Ghana's telecommunications system is woefully inadequate for its business needs. It has one of the lowest telephone densities in the world. Efforts by private players to enter the market are hampered by confusing government regulations.
In 1992, an international company was given a free rein to operate the first cellular telephones in Accra. For those able to afford the service, the occasion was momentous. The Ghanian capital offers no telephones to those living in its mushrooming suburbs. The country's telephone density, as a whole, is among the lowest in the world: a meagre 100,000 lines 'serve' a population of nearly 18m. In other words, for every 1,000 people there are just over three telephone lines.
But Ghana is not alone in its telephone misery. The average 'teledensity' for the entire developing world, is only 15 lines per 1000 people. To contrast, three-quarters of the world's telephone lines are shared between eight of the world's industrialised countries. This is a far cry from Ghana, where people can still be seen scurrying about from A to B carrying messages to each other. With such an insufficient telecommunications system, you are left with few alternatives. For business, this is bad news.
"Before mobile telephones, transport was our only means of communicating with business associates," explains Hajia Asata, a market trader in Kumasi, about 200km north of Accra. "You went physically to enquire whether or not your goods had arrived and you kept travelling between Kumasi and Accra until the goods arrived. Transport costs were then added to the goods."
It doesn't take an industrial tycoon to point out the short-comings in that. The Accra-based National Board for Small-Scale Industries estimates that up to 50% of working time in small firms is wasted simply running around doing a job that could be executed in a matter of minutes were basic services, such as the phone, fax or telex, to hand. Worse still, Ghana's inadequate telecommunications facilities not only affect the level of export but also discourage foreign investment.
For large companies, such as the Cocoa Board, which has more sophisticated requirements like datacommunications and has acquired its own closed communications networks for internal use, the situation is not too dire. However, private networks like this translate into substantial losses of income for Ghana Telecoms.
"Even the Government has become a victim of poor telephone services," complains one...