[music playing] thomas morton: hi,it's thomas. we're in ghana, the internetcapital of africa. if you ever wonder what happensto computers that you donate to one of those greene-recycling programs, this is basically it. kids from the north of ghanacome to this junkyard during the summer to break computersdown for scrap and also inhale things that will probably endup giving them cancer of the
everything. thomas morton: most of thecomputers are only worth the dollar or two of copper youcan melt out of them. but occasionally you harvestsomething useful, like a hard drive or a processor, whichyou can sell at the little flea market area next tothe charnel grounds. thomas morton: ah, ok. if you're an especially savvyshopper, you can actually put together a full working computerhere, one ready to
connect you to the fastestinternet in all of africa. thomas morton: ghana puts alot of stock in computers. their internet is directlylinked to great britain's, and they are billboards all overthe capital, extolling the virtues of personal computing. ghana already is sort of the topdog of west africa, where most of its neighbors havebeen plagued by war and poverty since independence,ghana's had almost 50 years of stability and growth.
right now they're hopingforeign investment will bolster a computer industryhere, which will permanently make them the tech capitalof west africa. so far it hasn't quitematerialized, but what has materialized is a thrivingunderground economy of fraud and witchcraft called sakawa. thomas morton: sakawa dates backto nigeria's oil boom in the late '70s. ghanaians came into the countryto take jobs in the
oil fields, and the localstaught them their favorite pastime, the pen-pal scam. the way it works is you writeto someone in america or england, tell them about aninvestment opportunity you have, or just straight up askthem for money, and they send it to you, and that'sit-- scam over. eventually the nigeriangovernment deported all the ghanaian guest workers backhome, and they brought the pen-pal scam with them.
then they combinedit with magic. thomas morton: as the internettook hold in ghana, the pen-pal scam was adaptedto email. then scammers started hookingup with hackers online and incorporating things like creditcard fraud into their scams, which became increasingly complex and lucrative. we kind of like the idea ofmaking a living off the back american stupidity, so we hookedup with a sakawa gang,
led by a young ghanaiannamed sefa. thomas morton: and now theterm just gets used-- thomas morton: --foreverything. thomas morton: sefa's asakawa success story. he's used his old scam earningsto pay for business school and has made a niceliving for himself by ghanaian standards, although he still hasto cross a stream of urine every night to getinto his house. sakawa comprises any number ofonline scams, but the majority
boil down to two basic types. one, you pretend you're a sexygirl, convince someone to fall in love with you, and thenthey send you money. this is called theromance scam. the other one is, you use astolen or forged credit card number to buy somethingonline. then you have it shipped tosomeone in the west who sends you money for it. that one's called theshopping scam.
these two scams sort ofwork like templates. once you nail down the basicsof them, you can start combining them and adding allsorts of personalized details until your mark feels like he'sin the middle of some elaborate international businessscheme and not just emailing back and forth withan african kid on a laptop. the thing with sakawa is whileit's essentially free money, it isn't easy money. to find someone gullibleenough to fall for your
shtick, you have to spendhours and hours emailing hundreds and thousandsof random addresses. thomas morton: in america,frustrated gamblers will kiss a lucky penny or pray to saintbernardino for help. likewise, frustrated sakawaboys turn to religion when they're down on their luck. only in their case, turning toreligion means driving out into the bush and payinga juju priest for magic email powers.
[drumming] thomas morton: i'm definitelyin africa right now. juju is the local term for whatfancy anthropology types call traditional africanreligion. in the same way that hinduismis actually more or less a collection of thousands of localdeities and rituals, juju is basically an umbrellafor any west african religious practice that isn't obviouslychristianity or islam-- or scientology.
one aspect central to all formsof juju is that the spirit world is morallyneutral. as in the gods don't give a shitwhat you and i do to each other as long asthey get paid. this makes juju perfectfor sakawa. if you want a leg up on thecompetition, you get a juju priest to barter with thespirits, and then they give you powers. so the point of the jujuceremony we're dancing in
isn't to win converts orteach some sort of a lesson like in church. it's to demonstrate the priestsins with the spirit world and advertisehis powers. powers like channeling a godwho can't be cut by knifes. or channeling another god,who likes throwing eggs. why is he throwing eggs? thomas morton: why, whydoes he throw them? thomas morton: oh.
waste of powers. the flip side to all this isonce you make a deal with the gods, you're boundto their terms. if you piss them off or defaulton payment to your juju priest, you end up with theopposite of powers, like bad luck or aids. on top of that the paymentprocess itself can be pretty tricky. thomas morton: westerners mayfind stuff like magic eggs and
tampon eating a little hard toswallow, but it's serious business over here. and not just with likesuperstitious bumpkins. even educated, cosmopolitanfolks like sefa believe in this. thomas morton: besides, is ofany of this really that much weirder than shit like communionor circumcisions? [crying] thomas morton: that partwas a little rough.
thomas morton: while sakawaoriginally referred to a very specific type of internet fraudmixed with juju, then it went on to mean any internetcrime involving witchcraft, and now it's kind of evolvedinto its own full-blown subculture. so there's sakawa music, sakawamovies, sakawa cars, a sakawa style of dressing. thomas morton: right now ghana'sin the throes of sakawa mania.
it's in all the papersand movie theaters. it's bigger than rap. i'm looking for sakawa movies. oh, cool, here's number three. if you want a glimpse at justhow deeply sakawa's penetrated the public consciousness,check this out. they're already up to "sakawaboys 8," and the series just started last year. we're on our way to meet a guywho makes films about sakawa.
his name is socrate safo. he's actually like the martinscorsese of ghanaian internet, fraud-based, gangster films. the ghanaian film industry, orghallywood, operates on kind of a "more is more" principleof movie making. they crank out hundreds oftitles a year, most of them shot on zero budget in asquickly as a couple weeks from start to finish. this speed doesn't do much forproduction values, but it does
allow them to respond to currentevents and to cater their subject matter to theircountrymen's exact interest. thomas morton: realistic. things drawn from real life. -ain't you got nothingbetter to do? you asked for it. [laughter] thomas morton: socrate's movietouched a nerve in national psyche and brought the issue ofsakawa to life for a lot of
ghanaians who otherwise wouldn'thave heard of it. thomas morton: since beingthrust into the mainstream, though, sakawa has drawn a hugeoutcry from government officials, tabloids, andchristian preachers, whose billboards in accra are almostas ubiquitous as ads for computer classes andjuju priests. thomas morton: while the furorover sakawa dominates the tabloids and pulpits, the focusis all on black magic and blood debts and sakawa boysturning each other into
goats and snakes. none of it tackles the root ofthe problem, the fact that over a third of young ghanaiansare unemployed, and what jobs there are are filledby corrupt government officials and their cousins. thomas morton: up until nowthe government's been more than happy to turn a blind eyeto sakawa since it's basically providing regular work forpeople that they can't. there are also persistent rumorsthat sakawa isn't just
limited to gangs of teenagedelinquents, but is actually a popular sideline amongpolicemen, soldiers and politicians. thomas morton: now that'ssakawa's threatening ghana's business reputation, thegovernment's cracking down. and them and the press havestarted a moral panic over it. just like gangsta rappers inthe early '90s, sakawa boys have gone from objects of sortof cultural fascination to scapegoats for all theircountry's ills.
thomas morton: the end of sakawamay not necessarily bring juju armageddon to ghana,but it will leave a bunch of angry young men withoutany source of steady income, which is arguablyeven scarier. on a lighter note, ghana justdiscovered oil off its shore, so maybe that'll solveall their problems.