Goats and trash

One of my favorite Peace Corps trainers in Niger once made the comment that you really have to watch sheep and cattle so they don’t eat trash. “But goats, you don’t have to worry about,” she said. “They can eat anything and they seem to do just fine.”

Goat eats plasticCongolese goats seem to be no different than their Nigerien counterparts. Click on the picture above for a short video. Perhaps the larger problem is the utter lack of trash disposal. The plastic bag bans in neighboring countries won’t solve everything, but boy it goes a long way in keeping the streets clean.

The roadside in Rwanda is almost entirely devoid of garbage, a striking difference with most of the other African countries I've visited.
The roadside in Rwanda is almost entirely devoid of garbage, a striking difference with most of the other African countries I’ve visited.

What perhaps on the surface is merely an aesthetic concern – and one I fill a little silly arguing for because as an outsider I like that Rwanda is “pretty” without all the trash – I also believe can inspire a Jacob’s ladder of change. Start with the trash, and maybe people will take a greater interest in maintaining their communities. Maintain the communities, and the people who live in them have something of value in their lives – a place where their kids can grow up healthy, where they can start a business, where they can build homes. Suddenly, they have a reason not to get embroiled in the politics and factionalization that seems to crop up so quickly on this continent. Maybe that’s too much to hope for from getting rid of a few plastic bags, but it’s a start.

Correction: I mistakenly wrote that banning plastic bags wouldn’t solve “anything.” I’ve changed the word to “everything” because I do think banning them could do (and is doing) some good.

4 thoughts on “Goats and trash”

  1. Thanks for the update and pix, John. When I visited you in Niger, I was amazed at the number of goats running freely in the bus-stop villages and in Agadez. Michael Palin, in “sahara”, talks about so many sheep running free in villages he visits in Senegal, Mali and Niger. Are there sheep on the loose in your locale? Do the goats visit your vegetable garden? Love to you and Anne-Claire.


    1. This doesn’t seem to be the herding culture that was so omnipresent in Niger, at least not anymore. The rumor is that Lodja did have a lot of livestock, but that the Congolese army appropriate all of the cattle during the 20-year civil war throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and the herds never came back. (It’s nice that in the States we at least have the theoretical protection of the Third Amendment of the Bill of Rights.) I saw my first cow since arriving to Lodja on a trip to the field last weekend – a single, solitary cow in a vast grass field like something you’d see in Kentucky.

      There are a few goats around, but they’re rarely allowed to roam free, at least in the populated areas of town. We have a good fence that keeps them out of our garden, though the occasional chicken finds its way in.


  2. In urban American communities there is a well known ‘broken window’ theory that says if there is reduced ‘petty’ crime like litter and vandalism then there is less risk for both that kind behavior as well as other criminal behavior like theft, violence, drugs. There is also a correlation between trashed communities and safety concerns. Because of that theory, I have often claimed in my work with community members that if we get a community cleaned up, then it is more likely to stay clean, business will want to come there because people will feel comfortable in those communities/establishments, and so on. Pretty similar to what you are posing and might be a stretch past the broken windows theory but I believe that there is truth in there.

    Also, totally agree about lack of solid waste management systems in many African countries. When they adopted our disposable culture, they did not properly adopt our trash disposal systems so they could hide their trash away.


    1. Well said, Laura. I feel like I’ve got lots of anecdotal evidence for the broken window theory, but it seems a little tough to connect all of the causal dots.

      Re: our disposable culture, I wonder if it’s always been that way here in Africa. My experience is you build/make something (a house, a basket, a clay pot, etc.), then the sun, the rain, the ants gradually make it unusable until you’re forced to throw the object away and start over. Which is fine if you’re using decomposable materials like grass, mud or reeds. However, the second you replace those materials with something that at least chemically is indestructible, like plastic, you’ve got a huge disposal problem on your hands. As you know the solution is to burn and bury everything, but as populations grow, that’s only short-term solution.

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