Ghana: The Benefits of Planning, The Challenges of Markets
Ghana is a small country on the southern coast of western Africa, with a population of roughly 22 million people. The development of its Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) sector has been particularly interesting, since it has been based on a relatively free-market approach. This route appears to have benefited the Ghanaian public, because the cost of Internet access in Ghana is substantially cheaper than in many other African countries. However, no matter how free the market, Ghana's communications are still constrained by the country's low per-capita income, the scarcity of computers, and limited Internet connections that drive up the price of Internet access.
Ghana has implemented relatively liberal policies towards the Internet and new communications technologies. In 2002, the country's ICT Development Committee created a forward-thinking ICT strategy called the Information and Communications Technology For Accelerated Development project (ICT4AD).
This strategy consisted of a three-phase approach: first, the committee members came up with a framework for what they would like to achieve. Next, they developed a set of policies that would help them reach that goal. Finally, they delineated exactly how those policies could be implemented in the real world.
After the completion of all three phases, they took their findings to the Cabinet and Parliament in 2003. The recommendations were subsequently approved, which cleared the way for the government to implement several e-education, e-government and community-based ICT initiatives, as well as a national ICT infrastructure roll-out. This good planning has had a positive effect on the development of ICT-based business and general usage: 2002 - 2005 saw a nearly nine-fold increase in the usage of mobile phones, as well as the birth of an IT industry (including call-centers and some computer manufacturing).
On the other hand, corruption in the Ghanian government remains a major issue in both political and economic spheres. It appears that the Internet and the businesses that have sprung up around it have been less prone to corruption than other areas of the country (e.g. development aid, taxation, policing, et cetera).
However, it is alleged that the National Communications Authority (NCA) has been remiss in its duty to monitor and regulate the service quality of the state telecom provider, Ghana Telecom (GT). This problems has been exacerbated by a scarcity of competition in Ghana's telecom market , since GT is the only major player in the market. Consequently, there is little incentive for GT to improve service beyond a certain minimum level.
Voice Over IP (VOIP) stands to add badly-needed competition to the telecoms sector. But because GT ultimately controls the major access line to the Internet for all of Ghana, it remains to be seen whether services like Skype will be allowed to take off. It's quite possible that they could be blocked either by prohibitively expensive Internet access, or by GT deciding to block the service completely.
Finally, in the realm of broadcasting, the government has made moves to relinquish day-to-day controlover the Ghana Broadcasting Company (GBC), turning to a version of the BBC's funding strategy. The BBC only returns to the government to renew its funding structure every 10 years. In GBC's case, the funding would come from a variety of sources, turning it into a public-service broadcaster with limited government interference.
Related Links http://www.ict.gov.gh/ - Ghana's ICT Development Committee Ghana's ICT Strategy --This document from 2004 covers the early direction for their ICT strategy. It was a working doucment, showing many of the developing options.
Censorship & Privacy
Although the government is enthusiastic about the growth of media in general in Ghana, it has also complained that journalists often disregard the importance of accuracy in their reporting. Mrs. Oboshie Sai Cofie, Minister for Information and National Orientation, has suggested that journalists set up a commission to police themselves to provide the "highest quality news." This appears to be a government response to unfavorable views being reported in the press.
From the other side of the fence, there are many concerns from Ghanaian bloggers and online journalists about a lack of protection for their work. They look to the United States, where there are guarantees for freedom of the press, and lament that no such rights exist in Ghana. This manifests itself in a fear of reprisal for writing unfavorable stories, or even from conducting basic investigations into the government. The government response to this critique is to return to the issue of "accuracy," which illustrates the divide between Ghanaian journalist and the Ghanaian government.
Ghana's biggest limitation (shared with almost every West African country) has been the single underwater fiber-optic cable (called SAT-3) that supplies land-based Internet access. This single source of connectivity to high-speed Internet has rendered the market basically uncompetitive. (There is a fixed cost for getting the Internet into Ghana and there is no real alternative to that method.) Put another way, there hsa been a single wire that connected Ghana to the Internet. Since most of the content Ghanaians seek lies outside of their country, that link to the Internet is crucial.
Compare this to the United States, where there are multiple providers; most of the content on the Internet is generated in the United States for people in the United States; and there are many choices for consumers to access the Internet, as well as many choices for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) both to deliver Internet service to consumers and to connect their services to the Internet.
Efforts to reduce the impact of that monopoly have been somewhat successful. After being pressured heavily by the Ghana Internet Service Providers Association (GISPA), Ghana Telecom lowered its price for a leased circuit from Ghana to Portugal from $15,000 to $8850. This is a lower price than what can be gotten elsewhere in West Africa, but it still represents a fortune.
As for personal access to the Internet, the prices range widely from $100 for a private connection at near dial-up speeds, to nearly $2000 a month for a connection that is equivalent to half of the speed of a cable modem in the United States. In a country where the per-capita income level hovers between $400 and $500 a year, this makes private, dedicated Internet access in the home totally unaffordable ( World Bank Per Capita Income Stats).
The CIA Factbook estimates that 609,800 out of Ghana's population of 22,931,299 have access to the Internet (about 3.5%). (AllAfrica Global Media reckons368,000.) The CIA's figure places Ghana within the top 15 countries for Internet connectivity in Africa, though not in the same league as South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Egypt, where the percentages of the population with Internet access are significantly higher.