(HN, November 2, 2011) - African governments are not the only ones to fear the combination of disgruntled masses and social media. Businesses too are at the mercy of Africans wielding mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter.
In the west African nation of Ghana, where five mobile networks have generated a cell phone penetration rate of 80.5 percent, hand-held devices are all the rage. And many people in this country of almost 25 million people have social media access on their mobile devices.
Take Elizabeth Okoro. She took to Facebook to recount being discriminated against at a restaurant named Atlantic Lobster and Dolphin Ltd. in the Osu part of the bustling capital, Accra.
In a Facebook post dated Saturday, Okoro recalled asking the Italian owner of the restaurant if she, along with her Spanish and Japanese dining companions, could become members of the restaurant’s “Seafood Lovers” Club.
According to Okoro, restaurant management responded with a laugh, saying the club was for white people only. “I was completely taken aback and rendered speechless,” Okoro says in her Facebook post.
Okoro was not speechless for long.
The Facebook group that she created on Saturday - “White’s Only Club in Gh..Pls Boycott Atlantic Lobster and Dolphin Ltd” - has ballooned to over 1,420 members. Even a local radio station, X-FM, invited Okoro on the air to speak about her experiences.
The Ghanaian government has taken notice. On Tuesday, Joy FM reported that Ghana’s tourism ministry has shut down Atlantic Lobster, as a result of a lack of compliance with operation codes.
Elizabeth’s plight seems to have resonated with many Ghanaians on social media.
On both Twitter and Facebook, they are now speaking out about their experiences of discrimination at the hands of foreign-owned businesses, particularly in Accra.
And, as more and more expatriates are moving to Accra to take advantage of investment opportunities, political stability and easy proximity to palm-fringed beaches, many Ghanaians are sharing experiences of being refused service in favor of expats at clubs, bars, restaurants, and bakeries. “Ghana should not accept this from any foreign investor”- said one Facebook commenter named Yehowa Ji Mi Kwelor.
“That’s Ghana for you” is a popular expression of defeated resignation, and is used to explain everything from corruption to power rationing to discrimination.
But now with virtually unlimited access to social media platforms, young Ghanaians are pledging to no longer keep quiet about injustices Perhaps older generations of Ghanaians would have kept silent about such treatment.
But as Okoro posted on her Facebook wall on Tuesday, “Today marks the birth of a new generation. A new generation of Ghanaians who will not only be heard but will scream out against discrimination. A new generation who will not turn a blind eye against injustice. We have shed the cloak of inaction and out on a super hero cloak of determination. I am proud to be member of this generation. “
It may come as no surprise that the government acted so promptly. According to the World Bank, the tourism industry is now the third highest foreign exchange earner in Ghana, with average earnings of over $400 million per year.
From the looks of things, Okoro’s call for action on Facebook has sent echoes far and wide.
Attiah is a Ghanaian-American master's student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. She holds research interests in broadcast media and citizen participation in Africa.