Only an estimated four percent of the people in Ghana use the internet. But the sector has immense potential for growth and tremendous mass appeal, especially among young people in urban areas.
The non-profit organization Blogging Ghana is using internet-based technology to raise awareness among young people about general elections on December 7. The effort is being funded in part by Star Ghana, another non-profit working to increase civil society’s involvement in the government
Program manager Ibrahim Tanko said the project is especially popular among university students.
He said discussions among students are streamed live on Facebook and Twitter. The social media tools provide venues for the dialogue to continue long after the program ends.
Tanko said the sites offer politicians a way to reach the electorate in both a direct and indirect way.
“[People are] indirectly reached in the sense that somebody tweets information, you also pick it up and re-tweet and a third person picks it up,” he said.
Tanko said most young people are apathetic about political rallies. However, social media platforms are helping to move political discussions to them rather than asking youths to attend.
“They get involved by contributing,"he said. "And you will hear people say, ‘Initially I didn’t want to vote but after having participated in this discussion on education, I think I want to make my voice heard’ “
Another project funded by Star Ghana helps set up early-warning systems to check electoral fraud. It combines the use of social media and text messaging via mobile phones.
Tanko said in this program, tell-tale signs about electoral fraud are flagged and sent to security agencies.
“The early-warning system is modeled around what was used in Kenya called the Moshahidi," he said. "So it kind of provides a platform where people can send in messages either via SMS or Facebook. When these are verified, they are collated and sent to the right authorities”
The project is run by the company Pen Plus Bytes (written as PenPlusBytes) which teaches journalists how to use communication and internet technologies in their jobs.
Most of the country’s political parties are also harnessing the power of social media to enrich their debates and win polls.
Papa Kwesi Ndoum of the Progressive People’s Party has about 160,000 “likes” on his Facebook account.
Nana Akufo Addo of the New Patriotic Party shares videos from his campaign and encourages party donations on Facebook, Twitter and Google Hangouts.
Ghana’s president John Mahama has 26,000 “likes” on his Facebook.
But it is uncertain whether social media will have a major effect on the outcome of elections.
George Lawson, the deputy general secretary of the National Democratic Congress, said "most of our communities are not connected to the national [electricity] grid. I believe in moving from place to place and reaching out to the people. We’ve not gotten to the stage where social media will dominate our political activities.”
Overall, Lawson said, the impact of social media on the elections will be insignificant, considering the low rates of literacy in rural communities.