Ghana is rolling out a digital address system to help formalize more of its economy (Quartz)

Ghana is rolling out a digital address system to help formalize more of its economy

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Accra, Ghana

Instead of using a church, tree or street stall to locate a home or business in Ghana, the country’s government has launched a digital system where every property across the nation has a unique code as its address.

The app, GhanaPostGPS, was created and delivered by Accra-based Vokacom. Through the app a user can generate their digital address with the aid of geocoding technology, cutting out the need for convoluted navigation instructions. Ghana, like many developing countries, lacks a formal addressing system, instead of a number and a street name, often landmarks, be it a junction, tree or colored gate are used to describe a location.

Speaking at the launch, president Nana Akufo-Addo said GhanaPostGPS’s digital addresses will help formalize the economy by bringing more people into the tax system, improve property ownership data, and bring efficiency to service delivery.

It could also lower the cost of business: “once your address can be located, the risk premium charged by banks will be lower. Businesses can now produce at lower costs, and will have enough funds for reinvestments,” he said.

Studies have shown that up to 88% of Ghana’s employment (pdf) is reliant on the informal sector. A large informal sector usually means a government will struggle to collect income tax from workers.

Controversial app

But the app’s launch has not been without controversy. While its had many supporters and around 150, 000 downloads, it also has loud critics, on social and traditional media.

The complaints have been over the app’s usability, cost, security concerns as well as accusations that it’s a rip-off of existing services already available for free. Some have questioned why Ghanaian app SnooCODE, which has been around since 2012 and also generates unique postcodes, was not shortlisted in the application process.

Since launching the app on Oct. 18, government officials have repeatedly countered the critics across a range of local media, saying they ran an open, competitive tender, and the $2.5 million they paid for the app covered the backend solutions, hardware, analytics, google licensing, marketing, tax, and technical support.

Vokacom CEO Nana Osei Afrifa has refuted allegations his company had copied SnooCODE. GhanaPostGPS was licenced off his app AsaaseGPS which he said he initially built as a business support solution in 2015 to be used within Vokacom to track rental properties in Ghana for his business.

Afrifa also disputed claims users can be tracked using the app, and emphasized the system was regularly checked and its security tested.

SnooCODE and AsaaseGPS are among a group of relatively new apps developed off advancements in digital geographic positioning system technology. Earlier this year Nigeria’s postal service teamed up with UK’s What3Words to help improve its delivery efficiency. The technology has made it possilbe for companies like Uber and ecommerce players to roll out services in cities that lack formal urban planning and address systems.

While the outcry has been loud, Ghanaian IT professional Ethel Cofie felt that while some criticism had been political, within the tech community the intentions were good. It was inspired to start a tech chamber to work with the government on future tech developments.

“Government has a lot of digital dreams and visions we want to be a voice at the table helping to shape policy.”

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November 1, 2017 at 07:30AM