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The World's First Biometric Money: Ghana's E-Zwich and the Contemporary Influence of South African Biometrics

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Abstract

In January 2008 the Ghanaian Central Bank announced that it had introduced a new centralized mechanism for the settlement of transactions between the Ghanaian banks. This interbank switch, as it was called, was purchased from, and managed by, the South African company Net 1 UEPS, and it had a unique central organizing principle. The switch was indexed biometrically, using a key derived from the ten fingerprints of account holders. This new interbank switch and a smartcard encoded in the same way has equipped Ghana with the world's first biometric money supply. This article is an effort to explain the development and significance of this biometric money, which Ghanaians call the e-Zwich. It traces the way in which biometric registration in Ghana (as in other African countries) has leaked from the mundane, difficult, and mostly unrewarding, task of civil registration into the more properly remunerated domain of monetary transactions. Viewed in the light of the rich historical anthropology of money in West Africa, what is at stake in Ghana may be much more significant than any of the current participants fully realize. Perhaps the most interesting finding of this study is that the e-Zwich system might actually succeed.

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... To him, www.ccsenet.org/ijef International Journal of Economics and Finance Vol. 8, No. 5;2016 these barriers have infrastructural, regulatory and cultural-cum-human dimensions. The infrastructural dimension relates to issues of interconnectivity, network failure, low bandwidth, high cost of connectivity, frequent power outages and so on. ...
... Regardless of the challenges alluded to in the literarture, the system could have normal and considerable www.ccsenet.org/ijef International Journal of Economics and Finance Vol. 8, No. 5;2016 patronage that supports Davis's theoretical explanation of the patronage of new technological systems. In this vein, the view that the system's patronage is poor would need to be reconsidered among researchers. ...
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The records of trading between Africans and Europeans on the Guinea Coast since antiquity raise issues the practical resolution of which has never ceased to occupy economic historians. The Herodotean inadequacies of dumb barter in Carthaginian goods and in gold dust were fully resolved only at the time of the eighteenth-century slave trade. In Senegambia and even on the Windward Coast, as we now know, the Royal African Company had still to go without an effective profit-and-loss accountancy. With the advent of the regular slave trade two new commercial devices had to be introduced by the Europeans. Both the sorting and the ounce trade sprang from the vital need for adjustment between the radically different trading methods of Europeans and Africans. And it was not so much a case of mutual adjustment, for of the two systems only one, the European, adjusted.
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During the last decade, the flow of oil revenue into Nigeria has expanded spectacularly, dwarfing other sectors of the economy. Its implications for development, for the growth of a commercial capitalism, and for the corresponding emergence of a more defined class structure are crucial issues about which much has been written. What we have heard less about, however, is how the ordinary people of Nigeria react to the floods of petro-naira which they themselves cannot reach. Fortunes are being made out of oil, but the living conditions of the rural and urban masses deteriorate as agriculture declines and the urban centres become overcrowded with the jobless and the impoverished. What are the attitudes of these people to the petro-naira? The answer to this question is no less important than an analysis of the hard economic data for our understanding of what is actually going on in Nigeria today.
Article
This paper takes as its point of departure a simple fact that has gone largely unnoticed in the historical and ethnographic literature of migrant mine labour: prior to 1933 mineworkers were paid in gold. It is argued that the ideas and practices associated with the control and transmission of metallic money were at the heart of the experience of migrant labour before the crisis and formed a major part of the self-definition of migrant gold miners during the 1920s. Moreover, both the practices and ideas of African mineworkers were reciprocally linked to the global political struggles taking place over the gold standard. From the First World War to the Christmas of 1932, the South African and Imperial states and mining capital were involved in a controversy over the form of the South African and international money supplies. Whilst in appearance an abstract and mysterious debate, the contest over the form of the money supply laid the foundations for a system of value that penetrated into the daily lives and politics of many southern Africans. Chief amongst these were hundreds of thousands of migrant mine-workers. Following from this, the paper posits a re-interpretation of the gold standard crisis. The turning point that coincided with the new year of 1933 was not merely an economic change; it constituted a major transformation of the form, value, velocity and politics of money throughout Southern Africa. Coincidently, the crisis was an economic and cultural transition for the mining industry itself and marked a dramatic re-definition of the terms of economic conflict between workers and managers. Finally, this paper calls for a new periodization of capitalist development in Southern Africa that meshes together the cultural and economic dimensions of historical processes in a manner that foregrounds the experience of the African working class.
Article
Opening Paragraph The present article is intended as the first of two contributions to the economic and social– but above all to the intellectual– history of the West African forest kingdom of Asante or Ashanti (now located in the Republic of Ghana). Both papers will attempt to pull together and to situate in a ‘mentalist’ framework a number of recent and confessedly disparate research findings concerning a cluster of concepts, ideas and beliefs that, merely for the sake of brevity at this point, I will assign simply to the embracing ‘neutral’ rubric of general transformations in the ideology (or ideologies) of wealth. The first article will be concerned with developments in Asante society up to the close of the nineteenth century (defined here interpretatively rather than in strictly chronological terms); its successor will concentrate on a highly detailed examination of a sequence of crucially telling events in the early colonial period, and upon selected developments thereafter in the twentieth century. The articles are designed and intended to be read sequentially; the first, it is hoped, will assist in making sense of the significantly denser context (and more detailed content) of the second.
Article
Some systems of divination are used to select particular sections of text, which are typically arcane and erudite, in which lies the answer to the particular, pressing problems of the client. Celebrated examples of such systems are the Chinese I Ching and the Yoruba Ifá. Werbner’s work on Kalanga and Tswapong divination provides a case-study of the detailed praxis in such systems. Diviners have a multiple role when a divination technique selects a text. At each consultation they must satisfy themselves, their client, and their audience that they have followed the correct procedures to select the text. A second stage follows. The client has a particular question and the selected text was not composed as a specific answer to it. Interpretation is required to satisfy the client that the question has been answered. The diviner thus plays the role of indigenous critic, a role both similar to and different from that of literary critics in the Western tradition. The concept of ‘dialogic’ used by Barber in her analysis of Yoruba praise poetry is taken to illustrate similarities and differences between diviner and critic.
Article
The purpose of this study is to evaluate and adjust the data so far collected on births and deaths from all the compulsory registration areas in Ghana. The analysis shows that there is incomplete registration of births and that the extent of underenumeration affects both males and females by a proportion of 75 percent and 72 percent, respectively. For infant mortality and deaths in general, it was possible only to demonstrate, by an analysis of the sex ratios, that errors are inherent in the plan. Suggestions are made as to how some of the errors which now occur can be rectified. Continued research into the quality of the data and a critical appraisal of the existing plan will reveal those defects that most seriously cripple efforts to obtain positive information.
Article
Most people in Africa and Asia are born and die without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistic. Absence of reliable data for births, deaths, and causes of death are at the root of this scandal of invisibility, which renders most of the world's poor as unseen, uncountable, and hence uncounted. This situation has arisen because, in some countries, civil registration systems that log crucial statistics have stagnated over the past 30 years. Net of debt relief, official development assistance reached US$80 billion in 2004. Yet because of the weakness in recording vital statistics, we have little authoritative evidence that these funds have their desired effects on either mortality or poverty reduction. Sound recording of vital statistics and cause of death data are public goods that enable progress towards Millennium Development Goals and other development objectives that need to be measured, not only modelled. Vital statistics are most effectively generated by comprehensive civil registration. Civil registration has a dual function, both statistical and legal; it also helps with economic development. 30 years of stagnation will not be overcome quickly, although new efforts to develop national statistical capacities offer a unique opportunity to refocus attention on civil registration. Now is the time to make the long-term goal of comprehensive civil registration in developing countries the expectation rather than the exception. The international health community can assist by sharing information and methods to ensure both the quality of vital statistics and cause of death data, and the appropriate use of complementary and interim registration systems and sources of such data. The continued cost of ignorance borne by countries without civil registration far outweighs the affordable necessity of action.
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