| 22 February 2024, Thursday |

Ghana’s children scavenging for scrap

From tin containers to iron bars and zinc, Ghana’s children are eking out a living picking through rubbish. They are scavenging for plastic and metal at the frontlines of the scrap business. Plastic is harder to sell than the scrap metal. They sell it to the dealers who roam the streets. Dealers melt down the tin and aluminum. The number of children collecting waste has surged. It’s become worse during the pandemic. And due to a lack of transparency, dealers are said to cheat the kids.

Ghana is in a debt crisis. Despite having had significant amounts of debt cancelled a decade ago, the country is losing around 30% of government revenue in external debt payments each year. Such huge payments are only possible because Ghana has been able to take on more loans from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are used to pay the interest on debts to previous lenders, whilst the overall size of the debt increases.

The underlying causes of the debt crisis are the continued dependence on commodity exports, as well as borrowing and lending not being responsible enough, meaning that new debts do not generate sufficient revenue to enable them to be repaid.

Ghana’s dependence on commodities dates back to colonialism. The borders of the country now known as Ghana were established by the British colonists in the late-19th century. The Europeans had first started coming to the ‘Gold Coast’ in the late-15th century to open up alternative trade routes to the Sahara in order to access the region’s gold. The Portuguese, Dutch, British, Germans, Swedes and Danes all built or occupied castles and forts which were used as prisons for the slave trade.

The ending of the slave trade coincided with the industrial revolution, when European powers once again became more interested in Africa’s physical commodities – raw materials such as fossil fuels, metals and cash crops – rather than in forcibly shipping its people across the Atlantic. With the ‘scramble for Africa’ in the 19th century, the British extended their influence further inland, seeking direct control of gold and other resources.