Soludo and the crisis of waste disposal: some lessons from Rwanda

Professor Soludo and ndi Anambra can learn a couple of lessons from both the cultural practices and environmental cleaning strategies of Kigali, Rwanda, which is one of the cleanest cities in the world

This article became necessary in response to the agitation and restiveness surrounding the cleaning up of the humongous build-up of trash inherited by the recently inaugurated government of Professor Chukwuma Soludo. Given the immense environmental threats posed by the humongous waste sites across Anambra State’s main cities (particularly the commercial city of Onitsha), there is an urgent need for the governor to employ radically innovative strategies in tackling the problem.

We must commence by acknowledging that neither Professor Soludo nor members of his household generated the waste that is threatening to swallow up Anambra State; Anambra citizens did. Cleaning up Anambra State and keeping the state clean is, therefore, the task of every Anambrarian. The much that Professor Chukwuma Soludo can do is to provide leadership, structure and the platform for Anambrarians to galvanize into action with regard to cleaning up their state and keeping it clean. When Anambrarians combine forces with Professor Soludo, then the task becomes easier and quicker. In this instance, both Professor Soludo and ndi Anambra can learn a couple of lessons from both the cultural practices and environmental cleaning strategies of Kigali, Rwanda, which is one of the cleanest cities in the world. The two most auspicious lessons from Rwanda are the ban on the use of single-use plastics and the public-private partnership in waste management.

Lifestyle, Single-use Plastics and Environmental Pollution

One glaring factor that seems so often overlooked is that, in recent times, ndi Anambra have adopted certain environmentally damaging western lifestyles which are responsible for the nature and quantity of trash which are unprecedented in the history of the state, and which the state is clearly unable to handle. Even in the Global North, governments are becoming overwhelmed by the nature and amount of trash generated by citizens. They know it is unsustainable and there are efforts in place to address the lifestyle choices of citizens and maintain a clean and hygienic environment. In Anambra State, one example of the adoption of the Western lifestyle is the unchecked use of single-use plastics

Anambra state is crumbling under the weight of disposable single-use plastics. These plastics come in the form of “Pure water” bags, plastic “polythene” bags used in bagging groceries, plastic bottles that hold water and drinks, as well as disposable plates and cutlery used to hawk much-beloved delicacies in the state and across Nigeria, such as abacha, ukwa, achicha, okpa, moi-moi, akara, rice ofeakwu, roast yam, unripe and ripe plantain and sauce, porridge beans, suya, to mention a few.  Until recently, these single-use plastics were sparingly used in Anambra State. Hawkers of these foods used old newspapers to wrap the dried variety of the foods and carried durable stainless steel plates and cutlery which they collected from customers after use and washed. Drinks were also sold in reusable glass bottles. These days, however, single-use plastics/cans are now so cheaply and widely available.

It is these same plastics that have blocked drainages across the state, especially in the urbanized areas, causing serious flooding and the build-up of hard-to-dispose-of trash. These plastics are not biodegradable and cannot be converted into compost. Burning plastics is worst, as it poses serious health hazards that are more horrible than living in a pile of refuse dumps. When plastics are burned, toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or BCPs, are released into the air. The presence of these gases in the air threatens the continued existence of generations of plants, people, and animals, as it transcends the present generation to mutate in the genes, causing irreparable damage to the DNA.

Rwanda’s Solution to Single-Use Plastics

The Rwandan government passed legislation prohibiting the use of plastic bags in 2008. The Act forbade the production, import, usage, and sale of plastic bags. The prohibition involves rigorous border control and anyone who uses plastic bags will face penalties. Citizens, eager to keep their countries clean, have helped to enforce the rules. Citizen policing is key in maintaining this ban. While in Rwanda in 2011, I was gently informed by a friend to remember to not bring back polythene bags from my trips outside of the country, after I returned from the United States with some polythene bags which custom inspection could not fish out among my items. This is what it means for people to take ownership of a policy because they understand its importance.

Like Rwanda, the population of Anambra State hovers at around 12 million, although by way of population density,  Anambra State is much denser than Rwanda. Like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Professor Soludo will have to take a strong stand against the use of single-use plastic bags in the state. Like Rwandan citizens, ndi Anambra will have to join forces with the government and enforce compliance. Every person must be a taskforce unto themselves and their neighbours.

Citizen sensitization is a key strategy that must be used by the Soludo administration in achieving this aim. This awareness will take the form of discouraging single-use plastics with clear reasons as to why they are detrimental to the state and the lives of citizens. Alternatives to single-use plastics will also need to be provided and investments built around them.The government can support citizen investment in the production of woven baskets and paper bags, for instance. Woven baskets for shopping will, in turn, help to give life to the traditional weaving industry in Anambra state.

Public-Private Partnership in Solid Waste Collection

The Anambra State government is in charge of solid waste management. In Rwanda, solid waste management is a public/private partnership enterprise. In an interview granted to a Nigerian national daily in February 2021, Amechi Akora, the managing director of Anambra Waste Management Authority, stated that “less than 10 per cent of residents of the state pay the sanitation levy.”  What this means is that the state government is starved of funds to coordinate waste management and is incapable of revenue mobilization to that effect. Faced with this situation, the state government might learn a lesson or two from the Rwanda experience.

In Rwanda’s capital city, a partnership exists between the City of Kigali and 12 licensed waste management companies across the city. User fees are based on a person’s neighbourhood, sector, and financial position. Waste is collected from private residences in the city of Kigali once every seven days, whereas it is collected from public spaces once every day.

In Rwanda, there are three different types of licenses that may be obtained by garbage collection service operators in the nation. The first category is given to service providers that carry out their business inside the capital city of Kigali. The second group is for service providers located in secondary towns and cities that are located outside of Kigali, and the third category includes service providers that are located in rural areas.

As far as waste disposal is concerned, city authorities are in charge of the Kigali dumpsite where hundreds of citizens are employed in various capacities. There are sorters who categorize the waste into recyclable materials such as metal or paper, which are compacted and sold to interested businesses. Anambra State government can go further to partner with private companies to install compost-making facilities. In that case, compostable materials are sorted out and sold for use in making manure for agriculture, while recyclables are sold to interested businesses.

Other areas of interest include that the Rwandan culture frowns on indiscriminate eating and snacking. People do not eat on the road and sideways, while hawking is heavily discouraged by the government, among others. Eating wantonly is viewed as uncivilized and such a person is considered to be lacking in self-respect. Such cultural attribute is worthy of emulation by Anambrarians.

In all, the challenge of waste management in Anambra state is an easily surmountable one once there is strong collaboration between a willing and determined citizenry and the committed administration of Governor Chukwuma Soludo. The nation of Rwanda is an African country where some good practices have been modelled and can be learned by both the government and the people of Anambra State.

Dr. Chika Esiobu is the author of Education and Indigenous Knowledge in Africa (Springer, 2020). You may follow her on social media @dr.chikaesiobu.

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