Globally, solid waste is generated in the billions of tonnes every year. Though a lot of this waste is produced in the Global North, much of it ends up being exported to a handful of developing countries in Africa and Asia. The city of Accra in Ghana, for example, is now home to one of the world’s largest electronic waste dumps, where you’ll find used computers and appliances from all over Europe and the United States. Meanwhile landfills in Kenya are struggling to manage the growing volumes of textile waste that are traded into the country each year.
This makes waste colonialism one of the greatest challenges facing urban communities in Sub-Saharan Africa. While many in the region are turning to green tech for answers, a smaller group of innovators are approaching the issue from a slightly different angle. These creatives are using digital design to remind us that the waste crisis is also a crisis of imagination, and that storytelling can be a valuable tool in building a more circular future. Below are three inspiring projects to check out at the intersection of cinema, activism and immersive technologies, courtesy of Black Rhino VR, Enter Africa and Selly Raby Kane.
Black Rhino VR
The Forgotten Ones is a 360° interactive film that draws you into the world of Dandora: a sprawling landfill in Nairobi which is also home to a thriving community of tinkerers and scrap-workers. Besides its immersive format, what makes the piece unique is that the story is told from the perspective of the dumpsite itself. The outcome is a narrative that feels urgent and nuanced, showing how waste can be a burden to some, at the same time as it is a source of income or a place of refuge to others. The Forgotten Ones was created by BlackRhino VR, an extended reality agency that hopes to inspire change by amplifying the voices of Africa’s most vulnerable people.
As part of a project called Enter Africa, interdisciplinary teams of designers, urbanists and artists in 15 African cities came together to develop a series of location-based games with an educational twist. Chronicles of Klinu was developed by creatives from Accra to help young people better understand the origins and impacts of the pollution they see in their city. The game is set in a utopian version of the capital, one that’s far advanced in technology. The player embodies Klinu, a space commander who must eventually travel to the Agbogbloshie dumpsite to defeat a monster made of e-waste. Almost every character, location and symbol in the game is an allusion to Ghana’s culture, history, or potential future. As the creators put it: ‘Although the story may be a bit scary, it also revolves around love and curiosity. We want the players to feel what Agbogbloshie really is like — because it is only when you know the problem that you can come up with solutions.’
Selly Raby Kane
Selly Raby Kane is an artist and fashion designer whose work celebrates the hidden stories and myths of her native Senegal. She is known for her unique approach to storytelling: mixing urban, Afro and pop cultures to create visuals which transcend stereotypes and aesthetics. With Jant Yi, she offers us a fantasy film that culminates in a real-world call to action. Set in a dystopian Dakar, in which humans must generate electricity from energy expended with their own bodies, Jant Yi invites audiences to reconsider what it means to live (and to consume) in a time of climate breakdown. It also asks interesting questions about things like scarcity and sacredness, and how we might “inhabit the imaginary as a space for sowing potential futures.”