Ghana is now entering the the second half of the two week partial lockdown imposed on its two largest urban centres by government.
To be sure, the general populace is taking the restrictions on their movement quite well under the unprecedented circumstances imposed by the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic in the country. Initial worries of widespread severe deterioration in living standards among the poorest and most vunerable segments of the residents of Accra, Tema and Kumasi have proved to be largely unfounded – although it is still hard to decipher how this has been achieved – and consequently fears of pockets of civil unrest are receding.
At the same time, the law enforcement agencies and the military have shown commendable restraint in their handling of even clearly uncouth, disobedient people, many of whom have been trying to get around the restrictions on their movement for no real reason, other than restlessness or sheer stubbornness and lack or respect for government’s directives.
But one of the biggest positive surprises has gone largely under-reported in the public commentary on the ongoing situation. This is the capacity of digital Ghana to take up the challenge of keeping economic activities going despite the restrictions on physical movements and human contact.
The digitalization of the Ghanaian economy, with electronic payment platforms and e-commerce as its fulcrum, has been a major aspiration of government and corporate Ghana’s chieftains. Progress has been steady, but much slower in practice than the rate at which digital products and services have been designed and made available to private enterprises, providers of public goods and services and households.
There is an old adage that says “necessity is the mother of invention.” That adage is now being proved true in Ghana.
Public institutions, private enterprises and households alike are being forced to turn to digital channels by the current circumstances and are doing so with considerable aplomb. The volumes and intensity of electronic payments, e-commerce and other business activities being executed electronically have grown by several orders of magnitude.
Crucially, fire walls seem to be standing up quite firmly against the inevitable activities of would-be cyber criminals, although the degree to which this is simply because victims of cyber- crime are reluctant to publicize their fates is still uncertain; financial institutions, which are usually involved along the cyber- crime “value chain” are particularly reticent about admitting to their failings out of well- founded fears that this would make their customers lose confidence in them and their digital offerings. But the fact that far more Ghanaians are willing to engage in far more digital economic activities and financial activities than ever before suggests that they are more or less satisfied so far.
Indeed, it is now being expected that many enterprises and households will opt to stick with their current much higher than usual use of digital channels for their business and economic activities, even when the COVID 19 pandemic recedes and traditional methods become available for use once again. The proportion of financial transactions consummated through digital channels will remain higher than the pre coronavirus levels, for instance and so will the proportion of the nation’s work force that will want to work from home and the number of employers willing to let them do so.
Another old adage says that every bad situation has a silver lining and this is one provided by the coronavirus outbreak.