This incident needs to make Africans realise that there is the need to depart from the dependency syndrome of relying on developed countries to help Africa resolve
its economic problems and issues relating to sustainable development. Although some
assistance might be necessary in this regard, African countries need to empower themselves at national, sub-regional and regional levels, in order to prevent the occurrence of such events. Africa needs to conduct a self-evaluation of the reasons which lead to such sad incidents. Apart from blaming developed countries where laws are stringent above everything else, Africa also needs to take stock of the factors which are responsible for such acts. These factors include the promotion of economic activity, corruption, lack of laws or their weak enforcement when they exist, insufficient public enlightenment, inadequate educational curricula in primary and high schools as well as universities and low capacity. The answer to these lies in Africa empowering itself to deal with these issues by prioritizing and addressing them accordingly.
Such empowerment has begu n to an extent. When African countries, under the OAU, adopted the Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa in 1991, it took seven years for this treaty to come into force. The main aim of this convention is to ban the entry of toxic waste into Africa, that is, the prevention of cases such as Probo Koala. This convention, adopted two years after the global Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste with developed countries in 1989, showed a dissatisfaction on the part of these countries with developed countries' dumping toxic waste in Africa, a trend which had become very common in the 1980s. Basel sought to regulate the importation and exportation of certain categories of toxic waste between developed and developing countries, subject to the incorporation of environmentally sound principles. This treaty further aimed at banning trade in extremely high forms of toxic waste such as PCBs altogether. On the other hand, Bamako prohibited any form of toxic waste imports or exports from the first world to Africa, but permitted African countries to promote such trade in some forms of toxic waste, subject to the inclusion of ecologically rational principles. However, with Basel's Ban Amendment which seeks to forbid the transboundary movement of hazardous waste from OECD to non-OECD countries, Basel could have similar aims to Bamako. The Ban Amendment is still not yet in force though.
Both the Basel and Bamako Conventions require that importing countries and countries in transit need to receive prior information and documentation about the characteristics of future imports of hazardous waste from exporting countries. Countries also need to enact national legislation which conforms to the ideals of these two conventions. Parties need to ensure that any waste which they produce is recycled or disposed of in an en vironmentally sound manner. Member states of these conventions also have an obligation not to accept any substances if they are not sure about the scientific effects, thereby, promoting the important precautionary principle of international environmental law. This principle is essentially one of foresight and alertness.
Under the Bamako Convention, African countries need to establish a Dumpwatch mechanism to play a watchdog role by alerting the secretariat of this convention, the then OAU (now the AU), in Addis Ababa of such potential shipments. Hence, when in 2000, the MJ Jona vessel suddenly appeared in Banjul ports carrying about 1600 tonnes of substances suspected to be toxic waste, the Gambian National Environmental Management Agency, the Gambia Police Force and the Gambia Ports Authority sent a Note Verbale to the OAU, reporting this incident. The OAU quickly liaised with these authorities in The Gambia, UNEP in Nairobi and other agencies, and thes e agencies collaboratively sent the vessel out of The Gambia. In that same year, the Orient Flower, a Romanian ship carrying material which was suspected to be toxic waste, appeared in the ports of Senegal. This information was sent to the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which communicated this news to the OAU. The OAU then collaborated with the Senegalese authorities to dispatch the ship back to Romania. These two cases show that contrary to certain perceptions, the Bamako Convention is functional in a sense and African countries have to an extent, implemented the Dumpwatch, as required by this treaty. However, these are just very few examples, because even after Bamako, with the occurrence of Probo Koala, such a precautionary approach needs to be enforced by every African country. Furthermore, toxic waste dumping is not an issue of the past and keeps re-occurring.
Indeed, hazardous waste does not only suggest scenarios where it is transported on a ship and dumped from one country to another. On the contrary, hazardous waste affects the existence of the daily life of every individual. When bleaching cream is brought in from neighbouring countries such as Togo for sale and use in Ghana, some of these creams contain hazardous chemicals such as PCBs, which are poisonous and deadly for the human body. When used batteries from torches, radios and other electrical equipment are placed at dump sites where scavengers and children can freely open them up, it must be borne in mind that these batteries contain deadly chemicals such as cadmium, which inflict perils on the respiratory organs of human beings and cause other diseases, as well as atmospheric pollution, pollution to rivers and others. When car batteries are being recycled for use and sale, these substances contain a form of lead which is another hazardous substance but is recycled in an environmentally sound manner with sophisticated technology. This is a practice whi ch is promoted by the Johannesburg-based Fry's metals company and is indeed worthy of emulation. This is why used car batteries, upon being recycled for sale in certain rural communities of Niger, in the face of meagre infrastructure and lack of sound ecological principles, caused all manner of disasters to the human beings practising this business, their livestock and other forms of lives.
When companies such as Ghana's Tema Oil Refinery and Cte d'Ivoire's Socit Ivorienne de Raffinage import crude oil for recycling and refining for sale, the crude oil is processed with some amount of toxic chemicals which need to be managed carefully lest they cause a negligent spill and cause hazardous perils. These two companies are success stories which can be followed in other parts of the African continent. Fluorescent tubes, clinical themometres and certain forms of medical waste are said to contain some amount of mercury which affects the nerves and can cause phy sical paralysis, psychological disorders and other forms of sickness in human beings. Hence, the manner in which they are disposed of, after being used, is one which requires caution. Certain categories of asbestos used in roofing sheets, named as carcinogenic asbestos, can cause cancer in human beings. The desire to phase out lead in gasoline, as evidence in the UNEP Dakar Declaration on the Phase-Out of Leaded Gasoline in Sub-Saharan Africa and the intent to eliminate leaded petrol, as shown in the WSSD Declaration on the Phase-Out of Leaded Petrol in Sub-Saharan Africa, is a move to enable African and other countries to depart from using leaded gasoline and petrol, as lead can cause nervous disorders. Based on these which are just a few examples of the instances where hazardous wastes and chemicals are present, hazardous/toxic waste is obviously an inevitable part of every human activity.
These examples also confirm that toxic waste is evidently not a thing of the past, but continues to affect the everyday lives of people. Its inherent transboundary nature means that when it causes an accident in one country, the effects can be felt in neighbouring countries. This happened in the Sandoz Spill in Switzerland, when in 1986, a factory in Switzerland accidentally spilled chemicals which inter-alia, polluted the Rhine River in Germany and other European countries, and many fishes were killed. One toxic waste accident can also have a persistent effect for many years, as in Love Canal. Here, the adverse impacts of chemical emissions by factories in the US in 1940 were felt 37 years later, that is, in 1977, when these substances oozed from the basement of people's homes. The mismanagement of toxic waste, as well as its illicit importation and exportation can also cause other environmental problems such as pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases. Thi s could in turn result in climate change. Above everything else, toxic waste accidents not only cause fatal diseases in human beings, but result in their death as well.
In African countries, incidents of pollution of rivers in a village or town and deadly sickness have resulted from the careless dumping of mining waste and the use of certain chemicals in mining activities. Cases in point are Zambia's copper mining activities in its Copperbelt area and Ghana's gold mining projects in parts of Ahafo, Tarkwa and Abekwasi. Hence, toxic waste incidents do not only suggest the occasional fatal tragedy where ships carry deadly chemicals to export or dump in a country, but are inextricably linked to the daily lives of Africans.
Where the lives of citizens in local communities are affected as have been in these cases here, how do these victims seek timely, adequate and effective legal redress in the absence of a national law which addresses th ese issues?
In light of incidents such as Probo Koala and these examples, is it sufficient for an African country to simply rely on the provisions of Bamako or Basel, or should each one of the 53 African countries have a national law which forbids illicit imports of toxic waste, as each of these conventions do require? Why have these countries not all conformed to this requirement, and in cases where there are fragmented laws, simply consolidated them? With a national law, individuals, companies and other parties in countries can easily resort to provisions for interpretation, and it could be easier to ensure penaltiesimprisonment, fines and other measures for such acts which are crimes against humanity. Such a law could clearly illustrate the classes of waste which should be traded in but subject to which internationally acceptable and recognized standards and which ones should be banned. This recommended municipal legislation could also provide a defini tion of what amounts to toxic waste, with relevant explanatory memoranda where necessary, and the exact effects of each type of waste on human health and the ecology, based on empirical scientific evidence. Compliance and liability at municipal level then become easy to deal with.
Such recommended national laws should also conform to the obligations of African countries under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade (1998) and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (2001). Where they have not ratified Rotterdam and Stockholm, it may be advisable to do so, as these two treaties, in addition to Basel, regulate wastes which also include chemicals and pesticides, all of which are used in Africa. In addition to sending officials from ministries and customs officers for the green training programmes of such treaties, African countries also need to train other affe cted members of the society such as farmers on the objectives of these treaties, as ideally reflected in a national law. Many farmers, particularly those in Africa's rural communities, owing to reasons of insufficient levels of awareness, continue to use obsolete pesticides and chemicals during their farming practices, for ripening tomatoes and other purposes. The long-term effects become damaging to their health. Farmers could then benefit from receiving training on the requirements of a national law, in a language they can easily grasp and comprehend, with the provision of alternative and more suitable chemicals which they need to use.
Regarding the proposed national legislation, Cte d'Ivoire enacted its law on toxic waste as far back as 1988. It also has provisions which seek to promote a human right to a decent environment in its constitution of 2000. Its Loi. No. 96-766 of 1996 portant Code de l'Environnement (1996) also seeks to enhance the precautionary and other environmental principles. Egypt enacted its law on toxic waste in 1994 and Nigeria in 1988, after its similar disaster where PCBs and other toxic waste were dumped from Italy to Nigeria that year. Ghana and South Africa both have a series of fragmented legislation covering the regulation of pesticides and other chemicals. In a case such as Nigeria which currently witnesses the illicit dumping of obsolete and toxic computers, some amendments could be made to its law, so that the aims of Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm are all realized at respective national levels. In the cases of South Africa, Ghana and other African countries which have pieces of policies and law, they could consolidate these laws for more uniformity, and also, ensure that the requirements of these globally ratified treaties are reflected accordingly in national law.
It is further important t hat regional blocs such ECOWAS and the EAC, just like AU, SADC and COMESA provide stipulations which govern environmental issues including waste imports and exports. This is precisely what the EU and NAFTA have done. These African regional blocs should spell out clear and specific guidelines on how each form of waste should be treated, recycled and disposed of. Africa's regional mechanisms can further liaise more closely with the Basel Regional Centres in Dakar, Ibadan and Pretoria, in order to monitor relevant trends, organise collaborative workshops and regulate toxic waste trade. These regional blocs should further enforce the Protocol on Liability and Compensation under the Bamako Convention, as Basel's Protocol on Liability and Compensation, adopted since 1999 is still not yet in place. At the regional level of the European Union (EU) though, EU member states have diligently ensured that there are sufficient stipulations on compliance and liability at respective nationa l levels and at the regional level, to promptly and efficiently hold offenders accountable when necessary. Africa can follow this example. The US may not be a member to the Basel Convention for instance, but this country has diligently ensured that at various federal levels, different laws are enacted in its states to promote sound waste management practices in reality.
As such, it is imperative that African countries enact and enforce appropriate national laws to conform to their requirements under the Basel, Stockholm, Rotterdam and Bamako Conventions, with the exact procedures and penalties in the absence of compliance. With the occurrence of Probo Koala and other pressing toxic waste issues faced at home, these are some of the lessons and recommendations which African countries could adopt to suit their peculiar circumstances, as they strive to attain the goals of sustainable development.