Digital Ecosystem Country Assessment (DECA) Report

The Ghana DECA took place between March and July 2023. It included desk research, consultations with USAID/Ghana, three weeks of in-country interviews, and numerous virtual interviews ahead of and following the country visit. The research involved a total of 79 interviews, both online and in-person in Accra, Aburi, Bolgatanga, and Tamale, and included stakeholders from civil society, academia, the private and public sectors, international development organizations, USAID implementing partners, and USAID/Ghana technical offices. Rather than serve as an authoritative source on the country’s digital ecosystem, the DECA is intended to be a rapid assessment of opportunities and challenges tailored to USAID’s programmatic priorities and thus may not cover all USAID/Ghana program offices and projects in depth.

Ghana is among Sub-Saharan Africa’s leaders in digital transformation. Over the past decade, the government has put the key institutions, legislative frameworks, strategies, and policies in place that are necessary to drive change. The Ministry of Communications and Digitalization leads and coordinates development and implementation of a core set of policies and strategies that are digitally transforming the government, economy, and society. The ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) Policy has guided this journey for more than a decade. A new Digital Economy Policy is drafted and under review to drive the next stage of Ghana’s digital development. The National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy and the National Cyber Security Policy and Strategy have also been key. Ghana adopted an inclusive approach to developing its cybersecurity strategy, which contributed to improved cybersecurity capacity and considered citizens’ online safety and freedoms. However, a clear strategy for protecting critical national infrastructure is missing.

Ghana has been a pioneer and champion of digital government transformation in West Africa over the past decade, with funding and support from the World Bank. Important whole-of-government platforms and services have been put in place, including the Government Wide Area Network (GWAN), which provides internet connection to more than 1,000 district assemblies, hospitals, police stations, and post offices across the country; a National Data Center; the Smart workplace suite, which includes email and productivity tools for government employees; and portal, a one-stop-shop for citizen services.

Still, digital government transformation is incomplete. Easy, efficient, online government services are in demand, but the portal options are limited, and most major government service providers have their own separate online services portals. The national identity Ghana Card could enhance digital service delivery by providing a universally recognized, secure, and easy-to-use means of digital identification and authentication for citizens when accessing both public and private digital services, but the current identification system is not integrated with other government-operated databases, significantly reducing its many potential applications. The Regional Coordinating Councils, and metropolitan, municipal, and district assemblies (MMDAs) are just now embarking on the digital transformation journey. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development coordinates their efforts.

Challenges for Ghana’s remaining efforts at digital government transformation include adequate funding to manage and maintain its connectivity and data center infrastructure, affordable internet for regional governments, inadequate digital literacy and skills among mid-level and regional staff, or related national training programs. A big skill gap exists in cybersecurity; Ghana faces a deficit of skilled cybersecurity professionals. The government also needs to improve efforts at stakeholder engagement and awareness-raising when developing new policy proposals.

Ghana’s private and public sectors have made significant investments over the past decade to bring near- universal broadband (3G and 4G) coverage to the country. However, the affordability, quality, and reliability of this connectivity need significant improvement. Dropped calls and service disruptions are frequent, which adversely affects the productivity of businesses and organizations that depend on the internet for their operations. Critically, data costs too much. civil society organizations in and outside Accra report that they must buy data bundle packages for their beneficiaries when providing them with training programs. MTN Group dominates the telecommunication market with more than 75 percent of mobile internet subscribers. Regulatory efforts to curb MTN’s near-monopoly have been unsuccessful. The telecommunications regulator’s ineffective stakeholder consultation and communication with the industry and public at large has led to a lack of buy-in and understanding of policies, thus undermining their efficacy. Preparing the market for rollout of next-generation technologies such as 5G will require careful policy planning.

Ghana has seen astonishing growth in the number of internet users over the past decade. As of 2021, approximately 68 percent of Ghanaians used the internet, up from nearly 8 percent a decade earlier. However, deep digital divides along urban-rural and north-south regional geographic lines persist, overlaid by factors such as gender and disabilities. High device and data costs are a primary barrier. The cost of digital literacy and skills trainings can also be a barrier, and knowledge of the value of such courses may be limited. Basic illiteracy is also a challenge, although voice notes on messenger apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram are proving to be a great tool for sharing information. Gender and disabilities divides exist in social media use, digital financial services, obtaining online news, ICT education, and digital startup development.

Ghana’s media and information landscape is experiencing significant challenges. In 2022, Ghana dropped 30 positions from the prior year in the Reporters Without Borders’s World Press Index. Some observers say that the government is “actively bringing back a culture of silence” that dominated the public square during the 1990s and early 2000s. Laws that criminalize the publication of statements that can cause “fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace” have been applied to online speech used to persecute political opponents. Ghana also is witnessing an increase in arrests and assaults on both investigative journalists and those who are affiliated with specific media outlets that openly discuss the corruption of influential individuals in the government. Most DECA key informant interviewees believe that the government has the technical ability and resources to track online posts, monitor the private traffic and activity of internet users, and target any critics of local or national government. Independent voices report feeling less confident about expressing themselves freely online; they have started “toning down” their social media posts, effectively selfcensoring.

Online news consumption has been increasing gradually. Fewer than half of Ghanaians regularly obtain news from internet or social media sources. Competition for attention online is strong, including among the local bloggers. The big aggregators and competition are forcing traditional media into the click-bait business model, which hurts quality and trust. Recognizing the power of the online space to influence opinions and spread ideas, the government and political parties are using online media to try to sway public opinion. Political parties use social media to market party candidates, identify policy priorities, and drive voter turnout during elections. Surveys find that political parties and politicians are perceived as the primary purveyors of misinformation and disinformation online. Some domestic fact-checking initiatives have emerged in response to increased misinformation, but organizations is limited by a lack of capacity, low funding, and generally sluggish public demand.

A range of online crimes and violence are on the rise, including financial frauds, social engineering schemes, sexual exploitation, stalking, cyberbullying, and harassment. Poor cyber hygiene and cyber literacy leave people unequipped to recognize and deal effectively with these crimes. Schools do not have online safety and security lessons as part of the information and communications technology (ICT) curriculum, and parents and teachers also lack the necessary.

mAccess Indicators & Rankings

The information below is part of the mAccess Diagnostic Tool and is intended to help assess foundational components of Ghana’s digital ecosystem using indicators on internet availability, affordability, access, and use. Click here to explore the full tool.

Country Snapshot – Ghana

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Access – Ghana

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Affordability – Ghana

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Competition – Ghana

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Infrastructure – Ghana

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Usage – Ghana

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Digital Ecosystem Evidence Map

The information below is part of the Digital Ecosystem Evidence Map (DEEM) and displays up-to-date resources on digital development interventions and the digital ecosystem for Ghana. Click here to explore the full tool.

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