10-02-2011

Busy Internet

We’ve all received those emails; someone with the same name as ours has died and left cash unclaimed. We can get their money if we just send some money first or send our bank details. And then there are the emails from a friend who is traveling and in desperate need of cash. And of course, Raquel, Marie, Angelique who want to be our friends and send us photos. If you respond to these emails, perhaps the next time you check your bank account your lifetime earnings are gone.

I’ve always associated this type of fraud with Nigeria, but I recently discovered that Ghana places second in the world amongst places where internet fraud is prevalent. Internet cafes are all the rage here, and while I am sure that most of the patrons are legitimate, many are actually using the computers for internet fraud.

In Ghana, the people who perpetrate this fraud are referred to Sakawa boys, a Hausa word meaning “putting it in”. These Sakawa boys are typically aged between 18 and 28 years old, but can be as young as 13. Those below 18 have usually dropped out of school to specialize in cyber robbery. They buy credit card numbers, find ways to hijack email addresses, and pretend to be women to entice American men to send them money and much more.

And they are successful. If they send out 2,000 emails a day and 5 people respond sending US$1,000 each, they have made a fortune. The boys, who become rich overnight, are then the toast of their families who seldom question where their jobless children got access to money.

This ‘sakawa’ business does have its risks. There are gangs who hang about around the post offices waiting for successful operators to come to pick up parcels from their marks. The sakawa boys may then become the victims.

Many of these boys believe that the occult can help them in their success and they consult juju men (obeah men) for potions and spells to increase their wealth or to make their marks more vulnerable.

A lot is being done in Ghana through education and police crackdowns at internet cafes to stop this crime. On the other hand, I read an article which espoused the actual and potential benefits including:
development of computer skills
stabilization of the local currency as a result of remittances from the
a reduction in the number of youth engaging in criminal activity on the streets,
redistibution of wealth, and
increased patronage of internet café and ISP services.

At the end of the day, we have the power to end this by being cautious and remembering that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If it is too good to be true, it most definitely is.

25-01-2011

I would like to go

Young girl on road side waiting for traffic to slow so she can beg
Young girl on road side waiting for traffic to slow so she can beg

Poverty in Ghana is rife. The average annual income is about US$780 dollars. Begging is illegal but quite prevalent in Accra. Many of the beggars are disabled, perhaps crippled by polio or blinded by diabetes. Many travel from far away villages to seek their fortune in Accra, and find themselves driven to the streets by circumstances.

This may sound unfeeling but, although I understand the economics, I very seldom give money to beggars. Don’t get me wrong, I am sympathetic to their plight. I will buy something I do not need from a disabled peddler because I respect that he is at least attempting to overcome his disability and earn a living. I am working to help a school run by a wheelchair bound gentleman who has never walked in his life. But I seldom give to people who get up each morning, get dressed and come to the streets to knock on car windows for money. Especially those in wheel chairs who have HIRED someone to push them in the traffic.

Blind Beggar
Blind Beggar

The photo above is very touching, and right now you are thinking of how cold hearted I must be. When I see this picture, however, I think a) he is making enough money begging to pay this child to lead him around; b) this child should be in school or doing something much more constructive.

On two occasions we have given food to these beggars who claim to be so hungry. The disappointment has been obvious and the thanks grudging. “Cash only, please”, they seem to say.

But I find it hard to ignore the children who gather around the car window and beg, “Madam, please, I am hungry.”

Boy in the middle of traffic begging
Boy in the middle of traffic begging
Perhaps that is why their parents send them out to tug at our heart strings; well it works.

I do have sympathy; I am sorry for the children and angry at a world that builds bombs while children are sent out to beg.

Mother watching daughter beg at a car window
Mother watching daughter beg at a car window

This morning we were stopped by a small girl. She gave the practised gestures, with a desolate look on her face she put the tips of her fingers together and pointed to her mouth. The meaning is unmistakable “I need food”. In this case no matter how this girl drooped her face she could not disguise the spark in her eyes that one sees in children with fertile minds.

“No school?” I asked her.

Her response was “I am from Niger”.

She was a refugee probably here illegally and not eligible for the free government education. Then she dropped her eye lids and said softly “but I would like to go.”

18-01-2011

Harmattan Time

Harmattan Fog in Bolgatanga, Upper East Region, Ghana

We stepped out of the grocery and headed for the entrance of the mall. As we approached the outdoors, my daughter asked, “Mommy, is it raining?”

It was not raining, but her question was well-founded. The sky was shrouded in what looked like a sheet of steady rain.

“No, honey,” I replied, “it’s Saharan dust from the Harmattan.” Continue reading “Harmattan Time”

30-11-2010

Our Gift

This is a difficult thing for me to say out loud for various reasons, but it is true. We West Indians are lucky to live on the western side of the Atlantic ocean.

I don’t intend to offend. Our life in Accra, Ghana is comfortable. We have the conveniences of modern living with some inconveniences thrown in, but life is imperfect everywhere. Accra is not a true reflection of Ghana. It is a relatively small section of a vast country where education levels and sanitation conditions vary significantly and many people do not have their basic needs met.

In my quest to get to know the “real” Ghana, I have recently learnt the details of certain customs that are practised in some parts of the country and by some tribes. To my Western mind many are torturous and inhumane. In many areas people battle with and succumb to diseases that we have overcome years ago in the Caribbean. The size of the country and the disparity in the distribution of wealth has meant that some have prospered but many have been left behind.

We received a gift from our forefathers, although I know they would not have recognised it as such. This gift was bought with their blood, their spirits and their lives, but there it is, we have it. We were given a chance to be something different and to create a new world for ourselves; to impact a new corner of the earth while our brothers continued to work on theirs.

What are we making of this gift? What do our forefathers think when they look at where our Caribbean countries have gone? Add your comments below and let me know.

09-11-2010

Asantehene – the King’s Name

Current Asantehene - Otumfuo Opoku Ware II
Current Asantehene - Otumfuo Opoku Ware II


In the Ashanti kingdom a newly elected king, the Asantehene is required to change his name and adopt a “stool name” (the King’s seat of honour is a stool not a throne). The reason behind this practice is simple. The king has a past. He was once a “small boy”. This boy grew up, went to school, had friends, made mistakes and enemies. He committed the wrong doings that children and young men are wont to commit. Now he is king, he must put this behind him. Continue reading “Asantehene – the King’s Name”

Go straight …. straight

Lake Bosumtwi
Lake Bosumtwi

I hear it is a beautiful place: a crater lake and Ghana’s largest natural lake. We managed to glimpse Lake Bosumtwi in between the trees as we wandered around the back roads of the Ashanti Region. It was an uncomfortable yet enjoyable drive through the bush. At one point we were driving on a track in the middle of a cane field. Cane plant leaves swept both sides of the car. My feelings were torn; I was nervous about going further and further away from civilization yet I felt at home in the midst of the sugar cane. Continue reading “Go straight …. straight”

15-10-2010

How much is that?

Continue reading “How much is that?”

Yesterday afternoon I passed by a store on the roadside selling bunches of coloured straw. I needed one to put in a vase. I parked the car out of sight, put 2 cedis (US$1.30) in my pocket and walked to the stand. I picked up one of the bundles and looked it over critically.

“Good morning, madam, you are welcome.” The man minding the store came over and gave me the typical Ghanaian greeting. He spoke in English, so he had clearly identified me as Obroni.