In 2010 Ghana was reclassified by the World Bank to be a lower Middle-income country. It is a fast growing and fast changing place, with exciting prospects and sobering challenges. The big change in 2010 wasn’t the reclassification, but the beginning of oil production in Ghana’s offshore “Jubilee” oilfield. Ghana’s growing oil industry is expected to boost economic growth. Ghana’s digital development is also booming due to recently achieving 100 percent cell phone penetration. But there is dual development occurring in Ghana’s digital growth. On one hand there is a fast paced expansion of technology and communications infrastructure that is encouraging wider applications. On the other hand Ghana continues to harbor one of the most virulent cyber crime communities in the world.
Fast Paced Growth
Just twenty years ago Ghana was a poor country with a large unemployment problem, but also a host of natural resources such as: gold, cocoa, timber, tuna, bauxite, aluminum, manganese ore, diamonds and horticultural products. Now it has oil, which has begun a turn around, but also opened up possibilities of political corruption, which are so common among African oil countries. One of the smartest strategies, in a situation like Ghana’s, is to develop a diverse expanding economy that strengthens ties with global technologies. Of course digital technologies are at the top of the list and Ghana has is seeking digital development as part of its overall growth.
Back in 2000 there were no Internet cafes, and only one commercial internet based business in Ghana. One of the biggest problems was the lack of a dependable telephone and electric infrastructure. Accra, the capital city had most of the land line phones, but none of them were dependable, so as internet technology arrived it had no real lines, “tubes,” to be disbursed on and electric power failed regularly, which damaged hard drives. Until 2001 most of Ghana’s political leaders seemed unaware of information technology (IT) and the possibilities it might hold for the country’s development. Within two years that began to change. One of then President Kufuor’s advisors, Sam Somuah, saw that, “There’s no way we can raise our standard of living rapidly without IT,”
Data entry companies began to show up in Accra and low level IT jobs along with them. It was a start, but the hope was to become rapidly more sophisticated, eventually creating a programming industry. After all, software requires little capital to write and can be sold everywhere around the globe – costing little to distribute and sell. In 2008 the government passed the Electronic Communication Act, which launched a handful of Information and Communications Technology projects, including the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC), the Rural Pay Phone Project, and The Easy Business Center Project, among others. The government went all in for digital growth not fully recognizing the problems they might encounter.
The Dark Side Of Digital Growth
By 2010 Ghana was labeled the second worst cyber crime country in Africa and the seventh worst in the world. What happened? Digital dumping is what happened. Korle Lagoon is located in Accra and has become one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth. Along side the lagoon is a notorious electronics dumping ground called Agbogbloshie where shipments of outdated electronics are dumped. There are thousands of outdated computers, many with their hard drives still intact left along the lagoon where poor, young, unemployed boys rummage through the e-waste looking for ways to make money.
At first, in 2007 and 2008, when containers of old computers arrived in West Africa, Ghana welcomed them, believing the donations would help them become more computer savvy and help bridge the digital divide. Exporters in Western Europe and the United States, however, learned to exploit the computer donation loopholes by labeling junk computers as, “donations.” The poor began burning, smashing and stripping any electronics that showed up at the e-dump. The water quickly become polluted. The boys learned how to access hard drives and retrieve any and all information they found. They quickly devised a variety of cyber crime methods for money making, most prominent of which was cyber blackmail. A talented cyber hacker can find credit card numbers, account information, records of online transactions and other financial data the original computer owner may not have realized were even there. Using that information to empty accounts or to contact the original owner in order to bribe him with the information are two of the most common cyber crime strategies.
Ghana’s government and especially the legal system are not well structured to handle these crimes. The police service in Ghana says the street name for cyber crime is “sakawa” and there are on average 19 complaints a week. Most of the victims are from the United States, The United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and France. Some of the crimes are “romance scams,” where a male perpetrator impersonates a female in order to get money. The romance follows a path that eventually leads to the imposter agreeing to come visit the love mate in the U.S. or Europe once money for airline tickets is sent.
Thus far most measures to curb cyber crime in Ghana are grossly inadequate. Old communication laws, that were designed for mail service and telephone service do not adapt easily to digital crimes, which leaves judges at a loss as to how they can stop these criminal activities. Yet curbing the upsurge of cyber crimes is important to Ghana’s businesses and consumers as they seek outside investment to support their online development. So far there has been some success in finding outside development, but the most prominent investments have been grants to help redirect Ghana’s youth into positive online activities.
Recently (2014) the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $3.8 million grant to Ghana’s government to support the development of world class facilities that will attract IT firms and Business Processing Firms to Ghana. The whole intention is to build a digital environment that will create jobs for Ghanaian youth. The World Bank has also pitched in $5 million grant money for the eGhana Project as part of the Bank’s Digital Jobs Africa initiative. The idea being, if there are real job opportunities and skill building opportunities for youth who previously were attracted to nefarious activities then cyber crime can be reduced at the same time digital skills are being developed in Ghana’s population.
Ghana’s digital cycle is all about finding a way out of criminal e-skills while building a digital infrastructure that prospers. There are a few signs that these efforts are taking hold. In 2013 the first entirely African company to join the silicon valley-based 500 start up program was from Ghana. Three Ghanaians, David Osei, Effah Mensah and kamil Nabong, founded a start up called Dropifi after joining the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology program in Accra, Ghana. They launched their customer service widget that helps users better analyze and respond to emails. Dropifi was named the best startup in 2012 by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Ghana’s digital cycle is off and running, but cyber crime is still a big part of their digital profile.