Case Study – Ghana

Ghana borders Côte D’Ivoire and Togo along the Atlantic coastline. Its people include a majority of English speakers among nearly eighty language groups, ethnicities that include Akan as well as four other major groups, among at least 100 different groups overall, and practitioners of Christianity, Islam, about fifteen other globally dispersed religions, and myriad local belief systems. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan nation to gain independence from 20th century colonialism, when in 1957 it overthrew nearly eighty years of British rule as the Gold Coast. Under the regime of Kwame Nkrumah, Pan-African endeavors led to the foundations of the modern-day African Union. The country underwent fifteen years of political instability after Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966. The stable, democratic transitions of power that Ghana has enjoyed over the last few election cycles came after many years of authoritarian rule. The establishment of new fiscal and social policies in recent years, including a new constitution in 1992, has led to increased economic and political freedom for the country’s 25 million people.

Ghana now claims the world’s fastest growing economy, at a rate of over 20% in 2011. Much of its economic growth is fueled by foreign investment, including in the telecommunications sector. Internally, textiles manufacturing comprises a huge part of market capitalization. The transition from Nkrumah’s socialist-leaning policies through authoritarian state capitalism into a more modern national economy has led to partial liberalization and competition among ICT providers. In this expansive environment, the ability of individuals and small groups to get online has blossomed.

There are about 1.3 million internet users accounted for in the country, comprising only about 5.2% of the population. This proportion is growing rapidly, however, due to both the falling cost of access here as well as the presence of the major submarine cable landing site at Accra, several satellite and microwave relay stations such as Panaftel and Intelsat, the Ghana Internet Exchange (or GIXA, a major routing and switching station), and related infrastructure. Well over six million of Ghana’s inhabitants subscribe to mobile phone use, and although a strong correlation between this and internet access rates remains unproven, the government has already adopted a national broadband policy. It seeks to standardize the availability and use of the internet across the country. To that end, public works and private firms have fostered the development of terrestrial fiber optic networks that follow waterways, rail lines, and roadways, making inroads and condensing the networking infrastructure upland from the coastline.

Meanwhile, political and cultural actors have sought inroads into the potential unlocked by digital communication ranging from SMS and email to broad scale web interactions. Local and regional politicians campaign on technological ties to Nigeria, among their other issues. This Anglophone tie across geographical divide – a claim to solidarity or neighborliness between the two former British colonies of the region – speaks to the impact that the Internet can have on international relations and trade. However, this does not conversely account for the potential impacts of Ghanaian nationalism on the further formation of the internet and its uses. Nkrumah’s legacy of anti-colonial struggle, Pan-African ideals, and Marxist-derived socioeconomic policy still looms large in contemporary policy. At the same time, burgeoning competition and incentive structures in the telecommunications markets are made possible and enforced by changing ideas of Ghanaian nationhood, which are expressed in documents such as the national broadband policy, which seeks to balance economic progress with socially equitable distribution of information technology.



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