Wearing a face mask and armed with just her mobile phone, our Observer Fatoumata Chérif is waging a war against the build-up of rubbish in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. She has launched a campaign on social media to raise awareness about sanitation amongst her fellow citizens — and has met with some unexpected success.
Waste management in Conakry is a nightmare. The Guinean capital, which has 2 million residents, only has one landfill, which is located on the outskirts of the city. In 2016, Guinean authorities carried out a vast clean-up campaign with financing from the World Bank, with the aim to clean up 300,000 cubic metres of rubbish. However, these measures were largely insufficient, given that city dwellers generate between 600 and 1,000 tonnes of rubbish per day.
Several initiatives run by NGOs and private citizens try to fill the gap in waste management. The latest to date is an initiative launched by blogger Fatoumata Chérif. Last December, Chérif went walking all over the capital, smartphone in hand. She took a series of selfie-style photos and videos to document the rubbish that she observed. Then she posted the images on social media. Chérif launched this initiative as part of “FemmeVision2030”, a campaign that she leads. This campaign, launched by the NGO Feped among others, aims to raise awareness amongst women about sustainable development.
Chérif took to Facebook and Twitter to post pictures of this rubbish heap, located in the Kaloum neighbourhood, only a few metres away from a five-star hotel and Ignace Deen de Conakry Hospital. This open landfill also contains medical waste.
Chérif has also criticized rubbish burning, a common practice amongst Guineans who don’t know what to do with their waste. People often light these toxic fires in heavily populated areas. The following video shows a thick, toxic, black smoke rising out of the burning heap in the densely populated area around Kaloum station.
“I’m in this photo, so I am responsible, but also part of the solution”
These days, we all have mobile phones. People spend so much time trying to take beautiful photos, looking for the perfect location to capture on camera, always looking for the beautiful side of things. But behind the person taking a selfie, you can see the landscape. I wanted to use selfies to show how Conakry is being made ugly by all of this rubbish.
The message that I am trying to spread is this: "Be careful, we have to do something. Our environment is unsanitary. As a resident of Conakry, I am part of this unsanitary environment. I’m in this photo. So I am responsible, but I am also the solution."
"#RubbishSelfie #Episode5 In this picture, you can see the air pollution from rubbish burned outside in #Kaloum @Observateurs"
Without a doubt, the dirtiest place in Conakry that I went to was the Corniche de Tombo, a beach in the city. All different kinds of rubbish that has been tossed into the sea washes up there: tyres, sheet metal, car parts, shoes, juice bottles, jars of mayonnaise, old pots and pans... The way the road is built makes it impossible for dump trucks to access the beach. So the waste just keeps piling up.
"#RubbishSelfie #Episode2 #Tombo We aren’t going to turn a blind eye any longer. We must fight against rubbish along the seafront. But many families don’t know where to throw their rubbish @Guinean Official Government. Firstly, there is the citizen who wants to throw away his rubbish. Secondly, there is the problem that there is no designated place for that rubbish. So the solution ends up being the ocean because we think that she doesn’t belong to anyone and that she will accept it. Except, no. This ocean rebels and denounces us by rejecting our rubbish, by showing that she is not ready to accept the waste that we throw away. This should alert us to the fact that the ocean is not a bin. #warning #greenpolice #government #civilsociety #media #citizens #senacip"
“Sometimes, posting photos like this can push the authorities to act”
I’m not happy to just take photos! I also work with other volunteers to clean up the sites that we're aware of. But it is really demoralising: often, new rubbish will start piling up the day after we clean up a place. What worries me isn’t just the smell, it’s that it is also a health emergency. Many pieces of rubbish — like old bottles — are picked up by shopkeepers who just quickly rinse them and then fill them with juice to sell at the market.
For us, these photos are a good way to document the situation in the city. Sometimes, a simple photo can have an effect: for example, on the day after I posted photos of rubbish near the Palace of Nations, the authorities carried out an operation to clean up the site. As if by magic!
In this video, our Observer explains how the rubbish is piling up only a few metres from a centre where international conferences are held.
Individual initiative is essential, but nothing is going to get better unless a political solution is found. I am encouraging everyone to make videos like mine and post them using the hashtag #SelfieDechets (#RubbishSelfie). That might push authorities to do something about the problem.
Authorities have already been taking steps to respond to the rubbish problem. In November 2016, the governor of Conakry province established a “green brigade”, made up of 500 agents responsible for fighting against unsanitary conditions in the capital.