Why Getting Ghana Wrong IS a Problem

The Ghanaian blogosphere remains aflutter with talk of the CNN.com/Motherboard TV article on sakawa in Ghana…

One blogger bravely going against the tide is Sinaisix.

He suggests that young Ghana should be doing something about sakawa instead of focusing on how its story has been relayed. A commendable point, no doubt.


Well, I suggest you give it a read. Here’s my response. It didn’t fit in his comments section, so I decided to make a post of it.

As one of the bloggers/youth of Ghana who your post is so critical of, I was surprised to find there are some points in your piece about which we are in complete agreement:

1. Abhoring denial, oblivion, mediocrity, stupidity and incompetence.

2. That the theme of the CNN article was not wrong: Sakawa DOES exist and is a problem.

We, however, disagree about the extent of the problem.

You say 8 out of 10 of all people sitting in cafes are “likely to be engaging in 419 scams”.

Is that a researched fact or are you also just making a general point? Based on the main point of your post, I suspect the latter.

Which is where we differ.

Call me crazy, but I think it is COMPLETELY reasonable to take good journalism literally.

Morton’s editorial wasn’t a religious tale open to translation. It wasn’t a “Tale By the Fireside”.

It was (supposed to be) journalism. On the website of one of the world’s most reputable journalistic entities. Endorsed by said journalism entity as a piece of good, innovative journalism.

Good journalism is based on facts.

The beautiful thing about facts is that if they are true and you can prove them to be so, they don’t need embellishment or generalization.

You may not consider this important, but it goes right to the heart of why many of our problems – like sakawa – don’t get solved.

For example, here in Ghana our journalists (people who are supposed to enlighten us to the truth so we can do something about it) and politicians (people who are supposed to take those truths and shape better realities out of it for us all) often get caught up in embellishment and generalization. Instead of truth.

Not all of them. But enough of them.

In doing so, they contribute to the fact that little gets done about the problems you speak of: problems like electricity, water, shelter, transportation, security.

How? Simple.

Mistruths and embellishments undermine facts. They open them up to attack and discredit. As we daily see here in Ghana. As we have seen with Morton’s piece. This creates the conditions for the mediocrity, stupidity and incompetence you say you abhor. Nothing gets done.

Back to CNN, if Morton had facts, all he had to do was state them.

He didn’t do that.

Probably because he didn’t have anything new to say about sakawa that hadn’t already been said. As such, he had to rely on spin, embellishment and generalisation to give his piece relevance.

Of COURSE, people were going to pick holes in it.

Yes: dealing with sakawa would be a more constructive use of our time. It is a problem. But it appears that people agree with me that Morton’s kind of article is a problem too.

You may disagree. Here is however a(nother) reason why you shouldn’t:


Morton clearly did not write the article for a Ghanaian audience. He wrote it for a foreign audience. Many of whom do not know much about our continent. More of whom have very flawed notions about our continent.

You may have not taken Morton literally but… forget young Ghanaians: many members of his target audience will. Moreover, just like me, they have this crazy idea that journalism is based on facts. Not just in general theme. In wording.

This is important.

We live in a globalised world with uneven power relations. What the West and other non-African entities think about Africa has very real implications for Africa. For example…

  • For aid.
  • For development agendas.
  • For trade and economic relations.
  • For NGOs and humanitarianism.
  • For intervention, particularly of the military kind.

Ask the people of Ivory Coast or Libya, for example. Or ask our very own government.

I’m not blaming Morton for  White Man’s Burden.  But his article contributes to a problem and if you think this is not the case then you might want to ask yourself who is in oblivious denial.

PS: questioning everyone’s intelligence is not the smartest way to persuade them to focus on solving a problem.

Just a tip.

Edit: Sinaisix has responded to this post. Feel free to check it out here.

7 thoughts on “Why Getting Ghana Wrong IS a Problem

  1. Good response Kobby.
    The few people that have disagreed with our approach seem to lack an understanding of the power relations you mention and that solving our local issues sometimes relies on how Ghana is perceived from the outside.

    Sinaisix also has a simplistic view of the press – that they will always tell lies about Africa and there’s nothing we can do. He overlooks the fact that many journalists believe they are ethical individuals telling the truth who often fail to understand the corporate environment in which they operate and the way it manipulates the issues. Some journalists can be approached with criticisms and they will change – there are many examples.

    When the discussion first came up about the CNN article, I wonder where Sinaisix was. It’s easy to ‘piss on someone else’s parade’ but harder to engage with your peers and test your own arguments and views. Perhaps, as he suggests in his argument, we are all too mediocre, stupid and incompetent to bother with!


  2. Hi Kobby, thanks for taking time off to reply meaningfully to my views. I’ll address all the issues you raised in due course. But one thing I’d like to correct is that I did not question anybody’s intelligence. I did question the rationale behind the disproportionate flogging of an article written by CNN. If my words came across as questioning the intelligence of others, then I am very sorry for that. Cheers…


    1. You’re welcome, Bro. Looking forward to your response. It’s all part of the discussion and its great to have dissenting views argued out (so long as it’s respectfully done).

      I think the discussion you want to generate around sakawa can still happen.


  3. I know Mortons article has the potential of creation wrong impressions and could affect Ghana or Africa for that matter in terms of AID as we go seeking stuff ‘cup-in-hand’ as usual. but fundamentally i don’t agree that it should be a problem and i believe it’s a problem only because Human Beings continue to be lazy. else if you we are serious and want to engage Ghana in any business make sure to get verifiable information before deciding to stop or go ahead.

    Secondly, like i’ve told many people, i’m thrilled by Mortons write-up for the reason that he can easily get away with the stuff he’s written because it’s mere exaggerations without him given room to be pinned to prove anything. for example he’s not said his statistics are facts for us to ask him for the source(s). I take it as a satire with the undesired impressions for many but excluding myself because I’m not bothered about such childish things.

    i’d love to listen to you and Morton debate!


    1. okay. good! you article really is not based on verifiable facts and that’s the problem I’ve had with many of the reactions it’s generated which reactions are mostly not in line with the logic of your arguments. I enjoyed your article as a satire and I consider it a childish stuff because I can’t take anything away from your observations. Some think it’s right to condemn your article merely because it would make some lazy person might just read it and use it to make a decision. I don’t see any reason why anyone would use your article to make a decision in the years before Christ let alone in this 21st century! I just think human beings should have space to laugh at themselves and I think that’s about the value of your article in addition to the fact that it reminds us that all is not well. regards.


  4. I have enjoyed reading the arguments put forward on both sides, even though I agree with Kobby, I like the bravery of ghabuntu for just going against the tide. Simply for that, I applaud. I just long for a day when this all won’t matter, when Ghana is big enough for some lazy journalism not to count or to hurt the pride this way. That’s when we know we would have arrived. Fact is nations, races, and genders get ‘dissed’ in all sort of ill informed ways all the time. The sting only migrates from an itch to a rash when the insulted have little else than wounded pride. Here is to the day when Ghana won’t care or need to care, about the rubbish that a news network which in the west is only really known by the lonely corporate drone, who in search for a familiar language, turns to CNN as an aid to jet lag. The channel is a great sleeping aid.


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