In central Accra, Ghana’s dead are buried under rubbish

A cemetery in Accra, Ghana. (Photos by Kenn Carr)
A cemetery in Accra, Ghana. (Photos by Kenn Carr)

Accra, the capital of Ghana, lacks the infrastructure to ensure proper waste management. Only 67% of rubbish is collected. The result is that even a cemetery can turn into a rubbish heap. Our Observer was shocked to see a space normally reserved for honoring lost loved ones desecrated in this way.

Kenn Carr is a digital entrepreneur in Accra. He was not far from the Parliament building in the centre of town, when he saw a cemetery that was “buried under rubbish”.

"Cans, bottles, plastic bags, paper and even human excrement!”

There is nothing more painful than losing a friend or family member. However, seeing the cemetery where your loved ones are buried turn into a rubbish heap adds to that pain.

That’s the reality for Osu Cemetery, in Accra. It was a horrifying sight. There were cans, bottles, plastic bags, paper and even human excrement!

This cemetery is right in the centre of town. It’s only about 250 metres from the infamous Black Star Square and the Ghanaian Parliament building.

I didn’t notice it until January 7, 2017 — the day that our new president, Nana Addo Akufo-Addo, was inaugurated. I was heading home in a taxi. It had been a historic day and I was feeling proud. However, when the taxi stopped at a red light, I suddenly smelled a nauseating odour. I looked up and saw a sign that said “cemetery”. At first, I thought it was the smell of bodies decomposing in their tombs, but it turned out to be the smell of the rubbish!

“The people who live in the neighbourhood are not being civic-minded”

What a lack of respect for the dead! I took stock of the entire cemetery and I was dumbstruck. Even the most expensive tombs were covered with all manner of rubbish.

The western wing of the cemetery was in an even worse state. I asked the caretaker where this rubbish comes from and he blamed the people living around the cemetery. Apparently they don’t have enough dumpsters at their disposal, so they throw their rubbish over the walls of the cemetery.

The families of the people who are buried here have complained numerous times. So has the caretaker. But that doesn’t change anything. The locals continue to throw their rubbish in the cemetery.

This situation made me reflect on the attitude of Ghanaians in general. We spend a huge amount of money on funerals but, ultimately, we insult people’s memory by covering their graves with rubbish. I hope that the photos I took will make people think. I also hope that the authorities will take the measures needed so that these burial grounds are respected.

Everyday, Ghana produces more than 13,000 tonnes of rubbish. Authorities have been unable to rise to this challenge and waste management infrastructure is seriously lacking. To make it all worse, Ghana is one of the main receivers of global electronic waste. More than 100,000 tonnes of computers, televisions, refrigerators and cell phones are shipped from Europe to Ghana each year and contribute to the general level of pollution in the country.