Not that you care, but you have recently managed to annoy almost everyone in the otherwise rather goodwilled Ghanaian online community; a shame because many of us actually like your website.
Over time, Africans have become quite used to seeing our stories oversimplified, misreported or under reported by Western media agencies. Most recently, we watched and shook our heads as goings-on in Ivory Coast were simplified into a struggle between “Bad-gbo” (who must have been surprised to hear that his parents had changed his first name from ‘Laurent’ to ‘Strongman’) and ‘good guy’, Alassane Outtara: ‘good’ in spite of the fact that troops loyal to him are accused of some of the same crimes he says his defeated rival should be tried for.
Africans used to – no: still – complain about such bad reporting, but we have become used to seeing our dissent ignored in the news that comes back to us through CNN and such. It’s the Circle of Life.
Or at least the Circle of Western journalism.
You recently published an article purporting to go “Inside the Criminal World of Ghana’s e-mail Scam Gangs“. I won’t post a link here. You know where to find it. Besides, I only post links to factual articles.
Many Ghanaians (and some non-Ghanaians) have complained about the piece in its Comment section. They are – of course – being ignored. Which we are – of course – used to.
I figured the best thing to do would be to take some choice quotes, pick them apart and show what my problems are with them. There may in fact be more problems that I have missed. I represent myself: not all of Ghana.
Please be warned: quotes may be taken out of context. Instinctively I feel this is problematic. However, Western reporting on Africa appears to suggest that it is okay so I will assume that I am speaking your language.
So here goes:
“Filed under: Web”
This in fact was my first problem with the piece. I would have filed it under ‘Vaguely Creative Non-Fiction’. Or under ‘Well-Intentioned But Undercooked Journalism’.
“Ghana is doing extremely well by African standards. Of course “by African standards” means there are dirt roads leading past the brand-new, gold-columned presidential palace…”
Condescending, but I won’t even go there. I drive on that road on my way to work everyday and it’s in one of the most tarred areas in Accra. Ask the French whose Embassy is – unfortunately – next door.
“… and it seems 1 percent of the country is blowing their country’s GDP at bars with $50 cover charges while the other 99 is selling bags of water at stop lights.”
Not every rich Ghanaian acquired their money through scamming the State. Note also that those wealthy Ghanaians are always outnumbered at these bars by – how do I put this delicately – white people. Yet we’re not sitting here accusing every white person in Ghana of being here to scam Ghanaians.
The writer gets away with this because of the words “it seems”. If this were a court of law, I’d have yelled “objection!” and the judge would yell “sustained!”… but a picture would already have been painted in the jury’s mind.
“They have huge mineral reserves and lots of foreign money invested in their extraction, all of which ends up concentrated in the hands of the president, his cabinet, and whichever of their cousins they’re getting along with at the time.”
I’m as cynical as the next man about the relationship between our government and companies in our extractive industries. “All of which” however strikes me as gross exaggeration…
“The Ghanaian government likes to boast that their unemployment rate is in the single digits…”
Really? Single digits? Where? Kindly cite one example. Preferably a factual one.
“… unless you’re a relative or close friend of someone in the ruling class, you can look forward to a long and fruitful career in water sales.”
Embellishment. I get it. We do that sometimes too. That said, “Water sales?” Ouch. Ghanaians are way more creative than that. The jobs aren’t here. But we don’t sit on our asses. We do what it takes to survive… and only a relative few do this through internet scamming. Show a statistic – preferably factual – that shows that more than even 1% of the total population is involved in e-crime.
Besides, the use of contacts is a universal phenomenon.
“Sakawa (which originally referred to a specific credit card scam) now means pretty much anything involving money — if you wear a bunch of flashy brand-name clothes you’re dressing “Sakawa,” if you’ve got a nice car it’s a “Sakawa” car — all of which makes sense considering internet scamming is the only way most Ghanaians can afford this.”
Actually, the accusation most often levelled at people who get rich suspiciously quickly here is that they were involved in drugs… and – although sometimes true – it isn’t always the case.
“Right now Sakawa is in its salad days. The Sakawa Boys movie franchise has made it up to “Sakawa Boys 8″…”
Hardly surprising in a film industry in which MOST films make it to part 4 at the very least.
“… and Ghanaians of all ages and interests (but mostly “young” and “not being poor”) are packed into internet cafes finding more and more ingenious ways of ripping off Westerners.”
Again with the embellishments. Are you sure we didn’t go to Mfantsipim together? I remember how my classmates used to embellish stories about having lost their virginity. I finished back in 1994. Let me know if we’re in the same year group.
“… a few, like our guide Seva, see Sakawa for what it really is: a massive bubble just waiting to burst.”
Funnily enough, this was somewhere you could have overstated facts but didn’t. There aren’t that many computers in Ghana. Yet we are already amongst the world’s best at online scams. Very worrying, and as more of us get connected to the internet, this may increase. That said, not ALL Ghanaians are involved in internet fraud – young or old. Not even the majority. I reckon it is – at best – a significant minority. Feel free to prove me wrong.
“The government is scrambling to find a way to keep Sakawa from wrecking the country’s business reputation without cutting off an entire young generation from their sole source of steady revenue.”
E-crime is not the sole source of steady revenue for Ghana’s youth. Not that many youth even have access to computers. There aren’t THAT many internet cafes in Gomoa Asikuma. Most of our youth are engaged in good, honest work including everything from selling foodstuffs (or yes: water), administrative work and work for telecoms and banking firms, to modelling, making clothes, playing football, making music, or even designing applications for phones… it’s a long list. Way more than are involved in e-crime.
“And just to make things more interesting, Ghana just discovered oil.”
*Cue omenous soundtrack to predictable & vague ending of article*
Dun dun DUN!
CNN.com. You have a pretty good website. Like I said, many of us are fans. But you have done the many people who have read the piece – as well as an entire nation of Ghanaians (most of whom like your TV channel when they see it) – quite a disservice.
Oh, and Mr. Morton, if one of our own has scammed you before, we are sorry. But it doesn’t justify what you wrote.
Or qualify it as good journalism.