It started innocently enough largely in 1998, where Ghanaian kids developed a liaison with foreign pals in America, Europe and Asia. In the beginning the joy was to show off to friends, even girlfriends that one had a Caucasian friend and it was with great joy that students went for their letters and other parcels from the post boy who had aggregated the receivables for onward transmission.
Thanks to the conditioning of the African to relegate African values and traditions, the Europeans were only too eager to offer bibles, mission tracts and other related materials to their African pals but soon the missionary materials lost relevance, leading the young guys and on a few occasions ladies to start demanding cash, electronic gadgets and other urban items.
Yet again, the Europeans were not perturbed in sending a few gadgets and on some occasions cash to their Ghanaian pen pals but as with life, to whom much is given, much is expected and through whom much is stolen, much is demanded and so when onetime willing givers were sticking their heels to the ground, the Ghanaian youth sought ways of extracting form their pen friends items through fair or foul means.
Although the pen pal business has taken hold in Dansoman, Adabraka, Tema, Achimota, Nima/Netwon/Alajo, Kasoa, Abeka-Lapaz, Kumasi, Taifa, Medina and Tamale, there is little doubt that Agona Swedru remains the pen pal capital of Ghana.
Agona Swedru is a town in the Central Region of Ghana commanding some 70,000 inhabitants. Sadly the district cannot boast of thriving industries.
For a town close to the capital city Accra, most folks are storekeepers, market women and drug store operators. The lack of a factories or industry to absorb the mass number of youth in the district has led to an insatiable appetite for cyber related activities often leading to fraud and a veering into the supernatural realm.
Although the term being bandied about is Sakawa boys, the youth in Swedru engaged in cyber activities distance themselves from the Sakawa tag, preferring rather the pen pal tag. The explanation being that when one employs his skills to outmaneuver a greedy/naughty/perverted foreigner that is simply doing the pen pal business. It is only when a spiritualist is sought to influence the process for larger sums when it enters the Sakawa realm.
It involves going to a grave yard at midnight for rituals, sleeping and carrying a coffin, abstaining from certain practices or deeds, wearing chanted upon beads/talisman etc.
So how is it that citizens from supposedly tech savvy lands such as the US, UK and EU get defrauded of large sums without let or hindrance?
In Swedru, the tactics and strategies vary and as they put it everyone has a format that can be used on him/her. One way is to use dating websites where details and photos of targeted persons are sought. The scammer in Ghana then visits a porn site or dedicated sites such as mate 1 to download various pictures and videos of a model undertaking various activities such as cooking, masturbating etc. Some of these sites are free, others require registration and payment but when it’s done, the Ghanaian scammer would then initiate contact with his prey often innocently.
The contact would be minimal so as not to arouse suspicion but nonetheless the scammer gradually ups the interaction through messages posing as a lady having assumed a new identity with aid of new pictures and videos.
Yahoo Messenger was popular but Whatsapp has taken over and thanks to advanced technology a male can adjust settings on his phone to sound like a lady.
For those naughty European men who seek to have pleasure outside of their confines, it is here they fall in the trap as they are lured with mini-cam visuals downloaded earlier from known sites. Having been shown nude pictures and naked videos, the pleasure seeking European is then lured as demands emerge. It could be deliberate tampering with the webcam setting to show blurred images or breakage in phone calls. Consequently a request would be put in to buy new laptop, phone etc.
Having wooed the prey for sometime, there is then talk of visiting the foreigner in his home country hence need for dollars/pounds/euro to be wired down here in Ghana to acquire a passport, travelling documentation and undertake tests.
There is also the occasional request for money to take mum or dad to the hospital for medical treatment. Sex is a powerful thing, once the fellow is hooked thanks to the naughty images he has consumed, he keeps sending funds with the hope of beholding the beauty to pound the ‘yonni’ but it’s hardly to be as the excuses keep coming in even after several funds have been sent. Eventually the line is severed as the pen pal chap in Ghana vanishes into thin air.
Others hire females who show real flesh in real time, such pen pal guys take their cut and on certain occasions, the ladies travel and meet up with their clients abroad. Others arrive in Ghana and the ladies sexually cater for them for weeks and months in hotels and guest houses.
Another format is to use the business route, where the pen pal chap attracts the interest of the foreigner with land and gold prospecting deals. The foreigner is then asked to send cash for documentation whereupon genuine looking paper work is sent to him and photos of innocent looking gold and other treasures are sent him to whet his appetite. As it often turns out before they realize, they’ve been hoodwinked and it’s too late.
While I lived in Swedru for a year, it was common sight to see teenagers patronizing the cafes, not to research on assignments from school but rather to perfect their cyber skills. The kids start early such that when a kid gets to class 5 and 6, its game on. The love of quick cash has led to a steep decline in completion of the junior secondary stage.
There is poverty in Swedru, often the well to do are not indigenes as the banks, hospitals and even schools maintain a good number of professionals who hail from Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast and other parts. The result is that parents often give their blessings to the kids who bring them money, build homes for them and support their siblings and relations.
The pal boys have enormous clout, there is talk that the private residence of the chief of the town was constructed by the gamers and so they continue to receive the support and blessing of the chief.
A visit to the town reveals a photo of shortage of accommodation spaces as most buildings were mud structures. There is no grand plan to build accommodation quarters for professionals transferred to the town. Yet again, it the pen pal boys to the rescue as they continue to build and rent homes to radio presenters, bank staff, nurses/doctors and utility company staff. It’s not uncommon to have 40 year professionals bow and greet their 17-25 year old landlords.
Some pen pal guys receive their funds through the Western Union system but others also use the bank system where arrangements have been made with certain managers who take their commission once a withdrawal is made. At times there is disagreement on the percentage to be received and alarm blows but for the most part, it’s handled neatly.
With Swedru coming under keener scrutiny some of the boys are opting to withdraw their cash at Bawjiase, Kasoa and Accra.
If you are a 40 year old man in Agona Swedru and you’ve not been productive and fortunate in life, you could feel scorned especially from ladies you might have admired and wished to behold. The pen pal boys have spoiled the Swedru chics for sure. It is common sight to see them in the front seat row with their guys rolling and balling. It is only in Agona Swedru that being a borga (been-to) means absolutely nothing, for whatever a borga hustled to acquire abroad, the pen pal boys have and even more.
The feats the pen pals boys have chalked are at times miraculous; take the case of one who was said to have defrauded a US senator of 20,000 dollars. Another is said have got to a car dealership where a particular one caught his fancy, there were some folks haggling over the price which was about 850 million old cedis, enter the pal boy who stunned everyone including the seller by offering him 900 old million for the ride just like that.
Living the good life can be a thrill but for those who assume that the goodies would keep flowing, soon get a rude awakening. The smart ones, enter the pen pal business call it cyber fraud business, hit it big and then pull out by investing in a venture.
In Agona Swedru, there are phone and electronic gadget shops, paint shops, hardware shop owners and boutique operators who are identified as onetime gamers who diversified their money making ways.
Others who once commanded huge sums in their bank accounts are now paupers thanks to ostentatious living (drowning bottles of liquor, purchasing of needless kicks, jewellery and clothes), reckless womanizing and lacking business acumen.
One such fellow’s case makes for grim observation. He was one of the money men but poor choices and a brash with the law enabled him meet misfortune, today he is a space to space vender who strives to cloud his identity with a scarf.
Others are not so fortunate. The case is often told of a young pen pal chap who started making it big but then died mysteriously yet another tale which makes for grim reading is on a gamer who was living the good life with his girlfriend. On one occasion, a friend of the gamer disclosed to the lady that his guy had a pot under their bed which contained some items. The curious lady beheld and retrieved the pot, instantly the boyfriend went mad and started roaming the streets for it was his only to see.
The guy’s family relations however did not sit idle as they also consulted an oracle which prescribed a way out but at a cost.
The cost being that the girlfriend whose curiosity generated the whole trouble would receive the madness ‘abodam’ instead. As we interact, the gamer has regained his senses and the curious lady roaming Swedru’s streets.
In Agona Swedru, the speculated dons include the Size Zero group which has a hiplifer hailing from the town as an associate, Ditos Money, Moro, Junior and one Addo. In Accra and Tema speculated dons include Baron Wan, Jibril and Criss.
Speculated spiritualists consulted for fortification include Indian Man and one Fear God although most gamers prefer to visit Togo and Dahomey (the home of snakes) a.k.a Benin for their fortification. Whichever way one looks at it cyber fraud has its attractions, for Wanluv de Kobolo to admit that when he got stranded in the US, had it not been his pen pal guys in Ghana who continuously wired money to him, he might have perished, speaks volumes about the gamers critically role.
Every government’s role is to protect the meekest and the weakest in the state and also to redirect the misguided. It is clear that the Swedrulites have a skill which can be harnessed for good. For semi illiterates and even so called illiterates to manage to defraud so called advanced citizens can only be an opportunity being allowed to waste.
There is a big cyber army being mobilized all over the globe. The Americans, Russians, Chinese and North Koreans have already shown the massive recruitment and investment they’ve done. The Sony attacks and retaliation shows how activities in the virtual world can affect the physical.
Thanks to Wikileaks, Julian Asange, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, we know the unethical spying and things so called beacon of democracy United States does to solicit information for their advantage. If allies such as Germany and France are not spared the invasive activities by America, they very well care a hoot less about Ghana.
All these NGO’s, Volunteer Corps and ‘komenene’ are intrinsically to solicit information and gather data on our way of life to continue to condition us and advance their cultural, economic and spiritual dominance.
Thankfully, the ‘Swedrulites’ have shown a streak of good form with ICT, hacking and identity theft. Government must as a matter of urgency set up an academy better still a cyber enclave in Swedru to channel such cyber skills to the good of the country.
The security capos and intelligence capos ought to have by now developed programmes and modules as to how the state can use the genius of the Swedru folks to penetrate the defenses of other states to retrieve information and set up defensive barriers against other states invading our cyber space.
More crucially Swedru can become a hub for electronic and tech inventions. It is not enough to brand such skillful Swedrulites as troublesome and seek to imprison them while they could be molded to serve their motherland.
Of course it isn’t only foreigners that scammers target, fellow Ghanaians and other African nationals aren’t spared either.
Why can’t you turn down an invitation to have cyber sex when you know not the offeror from Adam?
If an item cost 1000 cedis why would you presume it safe to offer 400 cedis for the same item offered by a recent acquaintance?
When folks contain their greed and pleasures they would find that life can be simple.
Ingest this tune from Original Shana even as he states his case on Sakawa letter to the leaders: