At the entrance of a small but decent apartment outside Accra, the Ghanaian capital, Frank Osei, an itinerant photographer in his early thirties, gesticulates wildly as he paces back and forth while yelling into his phone, visibly irritated.
And why wouldn’t he be? For the last hour and a half, he had burnt a great amount of airtime while trying to guide a new “connect” to a rendezvous point.
Barely a week ago, he had attempted to buy a special new camera online, as a matter of urgency. Africa’s biggest e-tailer, Jumia, had said it would take at least 14 days. Osei didn’t have that much time, plus he didn’t trust them. So he took the next best option, buying from Amazon.
Osei had bought from Amazon a few times before, or maybe not. Actually, he had used an “informal courier.” He would make online purchases and type in the address of a “connect” in the U.S. at checkout to get around the hurdle of huge shipping fees and that dreaded notification: “This item cannot be shipped to your selected delivery location.”
That connect is the informal courier who collects a small fee (typically much less than shipping fees) for receiving delivered goods in the U.S. on behalf of shoppers like Osei, and hauling it down to Ghana every few weeks before handing it to the real buyers.
Osei had used a new guy for his camera purchase because it was urgent and his regular mover wasn’t coming down to Ghana anytime soon. But the new guy was having trouble finding the agreed meet-up spot, and Osei was near his wit’s end.