Presentation on theme: "Internet cafes in Ghana: Economic Benefits and Social Costs."— Presentation transcript:
1Internet cafes in Ghana: Economic Benefits and Social Costs. Edward Opoku-DapaahProfessor of SociologyWinston-Salem State UniversityNC, USA
2IntroductionThis paper analyzes internet cafes as commercial operations and also as emerging cultural forms and locales for social interaction by Ghanaians.The internet cafes are small scale private operations that retail basic internet access. They mushroomed in Ghanaian cities from the mid-1990s as part of the expansion of Ghana’s IT sector.
3Central ArgumentThe paper argues that even though internet cafes have generated multiple benefits to Ghanaian society including a rise in internet access, employment and infrastructural expansion, however, like other forms of IT expansion in Ghana, the cafes have contributed to the existing inequalities among Ghanaians, in which the less affluent have the least access to IT and in which they experience discrimination as a result of their social class.
4These inequalities include urban bias in the distribution of internet cafes and control in the hands of Ghana’s predominant social class.These are social consequences that raise questions about the ability of IT to eliminate the deep-seated social and economic inequalities in Ghana.
5ResearchData for the paper comes mainly from my personal observations on internet cafes in Ghana since 1997.Data for the paper is also derived from interviews with patrons and workers in over 50 internet cafes that I have visited during numerous trips to Ghana.
6Most of the cafes that I have visited are in Accra and Kumasi; these cities have the largest concentration of internet cafes in Ghana.However, I have also made observations and conducted interviews in cafes in regional and district capitals including Koforidua, Sunyani, Obuasi and Nkawkaw.
7BackgroundReliable statistics about internet cafes in Ghana are hard to come by, but based on my field observations, and anecdotal information obtained from my interviews I can estimate that about 1,000 internet cafes have been established in Ghana since the early 1990s.
8Around 1994, two internet cafes were established in the business district of Accra. Since that time, internet cafes have become quite common in Ghana, springing up mainly in middle class neighborhoods, but infrequently in small towns.
9Factors affecting origin Internet cafes are the result of the convergence of three important factors:a) Ghana’s scarce IT infrastructure,b) exorbitant set-up fees for residential internet access and,c) the presence of a commercial class who had the capital to invest in the IT sector.
10First, shortages of IT hardware and expertise have seriously crippled the extension of IT infrastructure across Ghana.Second, Ghanaians seeking residential internet services face high set up fees. It is mainly a section of the middle and upper classes along with expatriates who can afford the financial requirements for residential internet service.
11Third, IT emerged on the Ghanaian scene at a time when the unequal distribution of resources in Ghana’s weak economy has engendered the rise of a commercial class who had the capital to invest in the new industry. It is this class who have dominated the investment in internet cafes in the country.
12Economic BenefitsSince the expansion of IT in Ghana in the early 1990s, internet cafes have played an important role in the economic and social development of the country.One important benefit is the degree to which they have enhanced instant communication among Ghanaians on one hand, and also between Ghanaians and people around the globe on the other.
13Widened access to ITPrior to the arrival of internet cafes most Ghanaians including administrators, law enforcement agents, hospital staff, university students had never used the internet. Only a fraction of Ghanaians were employed in the IT sector.Subsequent to 1994, internet cafes have widened access to IT remarkably by bringing connection to the web to city neighborhoods..
14Help to small-businesses For small-scale businesses conducting their trade down the street or across the country, internet cafes have the know-how, and the equipment to deliver their IT-related needs.Small businesses that depend on internet cafes include mechanics, petty traders, caterers, artisans, electricians, painters, photographers and videographers who often depend on internet cafes to conduct transactions with customers.
15For these people, internet cafes provide low cost, economically viable access to IT facilities. In so doing, the café has become a convenient office for some Ghanaian small- scale business operators.
16Youth employmentAnother fundamental economic benefit of internet cafes is the remarkable employment opportunities that they have generated particularly for Ghanaian youth.I have observed that the level of employment growth varies widely depending on the range of services and the nature of transactions handled by each internet cafe.
17On the average, internet cafes employ two workers who work on different shifts. Judging from this, my estimate is that over 2,000 individuals are employed by the internet cafes across Ghana.By contrast Ghana’s Dept of Labor maintains that my estimate is too conservative, they argue that my estimate excludes second- round effects on the labor force through an increase in employment in other sectors of the economy.
18They cited the examples of the retro-fitting of store-fronts for use as internet cafes as sources of additional IT related job expansion. The Dept of Labor maintains that internet cafes have provided between 6,000- 7,000 jobs to Ghanaians annually since 1995.
19Acquisition of SkillsTraining is an investment that entrepreneurs make in their staff. People trained to operate internet cafes acquire new skills, they are also able to offer new services—including customer relations, computer technology, word processing and preparation of documents—that can stimulate the local economies.
20Agent of modernization Internet cafes have helped “modernize” Ghanaian society in many other respects. They are linked to expansion of tele- communications in Ghana.Connectivity to the web have linked Ghanaian youth in particular to the information revolution and globalization.In some instances, the entrepreneurs rather than the govt have borne the cost of the posts and cables that extend the IT link from the closest point to city neighborhoods.
21Civic participationMoreover, internet cafes have made it possible for Ghanaians to increasingly participate in interactive radio programs by ing their concerns or desires.By facilitating popular participation in the discussion of national or local issues, internet cafes, have contributed to the institutionalization of democracy in Ghana.
22Part of the local culture I observed that internet cafes have become part of the local culture. They cultivate business relationships with local businesses such as suppliers of soft drinks, and packaged water.Some serves as convenience stores, some co- exist with barbers or salons. Others serve as a video libraries, or as bookstores. In so doing internet cafes have helped businesses to tap into new revenue sources.
23Social Costs of Internet cafes Another related objective of the paper is the social consequences internet cafes and by extension access to IT by different classes of Ghanaians; with respect to who benefits from it and who does not.Although Ghanaian authorities have pledged that citizens would enjoy the benefits of IT equally, yet in reality, access to IT apparatus has largely favored a small section of Ghanaian society, thereby stratifying citizens in their relationship to IT.
24The includedAt the top and enjoying more access to the internet services are the affluent and urban educated segments of Ghanaian society. Those targeted for IT services include corporate bodies, entrepreneurs, middle income earners, students, tourists and foreign business officials operating in Ghana.
25By virtue of their relatively higher academic attainments, socialization and resources, such individuals are well placed to patronize IT services such as web-surfing, ing, and tele-conferencing facilities.
26Moreover, it is mainly corporate bodies and highly educated urbanites with high incomes that can patronize these services on a regular basis-- given the relatively steep user fees involved.Hence, unequal access to IT facilities in Ghana is not accidental; in fact, these operations cater largely to the interests and lifestyles of a section of Ghanaian society— the urban educated middle class.
27When it comes to the distribution of internet cafes considerable stratification exists by area of residence in Ghana.The majority of the cafes are located in affluent sections of Accra and Kumasi (Ahiabenu 2001). A clear example in this respect is Dansoman a middle class suburb of Accra inhabited by approximately a quarter of a million people.
28As an indication of how the internet cafes has kept pace with the demand for services by affluent Ghanaians, Dansoman has a relatively speaking large concentration of internet cafes.Further, Ghana Telecom maintains a sub- station here to provide supporting services to IT operations. The net result is that within Ghana’s multi-tier IT sector, the affluent enjoys a better quality and a disproportionate share of IT facilities.
29The under-served or excluded At the bottom, and experiencing limited access to internet services, are low-income Ghanaians who have limited skills and training, including laborers, menial workers, farmers, fishermen and the unemployed. James-Town, a low-income suburb of Accra, offers a direct contrast to my observations at Dansoman.
30Even though James-Town has about the same number of residents as Dansoman, the capacity of the IT facilities has not kept pace with the demand for services compelling residents to depend on a few internet cafes or, in sharp contrast to my observations at Dansoman, James-Town residents have to go outside their community for internet access.
31Urban biasAnother source of inequality that I have observed is the concentration of internet access in urban centers. Major Ghanaian cities are connected to the IT infrastructure.This privilege is obviously influenced by the fact that the cities are centers of political and economic power. Further, it is likely that the economies arising from the agglomeration of people and also small businesses have enticed internet cafes to the cities.
32Moreover, all the ISPs in the country operate from Accra, hence the internet providers outside Accra have to make a trunk call to be connected to servers in Accra (Ahiabenu 2001).This has given rise to a digital divide in Ghana where Accra, and a few regional capitals, enjoy varying degrees of internet connectivity, while many small towns and rural communities have no such access whatsoever (ibid).
33Small towns are more likely to have outmoded or sub-standard equipment. Even where internet services are available, small towns are victims of relatively poor IT infrastructure. The rising demands for IT services in Ghana are confronted by severe shortages of hardware and trained personnel.Authorities have tended to prioritize the needs of Accra more than other settlements.
34Patterns of OwnershipPatterns in the ownership of internet cafes provide further evidence of the stratification within Ghana’s IT industry.This is not accidental considering that the capital requirement for setting up internet cafes is significantly beyond the means of the ordinary Ghanaian.The initial capital outlay for a café ranged between GHC 10,000 – 15,000 (approximately $6,600 - $10,000).
35Concentration of ownership Some individuals own several internet cafes within the city or across the country. As a consequence, while a small section of the commercial class are benefiting from the new wealth creation opportunities generated by the expanding IT sector, majority of Ghanaians have become purchasers of IT services totally dependent on the businesses of the former.
36ConclusionThanks to their ability to overcome some of the bottlenecks facing Ghana’s IT sector, the advent of internet cafes has helped some Ghanaians in their social and economic life.
37Neither the efforts of the Ghana government nor donor support to Ghana’s can explain the employment opportunities that have been generated by internet cafes, why ordinary Ghanaians with meager incomes can afford instant IT with their parties, why small businesses without IT facilities are able to conduct their business on the internet.
38But the macro-changes that have accompanied the technology have come with social costs. The allocation of IT facilities in Ghana is extraordinarily uneven. Within Ghanaian society considerable stratification exist by place of residence, income and education and IT appear to have reinforced the existing inequalities.
39Educated Ghanaians enjoy disproportionate access to the benefits of IT technology relative to other Ghanaians.State policy regarding the distribution of communication technology has prioritized the needs of city dwellers over the needs of non- -urbanites giving rise to a two-tier IT service.
40But if IT technology is here to eliminate the developmental challenges of Ghanaians, then these disadvantages is not only marginalizing Ghana’s low income and rural population, it is also undercutting the basis upon which this populations can confront their relative social and economic disadvantages.
41Regardless of its setbacks, with the advent of internet cafes the framework and foundation for an inclusive communication and information technology program have been firmly established in Ghana that would enable information technology to grow and flourish, and perhaps to serve as a model for other developing nations.The End
42ReferencesAhiabenu, K (2001) “Ghana: Rapid Growth in Internet Use despite Cost Constraints, Africa Mail.Daily Graphic (2000) “Ghana’s Potential for IT High”, Accra Saturday July 15, p15Ernberg, J (1996) “Information and Communication Infrastructure Development in Africa” Paper presented at the regional conference The Information Highway for Developing Countries, Harare, Zimbabwe.
43Ghana National Policy for Information Technology (2001) “Briefing Paper”, presented to participants of the National Homecoming Summit, July 2001.International ITs Union (1996) African IT Indicators, Report prepared for the African Regional IT Development Conference, Cote d’Ivoire May 1996.World Fact Book 2000, “Ghana” US State Department, Washington.