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Are cities not built for people? Accra in global urbanism

lknIs there something that makes Accra’s geouniqueness enviable? The Government of Ghana legally places the administrative management of the entire country under Accra institutionally spearheaded by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA). The AMA is doing good things for the city. And, not long ago, Accra’s Mayor was honoured as one of the Best African Mayors, and earlier, Accra was accorded a Millennium City. Since the official designation of Accra as a capital city, it had undergone remarkable political winnowing to become a city for democratic choice.

Traversing the city tells a lot. Accra, as a seat of government, houses important national assets including over 60 per cent of higher institutions of learning and the Kotoka International Airport (KIA), which serves as the country’s main junction to the global community. The British Airways (dis)embarks every other day. Getting flight to Germany’s Berlin, Canada’s Toronto, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro or Brasilia, Russia’s Moscow, and India’s New Delhi is not a struggle. Chinese restaurants are easy to find and the South Africa’s national flag is heartily inscribed on commercial vehicles. The Japanese brands of vehicles are common on the streets. Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Tema-Accra Motorway continually remains significant in linking the heavy industrial hub to the urban economy.

New physical infrastructure is springing up in the inner and the outskirts of the city somewhat reflecting an upward status ranking of Ghana by Human Development Report 2014. From Roman Ridge in central Accra to Dawhenya or from Adenta to Dodowa, several buildings of dissimilar capacities are emerging with stronger taste for the rich. The development of shopping malls and new residential, educational and industrial infrastructure had replaced nearly 80-92 per cent of traditional-styled buildings in Accra City. Konadu-Agyemang’s very useful study on ‘housing conditions and characteristics in Accra, an African city’ a decade and half ago, published in Habitat International, showed that 79 per cent of houses were constructed from cement blocks, 5 per cent from baked bricks, 4 per cent from mud/mud bricks and 3.6 per cent from wood. In central Accra, the extent to which buildings constructed from cement blocks have replaced traditional-styled buildings nowadays is close to 98.1 per cent.

In addition to serving administrative functions, Accra has metamorphosed into a booming centre for sub-regional trade negotiations and economic activities, and a home to thousands of people who had escaped civil wars. All kinds of food are traded at the Makola Market. Buying foodstuffs that were transported from rural areas by middlemen and then being conveyed back to the same rural areas by consumers is interesting to see at Makola Market. Public news concerning Ghana’s oil and gas industry has indirectly intensified hunger for the city such that youth migration from hinterlands to the city is alarming. The daily interactions of people from different local, national and international backgrounds make Accra an inviting cosmopolitan and a vibrant city – surprises can pop up though. Is Accra a global city?

The Extended Accra city inhabits by approximately 5 million people is congenially peaceful. The peaceful atmosphere in contemporary times is attracting many high-profiled international conferences and continental festivals. Key beneficiaries of the enabling environment are international students, researchers and scholars who are undertaking short-term cultural exchange programmes or long-term academic trainings. Foreigners and local residents live, eat, interact, and walk on the streets of Accra freely. Accra’s Oxford Street is a place-loving and place-relaxing. A few international companies, bilateral and multilateral organizations (United Nations [UNDP, UN-INRA, FAO & UNICEF], World Bank, DFID, Vodafone, Commonwealth, DANIDA and JICA) are represented in Accra’s landscapes providing varied services.

In global and continental context, many preeminent leaders had visited Accra over the years and went back with indelibly good memories. Some of the leaders included the former and current US Presidents Barack Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton, the current Chairman of AU and President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, as well as the former and the current UN Secretary-Generals, Kofi Annan and Ban Kin-Moon respectively. The footprints of one of Africa’s best football stars, Samuel E’to were recorded. Such visits and others by personalities I could not mention had contributed to Accra’s global standing.

Accra has appealing socio-cultural outlook. Like other African capital cities, Accra has its own distinctive ethno-cultural identities. The Ga culture is deeply rooted and welcoming. The inter-religious tolerance within the city is pleasing. The coastal savanna identity is admirable. Its natural features such as the Achimota Forest Reserve, coastal reefs and the Odaw[na] River have undeveloped tourism appeals.

Is there any city where everything about urban living is complete? Inequality exists in Accra paving several areas for institutional collaborations and development interventions. Urban diseconomies of scale are testing the completeness of Accra city, including flooding, wastes, hunger, child streetism, and in-work poverty. Think about how street children are able to buy 500ml of drinking water? Recently, temptation by digital violence to deliberately cause human sufferings has been trans-territorially introduced. As the UN Millennium Development Goals targeted at redressing some of these urban issues are slowly getting to an end, the UN Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) are rapidly surfacing. Besides the challenges that may be posed by climate change and extreme poverty, accepting the SDGs and demonstrating commitment to it by implementing integrated initiatives to eliminate urban inequality, decongest slums and streets, improve service delivery and expand energy opportunities will do well for transforming Accra into a sustainable and an inclusive city everyone will love to live in.


Denied human freedom: new geographies of digital violence

The emergence of digital technologies (DTs) is a relief and seen by many in the developing world as one of the technological innovations that is increasing people’s acceHSC 1ss to new information, enhancing decision-making, facilitating trade deals, and personal relationships. The power of DTs is helping to connect institutions, nations and communities as well as cultures from different ethnic and international backgrounds. I am aware of the significant role DT is playing in easing the challenges of education, transportation, agricultural extension communication and indigenous economies as well as generating livelihoods for poor urban families, especially in developing countries. Globalisation is greatly benefiting from the DTs. Notwithstanding these benefits, including the possibility for me to post and share this important experience, the abusive use of DTs is breeding what I termed as “digital apartheid”. It takes not less than 3 years of intensive research to discover this invasive digital terrorism. From my investigation, this practice is not endorsed by any nation or society. Digital violence is carried out by an embellished anti-development network that combines intellectually honest deception, personnel training, DTs and earthno-spying as well as emotional abuse to announce their presence and to promote dictatorship and aggressive domination in organizations or in societies or across territorial circuits. In Ghana and Africa, DTs are new to majority of people who are less educated. This newness of DTs makes many people vulnerable to internet identity theft, corporate information insecurity and privacy abuse.

 The key aims of this digital violence are to:

(a)  cause workplace violence through gossips, sexual harassment and assisting managers to assign excess workloads in order to forcefully cause resignation or unjustly replace an employee with a favourite person. This is becoming increasingly pervasive in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sector. In both formal and informal workplaces, working women and young girls are vulnerable to and mostly suffer from digital violence in Ghana. Siblings and children of affected persons suffer from poverty, food insecurity, and social exclusion since the anti-development network blocks the victim’s access to financial resources; (b) cause disagreement and mistrust among couple. Eventually, this causes divorce in a flourishing or potentially “juicy” marriage. Currently, hundreds of new marriages, especially among young couples, are breaking down almost every day due to digital violence; (c) use a lead “terminator” consultant to promote massive unemployment or employment dissatisfaction capable to cause strike and disempower an existing corporate managership or leadership. Digital apartheid helps the network of oppressors to shift high-paid employment opportunities, investment capital and donor aid to its network members thereby empowering themselves and limiting opportunities for genuinely deserving people; and (d) destroy and control information in order to enslave and manipulate day-to-day activities of persons they believe to have an exceptionally appealing academic, public or a promising private life that outclasses their members in competing for power, finance and employment. Geographically, the practice of digital violence is more common in the cities than in the rural communities.

 Activities of the digital oppressors take multiple forms, including the following:

  • Eliciting confidential information about the victim through dubious organization of capacity building sessions, fake ceremonies and job interviews, and anonymous correspondence (or using the name of the victim’s friends) as well as direct impersonation. The weaknesses of online social networking makes it so easy to impersonate online activities of the victim;
  • Attacking professional, personal and religious life of the victim. If the victim is a learned person, his or her professional activities are belittled;
  • Degrading the victim through gossip and provision of “substandard’ things like place of living, food and means of transportation. If the victim is working, this will include dodging signatures, contacts, and tricking the victim into poverty. What the leader or a delegated member of the network will do is to honestly deceive and ensure the victim is not paid. This is achieved by helping the employing organization to generate and keep records that help to deny the victim his or her entitlements.
  • Oppressors falsely report the victim to the State Police Service or security agencies;
  • Sending anonymous letters to discourage the victim’s access to life-improvement opportunities;
  • Children and young people are particularly trained and rewarded to spy and report on the victim at an internet café, home, work or place of checking e-mail conversations without the victim knowing. The victim is likely to complain about this. Yet this complain is likely to be perceived as if it is spiritual or an activity of a “ghost”. But remember that a “ghost” does not write on walls or post information on the internet. On the eve of committing a crime i.e. if the oppressors decide to assassinate the victim, all the symbols and words written or pasted on walls are haphazardly painted or crossed with chalk, charcoal or permanent marker to hide detection and identification by the victim’s neighbors or investigative security agencies. Landladies and landlords who are blackmailed to conceal this violence tend to overlook if the writings are posted on their houses.
  • Develop web pages using the victim’s names and other identities to frighten the victim’s friends, relations and professional affiliates;
  • The people connected to the victim are told fabricated and “bad” stories about the victim by influencing them through “do not tell anybody” mantra and certain psychologically branded statements like “He or she is lazy and does not want to work”, “He or she says nobody can do him or her anything”, “Who does he or she think he or she is?”, “If he or she is eating will he or she gives you some?”, “Does he or she think he or she can depart?”, and “He or she is too know”. Even if the victim holds no evil intention, he or she is projected as an enemy to the people hired to spy and report on him or her;
  • Daily harassment and provocation of the victim to react or complain frequently or face problems. People related or connected to the victim see such complain as “normal”, “spiritual” and “exaggeration of circumstance”. This creates conducive conditions for the oppressors to kill the victim because, at a point, relatives and friends begin to ignore his or her complains;
  • E-tagging the voice of the victim and attempting to speak for the victim over the phone, example by giving misinformation and misdirection about the victim’s whereabouts and activities. A network member who is spying on the victim may attempt to be speaking for the victim at a meeting, home or church;
  • Very close friends of the victim are financially rewarded or through alternative opportunities to give personal information about the victim, his/her family and friends. A friend will accept to do so because he or she is told a lie about the victim and is advised not to talk about it or seek clarification from the victim;
  • Regularly putting the victim on a false light, including promising rewards for work done, which are never paid for but is oppressed for expressing the experience;
  • Secretly recruit children and young people and making them feel that they are doing “security work”;
  • Hacking of telephone calls, social media, e-mail addresses and other means of communication with the main to “poison” the mind of the victim’s relatives, benefactors, creditors and sympathizers. With this, some words from victim’s telephone or e-mail conversation are tapped in and given to someone who living close to the victim to recite and show that the conservation was heard. This is aimed at provoking the victim to commit crime or putting fear in him or her. If the victim goes to complain to his or her telecom services provider, he or she is likely to be told “change your phone” or “nobody can hack your phone line”. In case an offensive data is obtained about a victim those involved in collecting the data are silently killed with the fear that they will disclose details. 

Guiding code: You do not have to offend or do anything wrong against this network before they exert cruel violence against you. But to kill or blackmail, they will have to put you on a false light. In order to conceal identity, the oppressors may delegate their activities.

The digital abuse may be concealed through (1) rewarding and buying material articles for some people in the area where the victim is living; (2) transferring money through the family or close relative of the leading oppressors of the victim rather than the chasers; and (3) sudden changes in relational attitude and behaviour of the oppressors and their close confidants to people living in the victim’s area of residence: humility, respect, greeting and being nice to everyone.

 Some ways to tackle “digital apartheid”

  1. Families must keep watch over their family members even if they claim to be employed by so-called “international” dizs.
  2. Most churches have failed in regards to “knowing their members” and what they do to earn a living. It is suggested that church leaders begin to know a bit of information about their members and the organizations where their members work for and some person(s) connected with such organizations.
  3. Urgently enacts the Freedom of Information Bill.
  4. Interrogate anyone who gives personal information to you about a friend or someone else or is regularly requesting updates from you about someone else.
  5. The security of SIM card registration has failed and telephone users have no clear channel of making complains and receiving answers. The victim of a digital violence receives threatening e-mail and text messages that do not come from a verifiable and identifiable telephone number or e-mail address.
  6. Digital violence is an anti-development issue, which organizations like the Open Society Organization, Free the Slaves, Amnesty International, African Union, European Commission and civil society organizations involved in fighting human insecurity aspects of sustainable development goals will have to adequately invest resources to eliminate from society. This is important because digital violence is likely to increase “child killing or abuse”. Human lives are priceless.

 NB: The symbolic picture above is taken from a victim’s attack in a suburb of Accra. Beneath the diagram is written, “Do not, eat you up” meaning that the victim will be killed if the activity of the network is disclosed.

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