. The governments should provide proper recycling measures and the population should learn the simple lessons of cleanliness: drop the dirt where it should be, that is in the cans.
Kenneth N Ngwa, Cameroonian in USA

As a resident of Nairobi, Kenya, I agree that the litter and garbage problem has tarnished our once "green" city. Most people are ignorant and refuse to see the common good of following proper waste disposal procedures, all they care about is getting the rubbish out of their houses and stinking up the whole city. It is also a matter of economic poverty. Nairobi does not have the infrastructure, facilities nor manpower to implement waste management in a timely and efficient manner. Those responsible for picking up garbage have done their job for a while; thus garbage has accumulated unchallenged. It seems like we are waiting in vain for unseen force to solve this problem because for sure the government is not going to do it. Local communities must, therefore, take the responsibility to clean up their own neighbourhoods and enforce the rules. They should not rely on a government that will never deliver.
George Mutua, Kenya


The weapon to make people aware of cleanness and proper handling of litter is certainly education

Abera, USA/Ethiopian
The weapon to make people aware of cleanness and proper handling of litter is certainly education. We should start introducing the idea of 'if each of us clean our neighbourhood eventually we clean our cities'. Unfortunately we have not done enough to teach our people the seriousness of this issue. So far cleanness and tackling trash has never been a concern for African media and local leader.
Abera, USA/Ethiopian

The biggest problem is mismanagement and corruption by the city councils. There is no emphasis in planning or budgeting. In the case of Nairobi/Kenya, the city government has failed miserably, that the only solution I can think of is to disband it.
RT, Kenya

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