The Exploiter and the Exploited: The Case of the US Incinerator Ash in Kassa Island, West Africa as viewed in the Marxist Perspective*

Souride and Kassa Island, Conakry, Guinea. Photo taken from

The dumping of incinerator ash in Kassa Isalnd, West Africa by the US is a clear example of how the least developed countries end up with pollution (and environmental despoliation eventually) though they do not, in the first place, enjoy the benefits of hosting industrial processes which primarily cause the generation of wastes (Yearley, 1996). After all, some Third World countries are so poor that they can be easily manipulated by the more affluent countries to come up with outcomes which are favorable to the latter. For instance, the practice of the “double standards” which was discussed in the previous section has affected the poorer countries in such a way that they bear the burden of handling risks which the wealthier countries can no longer accept. This can be vividly illustrated in the waste-dumping issue posited herein. At this point, the Marxist Theory of International Relations will be employed to understand deeply and analyze critically the infamous case aforesaid.

As Yearley (1996) argues, “there is a relationship between the developed and the underdeveloped world” (p. 13). What Yearley (1996) wrote is exactly what the World Systems Theory of Immanuel Wallerstein affirms. According to this theory, the world is comprised of an independent system of countries interlinked by political and economic competition where a set of mechanisms govern to basically redistribute resources from the highly-industrialized countries, known in these regards as the core, to the underdeveloped, raw material-exporting countries of the world, which are collectively called the periphery (Yearley, 1996). The theory can be also called the “Core-Periphery Model of International Relations” owing to the terms used by Wallerstein. Due to the drastic advancements in technology, a more rapid path to development has been established but not all areas were exposed to these new technologies. While the core countries dominate the use of these new-found innovations, the peripheral countries are left behind as they experience only a little or no penetration at all of the benefits of the economic competition. While the peripheral countries are being pushed in the cliffs of impoverishment and destitution, the core countries are, on the other hand, being pulled by the tides of prosperity and affluence. This is, as the theory asserts, can be attributed to the continuous exploitation of the core to the periphery (Martinez-Vela, 2001; Yearley, 1996).

In accordance to what the theory states, it must be noted that the market is the means by which the core exploits the periphery. In this case, international trade, which is transnational in nature, has strategically linked the “exploiter” and the “exploited”. But before delving in this further, the story behind the “waste disposal dilemma” which once boggled the minds of the Northern countries’ citizens is worth discussing. In the 1980s, there emerged a growing problem of hazardous waste disposal for the Northern countries have now become more aware of the environmental threats which the wastes might elicit. As no community would accept nor tolerate to have the wastes dumped near their locality, the local governments have thought vigorously of solutions to solve this predicament. Protests and demonstrations led by the outraged citizens have become an impetus to impose an instantaneous and obvious solution to the problem: “export the wastes to countries which are so desperate for income that they would overlook the risks” (Yearley, 1996, p. 72). This then gave birth to what is now being dubbed as the “waste trade”.

To address the issue, in 1989, the UN Environment Program had come up with The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal which aims to regulate the trade in wastes (Thiele, 1999). This convention has been created in response to the protests from the receiving countries brought by the repressive “double standards” in this trade. However, the grandiose goal of the convention did not necessarily translate to the purity of intention. Susskind & Ozawa (1992, as cited in Yearley, 1996) have noted that the Treaty “allowed the significant loophole of admitting bilateral arrangements between individual signatories and non-signatory nations” (p. 73). In this truce, the rigid adherence to the treaty’s provisions was not a rule of thumb for the signatory nations which, in the other note, are outnumbered by the non-signatory nations. As a number of countries have refused to confide with the treaty’s aim, the trade of hazardous wastes have just continued. While the convention might have halted the most evident waste-dumping practices ever devised, it must not be loosely concluded that it has already stopped the trade entirely (Yearley, 1996).

Going back to our case, the dichotomy has now become as clear as crystal: the US is the “palace” and the KassaIsland, a “slum.” As long as the “slum” constantly receives earnings of foreign currencies to suffice its shortcomings in resources, the “palace”, with its power and capability, can impose anything and everything to the impoverished in accordance to its will and interests. This act of toxic waste dumping exemplifies the exploitation of the core to the periphery, where the former becomes better off (as the US takes the lower risks of harming its environment and people, and gains the cheaper costs of toxic waste disposal) and the latter becomes worse than it had been before (as the Kassa Island accepts the higher risks of environmental and ecological damage and avails a cheap waste-handling fee) (Yearley, 1996).

In a territory which is in dire need of income such as the Kassa Island located near the Republic of Guinea in Western Africa, any trade that is likely to generate income is considerable regardless of the costs which the trade might induce. In this so complex a hieroglyphic, the strokes of exploitation can just be easily seen and decoded. And as this course of events reveals, one thing has now become more manifest, that if such dependence will long to exist, then the poorer countries will just be susceptible of living a life behind the shadows of the “giants”, or worse, will just continue to exist as perpetual victims of Western destitution.


*Paper reported during our Political Science 182 (International Politics) class, circa 2012, University of the Philippines Manila

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