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Jena Burrell Invisible Users

In her book Invisible Users Jena Burrell investigates the population of young Ghanaians who, not wealthy enough to afford to be in college and unemployed, resort to internet scams.

Chapter 3 - Ghanaians Online and the Innovation of 419 Scams

In chapter 3, Burrel gives an account of the exchanges between the Ghanaian youth and Westerns. Burrell has detected a tension in the self-resprentation of her research population. In their online interaction these group of users chooses not to reveal their real identity, but use instead a fabricated one, based on convesional signifiers (age,sex,race).


Cross-Cultural Encounters

There are inherit reasons for the often unexpected behaviors of a Ghanaian when communication online with someone foreign to their cultural and economic context. As an example the late arrival of the Internet meant that when Ghanaian Internet users entered these spaces they were already coded by Euro-American norms, behaving not according to those, but to the familiar culture logic."This involved certain assumptions about gender relations, dating ritual, modes of patron-clientism, and related distributive obligations"(Loc 1070). As an example, the exchange of small amounts of money among friends is common in Accra. Therefore, when interacting with a supposedly wealthier foreign other it is only logical to for a young Ghanaian to ask for a monetary help. The high cost of Internet access in Ghana also played its role, manifesting itself in the rushed intimate tone put forward by the young Ghanaians, which can be misread as insincere.


The 419 Email Scam and Its Variants

419 constitutes a specific genre within email scams. Deriving its name from the Nigerian police code for fraud it became associated with the West African region, including Ghana.

"In the classic 419 email the author claims to be a wealthy former member of the corrupt Nigerian government needing to quickly transfer money out of the country. The extraordinary circumstances are explained by the death (often by plane or car crash or murder by political opponents) of a family member or business contact. The email recipient is asked to provide assistance often by making their bank account available for the money transfer. As a reward, the recipient is promised a hefty percentage of the gain often in the amount of several million dollars" (Loc 1178).


This sort of scam developed in the decades (1980s and 1990) of Nigeria's of high corruption and disastrous economic. The emails often describe actual activities of money laundering carried out by the military government. Burrell argues these actual episodes render the scam more plausible. If one decides to google the name of one of the characters one will find him/her mentioned for the same episode as referred in the email.


I belief that there is something more to the inclusion of actual events. The retelling of a shameful event, for which one's country is famous, might also constitute a strategy for coming to grips with that past.


The eventual success of such emails relies their reception by thousands of individuals. Although widely sent, every recipient must read the email as personalized, "a reliable source", therefore its often intimate tone. Variants of this email can be of other sort, entailing the construction of a church or lottery winning. All of them play with the recipient's lust, greed, or sympathy. And although commonly associated with Nigeria, the narrative tends to happen in other places of the African continent


The scam strategy observed by Burrel in Ghana included predominantly persuasion through bodily seduction, and resource to chat rooms and dating websites rather than email. This became know as come-and-marry scam. Before making any reference to monetary exchanges come-and-marry scammers build a relationship with their seduced "boyfriend". Only then will the scammer invent a plot in which "she" needs money.


"In producing these identities, scammers recruited a variety of disparate elements including female friends and family, digital photos of black models, Web sites with “love quotes,” fake ID cards, Webcams, and other resources. Invariably the primary scammer was male, although he might recruit a sister or a female friend to assist by taking phone calls from the foreign boyfriend and by sitting in front of a Webcam while the scammer typed. She thereby served as the face and voice of the scammer’s female persona."(Loc 1212)


Manipulating Representations of Africa for the Foreign Gaze

Realizing the suspicion that would often arise from posing as an African, scammers , persona and to target dating websites.

Although scammer have changed their approach, posing also as white and male, when posing as Africans, they would integrate into their character the "Western archetype of the African other"(Loc 1343). They'd pose as themselves, but viewed through a Western representation. Reciprocally the Western Other is represented as an "inversions of the African Other"(Loc 1375). The Western representation of Africans became another resource for scamming. The Ghanaian youth's real identities and problems were seen as not enough captivating to result in material gains.


"They performed as a needy African orphan, as an attractive African woman seeking rescue, as a participant or victim of a corrupt African government regime, or as a God-fearing Christian pastor seeking funds to help improve his impoverished community"(Loc 1383)


By being forced into taking another online identity "they were operating with what de Certeau defines as a tactic. A tactic is the strategic work done by “the weak” who lack a space of their own from which to relate to what is external."(Loc 1416). The weak relocate, because there is no recognition for their position in space.