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Burrell tells a story of a burgeoning online friendship between Fauzia, a young Ghanaian woman, and an Egyptian man.While chatting online, Fauzia mentioned “ok, my phone is giving me problems and I will be very grateful if you could send me money to get a better phone or if you could send me a new phone.” After repeating the request, “I didn’t see him online again,” said Fauzia.This had changed when Burrell returned to Ghana in 2010.Gabby, for one, had obtained a few thousand dollars from an Internet scam, by adjusting the format of his scam.Scamming came to be refered to by the Hausa term ‘sakawa’.Headlines warned of “The Sakawa Menace,” and crime movies had titles like “The Dons of Sakawa.” Despite the widespread approbation — even moral panic — a too-weak police and court system in Ghana has left scammers to pursue their gains largely without resistance, Burrell said.
Although Ghana’s elite already had Internet access and international connections, the more widespread availability of public Internet cafés provided the first opportunity for many ordinary Ghanaians — especially youth — to interact with the wider world.
In the classic 419 email, the author claims to be a wealthy former member of the corrupt Nigerian government needing to quickly transfer money out of the country, and the email recipient is asked to make their bank account available for the money transfer in exchange for a hefty percentage of the gain.
Although such email scams are more strongly associated with Nigeria, they are pursued in other parts of West Africa, as well.
Burrell found that many young Ghanaians had difficulty seeing the social and cultural disconnects that separated them from the foreigners they attempted to befriend.
“Such enforced disconnection and avoidance followed a seemingly minor interactional misstep,” Burrell said, most often requests for money or gifts.He had diversified his gains, investing in the local music industry and renting out two trucks he had acquired.