Thursday, December 30, 2021

Jacob Doherty's "Waste Worlds"

Jacob Doherty is Lecturer in Anthropology of Development at the University of Edinburgh.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Waste Worlds: Inhabiting Kampala's Infrastructures of Disposability, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[Enviro Clean Services was the company that] “came closest to enacting the idealized geography of responsible disposal envisioned in the 2000 waste management ordinance. As such, they illustrated the challenges of operating strictly within the legal framework governing Kampala’s waste and reveal, by their absence, the constitutive role of parasites in the political ecology of disposal. Founded by Andrew Egunyu, a Soroti-born businessman who left Uganda to study engineering in the Netherlands, where he stayed on to work in the aviation industry for nearly twenty years, ECS entered the Kampala market in 2013. At the behest of old friends, now prominent in the Kampala business community, Andrew returned to Uganda with a business plan and an idealist’s urge to contribute to the development of his nation’s capital city. His urge for development led him to a principled commitment to formality, to operating exclusively above board and by the books, and to refusing to pay any bribes or cut any regulatory corners. This commitment to the normative waste stream’s infrastructure of responsibility, however, ultimately contributed to the collapse of the company.

Andrew ran ECS from a small office in a repurposed half shipping container situated on a dusty road across from a guesthouse in an emerging middle-income neighborhood in northern Kampala. Victor Opeda brought me to the office to meet his new boss on a rainy day in April 2013, and the three of us shouted through a conversation as rain loudly lashed the roof and walls of the office. After the downpour passed, Andrew told me that ECS had attracted capital from investors in Qatar to purchase six brand-new, modern garbage trucks. At the moment, however, they only had 150 clients, enough to send out one truck twice a week. Even then, the trucks reached the landfill only three quarters full and the company lost money every time they sent out a truck. Adding fifty more clients in the residential areas they were already serving would make the route profitable, and Andrew preached patience.

As a marketer for EnviroClean Services, Victor was trying to expand the company’s business to the suburbs on the south side of Kampala, near his home in Gaba. He needed just one big anchor client to open up the market. He targeted Speke Resorts, the plush lakeside resort owned by Uganda’s wealthiest man, Sudhir Ruparelia, known simply as Sudhir. Victor knew how much plastic went to waste at Speke Resorts and wanted to set up recycling bins to “get it when it is still clean.”…
Reading page 99 gives a good sense of Waste Worlds as a whole for both the argument being made and the way it is presented. The page introduces ECS, a private waste management company doing its best to comply with the legal framework governing waste in the city. This is the beginning of an ethnographic analysis of the company’s operations and their struggles to establish themselves in the market that illustrates the ways that the so-called formal and informal sectors of the waste economy depend on and mutually produce one another.

On page 99 itself we can see several critical elements of Kampala’s waste infrastructures in practice. Far from isolated or city-scale formations, they are entangled with trans-national movements of people, goods, and capital. Market incentives structure the provision of waste management services, making emergent middle class neighborhoods key sites for the elaboration of new modes of waste collection, marketing, and thus relations between people and their discards. Waste workers have an intimate knowledge of the materiality of the city’s waste streams and ways of capturing and realizing value from them; this knowledge is productive of new geographies of waste collection. The state plays a central role in the production of waste economies, differentially legalizing and criminalizing aspects of the city’s waste management infrastructure that appear as discrete economic sectors, but are in fact deeply enmeshed. This combination of the criminalization of and dependency on the so-called ‘informal sector’, Waste Worlds argues, is how disposability takes place not simply as exclusion, but as a form of injurious inequitable inclusion in contemporary urban space.
Learn more about Waste Worlds at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue