The decaying underbelly of Calabar, Nigeria’s ‘cleanest city’

Each day, just after dawn in the sleepy southern Nigerian city of Calabar, Hannah Edet sets up shop within the perimeter of a mountain of rubbish right in the heart of Watts Market, or Urua Watts as locals call it.

She dangles a thick bunch of fresh pumpkin leaves to passing commuters and vehicles, advertising to them in her native Efik language, ignoring the stench of decomposing rubbish in the air. The refuse, which piles up to four feet high, has spilled over onto the main road, slowing down traffic. Drivers, winding through the route, spit out in disgust while pedestrians press their palms tightly to their noses.

In the mid-2000s, Calabar, a former slave port during the days of British colonial rule, emerged as a tourism destination for local and foreign visitors attracted to its beautiful green scenery, rich culture and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

Between 2003-2006, former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who was fleeing his country on allegations of war crimes, lived in exile in a seaside villa in the city with his family.

The city’s annual Christmas carnival, once hailed as Africa’s biggest street party, played host to a range of notable performers, including the South African composer and trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Senegalese-American rapper Akon.

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