Now in the 21st century, Ghana now ranks 13 out of 48 countries in Africa for nominal GDP, rated one of the fastest growing economies on the continent, and is viewed as one of the core users of the internet by percentage of population in Africa by the Dalberg Report.
The Digitizing Africa Project in Ghana was a 5-week independent study in the Republic of Ghana. The project encompassed the capital of Accra, the Greater Accra administrative region, and several regional city hubs such as Kumasi, Tema, Cape Coast, and Elmina. I was able to meet with government policy-makers, technical professionals, and scholars in the realms of digital technology and telecommunication services in the country. I was able to tour several computer and mobile repair and servicing shops in Accra and Tema to gain a sense of the type of devices that the average Ghanaian is looking to purchase. Many of the firms I visited were relatively young – the oldest firm was only established 15 years ago! In addition to meeting qualified individuals in the industry and touring shops in the city, I also distributed surveys (n=146) to locals to get an idea of how much exposure to digital technology locals had. This exposure was a combination of demographics, mobile phone use, use of the internet, customer satisfaction, and the feasibility to maintain these digital services.
In terms of demographics, I surveyed the age groups of my participants, their education level, the locality of which they reside in, and their monthly income bracket. The median age of my sample group was 33.37. I measured local education levels by asking whether they received a Master, Bachelor, Associate, or High School degree. I also wanted to see if income necessarily correlated with the increased depth of education attained. That question was answered in the way expected, except in the case when you compare the income of associate degree holders and high school graduates. This could be contributed to either job profession of the various participants or not enough surveyed individuals with those academic qualifications. The two graphs above show a count of which degree attained and monthly income in relation to degree attained, respectively. It can be noticed that the mean income is very low across the board, with most surveyed Ghanaians barely make enough to be placed in the second tax income bracket. The average monthly income was found to be ₵1672 or $465 (₵3.6/$1 July 2015 est.). Over 50% of Ghanaians surveyed were making no more than ₵1584 or $440 a month. It is quite bizarre that a significant portion of the population is in the bottom tax bracket regardless if they are accountants, engineers, or even business owners. In addition to that, it is very common to see most locals with phones with the retail price above $500 such as the Galaxy S series or the latest iPhone 6.
I also found that knowing the locality of where my participants would be vital of making sense of the data I received. Depending where participants of the survey lived could affect the income they report and/or how they interact with digital technology. Unlike countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom of which for the most part mobile coverage and access to digital technology is normalised throughout the respective nation, it is not the same in Ghana. From the survey, it indicated Ghanaian life in terms of the project topic is different from city-to-city or from region-to-region. The costs of certain utilities vary, or the preferences for particular mobile carriers may differ as well.
The last table shows the six surveyed professions for the Project and their respective mean income, electric bill, phone bill, and television bill. In total, they account for more than two thirds of the sample. The irony of this top six is that these are some of the professions that highly rely on the use of digital technology. These are the groups that require to be always be connected and have the greatest speed to information. According to the GSMA Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2014 report, jobs in the continental region directly supported by the mobile ecosystem alone will increase from the 2.4 million actual figure to an estimated 3.5 million by 2020 plus an additional 3.7 million of indirectly affected jobs. It is certain the Republic of Ghana will feel some of this growth. Ghana is only second to Nigeria in the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West Africa States) economic regional group. The group comprises of 15 West African countries.
|Profession||% of Total Surveyed||Income
|Electric Utility Bill||Mobile/Landline Phone Bill||Television Service Bill|
** Not enough data collected.
The Digitizing Africa survey found that on average an individual has 1.5 phones in possession; or in other words, it is likely to see someone with 1 to 2 phones on the regular basis, but not too much that it would be excessive. Only 20% reported having a landline at home. Android is the most popular phone operating system with 67% of participants responding they have one. iOS and Windows operating systems came a distant second and third with the respective percentages of 16% and 13%. It is no surprise that MTN Ghana, Airtel Ghana, and Vodafone Ghana are the most favoured carriers amongst participants as these three companies rank in the top 15 largest multinational telecommunication companies in the world.
|Network||MTN Ghana||Tigo Ghana||Airtel Ghana||Globacom||Vodafone Ghana|
|% of Participants||39%||12%||19%||7%||21%|
However, these statistics do no indicate brand loyalty as many Ghanaians may have multiple SIMs from different carriers. The reason for this stems from several circumstances such as poor network coverage requiring the mobile subscriber to try their other carrier to get better phone reception. Others prefer to have different phone lines to differentiate between personal and business calls. This flexibility is contributed to the usage behaviour of mobile phone carriers. Instead of fixed plans that require 1-2 year contracts that are accustomed here in the United States, in Ghana most mobile subscribers usually resort to the pay-as-you-go method. This also has produced a different type of phone culture that many Westerners are not used to. Most subscribers have discounted calls between those of the same carrier. If a caller is out of phone calling credit, they may “flash” the person they are trying to contact. “Flashing” is when someone calls another such that the recipient of the call gets notification but hangs up right away because they do not have enough credit to carry on the call. This gives the obligation to the recipient of the call to call back. This is common because the person who makes the call is the original payer of the call transaction, not the recipient.
19.86% participants reported they have a landline at home. This statistic is very high as there is only 285 thousand landline subscribers out of 25 million people in the country. However, those who reported they have a landline live either in Accra or Kumasi which landline servicing was first implemented before the popularity of mobile phones took root.
Television service is not common in Ghana as they usually come in bundle with mobile services. Television companies were privatised in 1997 making it one of the youngest digital media services in the country. The Western concept of paying for television is slowly taking root as distribution licenses are being granted to pioneering media firms. Those who do pay for television services reported an average bill of ₵95.16.
An overwhelming majority of Ghanaians responded they use the radio for news and information. This preference crossed age and socioeconomic demographics. The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was the first and only radio firm for some time before radio was privatised. At the time the GBC, mainly promoted state news and propaganda before adding civilian programs. Currently, the country is going through a significant Pentecostal / Charismatic Christian renaissance which has contributed to several radio stations sprouting all over the country broadcasting gospel music and talk shows. One of the popular radio stations in the Accra area is YFM Ghana, a subsidiary of a South African multimedia entertainment house.
In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) a region of which Ghana is a member to, countries that increase favourable conditions for internet usage witness core growth in quality of service and subscriber base. Unknown to some, the internet affects many industries according to the Dalberg Report. Some of those industries include agriculture, education, small businesses, energy, and government. Encouraging Ghanaians and Africans on a broader scale in the resources of the internet would dramatically increase computer science competency. According to the survey I distributed only 27% participants were either competent or familiar with a programming language (languages that ranked highest: C++, Excel, Java, and Python).
Use of social media was another factor that was deemed important to the project. As the majority of participants claimed using a smartphone. This raises the chances that participants may have an increased exposure to social media apps on their phones. That assumption was accurate as many responses concluded that WhatsApp and Facebook are the two most favoured services amongst Ghanaians.
|% of Participants||26%||26%||11%||6%||4%|
Of recent the Republic of Ghana is facing a serious power and energy deficit in which it has been forced to implement power distribution schedules that result in massive blackouts throughout the country. Locally referred to as “dumsor” pronounced “dum sɔ”. The term is derived from the Akan language of “dum” which means turn off and “sor” which means to turn on; therefore, the literal translation in English being “off and on.” This has increased unpopularity with the government as the Electricity Company of Ghana, which is wholly state-owned, has not been able to meet the overall demand levels of the nation. The power deficit can be attributed to low water levels at the Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam and unreliable, inconsistent gas supply from Nigeria. Ghana has only one oil refinery in Tema, Tema Oil Refinery. Only 8.22% of participants reported that they have constant power without any interruption to service. These participants also happened to trend in the upper income brackets as well. 29.85% of the remaining sample group reported they had a backup generator in their homes.
The nation receives in some areas a minimum of 24 hours without power and a maximum of 11 hours of power. This schedule has negatively affected the profitability or the effectiveness of many Ghanaian businesses and government agencies. It is common to be going through town and the street lights, traffic signals, and buildings to go dark all of a sudden and the following rumbling noise of backup generators taking their role. The power shedding gives no entity preference for continuous power, forcing those who can afford it – invest in costly generators which in effect increase import prices for fuel. The average monthly electricity bill of locals is ₵109.97 or $30.54. That is more than two times what the average American pays in terms of percentage of monthly income. So yes, the literal price may be far lower, yet it is extremely high for local living standards.
It can be concluded that an overwhelming majority of Ghanaian telecom subscribers are not satisfied with the quality of service they are paying for. With the societal urge to be as close to the Western standard of service, Ghanaian telecom companies simply do not have the infrastructure to meet the demand. There is a significant need of investment in the upgrading and expansion of telecom utilities. However, these firms need economic and regulatory stability that can only be provided by the government. It is vital to have strong leadership in the public sector and industry who enact an effective communication strategy. If sufficient financial backing is provided, mobile telecom growth will provide socioeconomic benefits in Ghana and Sub-Saharan Africa in general.
Ghana has a great potential of fostering booming economy in the West African region. It can be the leader in West Africa economically, socially, and politically if it can expand and utilize its mobile economy to the fullest. Also if it can grapple on a few rising issues in the nation: the shortages of constant power, socioeconomic disparity, and inconsistent policy regulation of national infrastructure – positive outcomes to its economy are not too far away. Active communication between national and regional leaders and those in private industry needs to start promptly to get Ghana on the right track. However, the current status of the country isn’t all dismal. The nation has been presented with oil prospects, and still ranks high in the region and globally. Ghanaians are not just sitting down waiting for an answer – they are working. When the power goes off, the N4 highway is still packed with workers committed to their daily commute into Central Accra; when the water stops pumping, I see mothers and children fetching buckets of fresh water to work around the house. These people don’t give up, they make solutions because goals still need to be achieved.