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Posts Tagged ‘419

Sakawa

Fascinating piece on the culture of sakawa in Ghana (419 in Nigeria).

Internet scamming came to be understood more publicly as ‘sakawa’ only recently.  Before that, back when I started my research in Accra on Internet café use it was more underground.  I talked to Internet café users back then, both scammers and non-scammers, and frequently heard their stories about the ‘big gains’ realized by other local Internet users.  I was told stories about young men getting the credit card of Oprah Winfrey, or using Bill Gates credit card to buy ten laptops. One young man commented on how such people, “don’t even notice the money is reduced.”  These stories (rumors in the way they narrated an event the teller had not directly observed or experienced) had a certain pattern, describing the scam victims often as these superhuman celebrity figures.  These rumors not only presented the promise of gaining money from the Internet, but also restored the morality of these practices in this way of characterizing scam victims as beyond harm.

This reminds me of Sudhir Venkhatesh’s phenomenal Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor and the chapter in Freakonomics that asks Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?

What proportion of sakawa results in the big payoffs that allow these guys to buy a beemer? And what proportion are Ghanaians with underutilized skills that are sitting around in internet cafes dabbling into sakawa but not finding any major payoff?

And why do these guys believe their benefactors fall for sakawa? Sean provides some explanations.

There’s more than one reason. Some are greedy and naïve and do, in fact, buy into these stereotypical depictions of Africa as believable stories that resonate with how they know things to be in that part of the world. They buy into the stories of corrupt politicians or of spoils of war stashed in a ‘third world’ and therefore unregulated country, of abandoned bank accounts, or smuggled gold.  There are others who are operating from more human and sympathetic impulses, lonely people looking for love (perhaps less sympathetically rather old men looking for very young attractive women). Also altruistic individuals who think they are contributing money to orphans or to a church. What is also interesting is, in many documented cases, how scam victims often get in so deep and are so committed to the scenario they’ve been presented, they seem not to be able to believe that it was entirely made up, refuse to accept that the person they thought they were dealing with doesn’t exist at all.

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Written by Niall

May 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Posted in Ghana

Tagged with , , ,