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In her research in Ghana, Burrell encountered a number of young non-elite Ghanaians pursuing another approach to the Internet’s promise of prosperity: online scamming.
The most familiar example may be the so-called “419” email scam.
One young Ghanaian, Gabby, got the idea to pursue online scamming from his friends. “Sometimes I would accompany them to the banks for the money.” Rather than email scams, Gabby’s preferred methodology was the online dating scam, colloquially referred to as the ‘come-and-marry’ scam.
“And it certainly didn't have the public access facilities or Internet cafés that most Ghanaians needed.
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.
“He stopped chatting, he disappeared.” Although such a request might seem suspicious to a Westerner, “small transfers of funds between friends are a regular feature of relationships among youth in Accra,” explained Burrell.
This kind of ‘digital shunning’ was a common experience among the young Ghanaians that Burrell encountered; although the youth were following standard social norms, their foreign conversation partners seemed to misunderstand or misinterpret their intentions.