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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Ghana 2019 Crime & Safety Report

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Ghana at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Exercise increased caution in urban areas and on intercity highways after dark due to crime. Exercise increased caution in parts of the Brong Ahafo, Northern, and Upper East Regions due to civil unrest.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Accra does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual, business, or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Ghana-specific page for original analytic reports, consular alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Accra. Violent crime is on the rise, including armed robberies in expatriate residential areas.  Most cases occur at night. Nationwide, violent crime results in more than 500 deaths per year. Criminals frequently carry weapons; the most prevalent are locally manufactured pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Reliable sources estimate that there are 1.2 million unregistered guns in Ghana. Victims of robbery should comply with perpetrator demands, as resistance may cause the situation to escalate to violence.

Street crime is a serious problem throughout the country, and is especially acute in Accra and other large cities. Pickpocketing, purse snatching, and various scams are the most common forms of crime expatriates encounter. Most frequently, criminals target travelers in crowded areas.

Victims of opportunistic and violent crime are more likely to be targets based on perceived affluence and/or perceived vulnerability, not based on nationality. Avoid walking alone, especially after dark and in poorly illuminated or isolated areas; doing so may increase risk of criminal targeting. Opportunistic crimes targeting motorists and passengers in vehicles are common. Criminals may exploit unlocked car doors or open windows to steal belongings from vehicles stopped in traffic. Motorists should exercise caution and heightened awareness if opening doors/windows to give money to beggars or street vendors.

Travel to tourist and historic areas of the country is popular and generally safe; however, highway robberies are commonplace on rural roads, especially near border areas.  Bandits typically place obstructions in the road or simulate a crash/broken-down vehicle to stop traffic in order to steal vehicles or belongings. There are occasional reports of clashes between government forces and criminal groups; however, these seldom affect foreigners. Check with local authorities before venturing off main roads into outlying areas.

In Accra and other urban areas, thieves and armed robbers target motorists using ruses to extort money. In some cases, robbers have intentionally caused minor accidents or pretended to be hit in order to get vehicles to stop. Others have attempted to “warn” drivers of a mechanical problem or flat tire. Maintain sufficient distance between your vehicle and the one ahead while stopped in traffic to enable evasive action and to avoid being in a situation where criminals box you in. 

Property crimes against foreigners remain a concern, especially residential burglaries and vehicle theft. Carjacking occurs sporadically; on average fewer than 10 incidents occur each month nationwide, half of which happen in the Greater Accra Region. There have been burglary attempts against expatriate residences, but perpetrators generally lack the sophistication required to overcome home alarm systems and security guards. Guard dogs have also been known to scare off intruders. Robbers may wait outside houses to ambush residents as they enter or exit the property.

The Ghana Police Service (GPS) has labeled certain areas as “flashpoints” because of the large amount of crime, the lack of police presence, and other factors in the area that make them dangerous for everyone, including the police. The U.S. Government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in these areas, as U.S. government employees may not travel at night outside of major cities. (For the complete list, see the attached document.)

Rape
, sexual assault, and domestic violence remain significantly underreported. Rape is punishable by 5-25 years in prison, though police often lack capacity to investigate and prosecute cases effectively. While domestic violence is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a fine, police rarely respond to reports of domestic violence.  During 2018, high-profile rape cases involving multiple assailants against Ghanaian and expatriate victims made national news.  Avoid sharing itineraries with strangers, including on social media, and be alert to anyone following you to your accommodations. If someone is following you, proceed to a police station or other public venue and do not continue to your original destination.    

Credit/debit card fraud and related scams are common. Skimming is the primary means of credit fraud and is undetectable until fraudulent charges appear on statements. Exercise caution when using credit cards; a growing number of travelers have been victims of credit card fraud. If you use a credit card anywhere in Ghana, monitor credit card activity closely. For more information, review OSAC’s report The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Cybersecurity Issues

U.S. citizens frequently consult the U.S. Embassy regarding questionable business offers originating or claiming to originate from Ghana. Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including U.S. citizens. Such fraudulent schemes are now prevalent throughout West Africa. Business scams typically begin with an unsolicited communication (usually by e-mail) from an unknown individual who pitches a business opportunity promising quick financial gain. These “opportunities” usually involve the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country and the payment of a series of “advance fees,” such as fees to open a bank account or to pay certain taxes in order to complete the transaction; however, the final payoff never occurs. The purpose of the scams is to collect money from the victim through these fees. The Embassy has received reports of fraudulent charities soliciting contributions via the internet or direct mail. If you receive business offers or charity requests, particularly unsolicited ones, carefully check out the requesting entity before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.

Email spear-phishing campaigns originating or claiming to originate from Ghana also frequently target U.S. citizens. Spear-phishers make contact under the guise of a business contact or possible future business associate, and attempt to pass information via emails that contain questionable links. Unwitting recipients click on these links, compromising their email accounts and making personally identifiable information readily available to cyber criminals. Many of these operations link to internet cafes in Accra, with some cafes developing reputations for certain types of fraud based on trends in schemes originating from their location. Victims in Ghana have recently reported ransomware attacks, common throughout the world. Take necessary precautions, including vetting IT staff, preventing unauthorized access to servers, installing a virtual private network (VPN), controlling administrator passwords, and updating software and anti-virus programs.   

There are multiple variations of internet romance or friendship scams targeting Westerners through various dating and social networking websites. Scam artists use fake social media profiles, steal photos and identities from other social media accounts, and swindle victims out of thousands of dollars. Some perpetrators may claim to have a U.S. visa; often these are fake, even when images are provided. The perpetrators, once in a virtual relationship, typically ask for money for hospital expenses, travel expenses, visa costs, or expensive gifts. Do not travel to meet internet romantic partners or friends who have requested large sums of money; doing so may increase risk of kidnapping for ransom.

In recent years, U.S. citizens have reported substantial financial losses from questionable transactions allegedly involving the purchase of gold and other precious metals. The Government of Ghana maintains strict regulations on the sale of these natural resources; all agents must be licensed and all transactions must be certified.

For additional information on scams, see the Department of State's publication on International Financial Scams and the U.S. Embassy in Accra website.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Travelers may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Primary roads are generally paved and well maintained; however, side roads within major cities and many roads outside of urban areas are in poor condition. Poor road conditions may cause delays, making travel times variable.

Although travel during daylight hours is generally safe, nighttime travel outside the major cities is extremely dangerous due to carjacking and armed banditry, hazards posed by disabled vehicles, street lighting that is nonexistent outside of urban areas, inadequate road markings, and the unpredictable behavior of farm animals and pedestrians in the roadway. 

Local drivers do not abide by the rules of the road, and police enforce traffic laws unevenly, even in major cities. Excessive speeding, unpredictable driving behavior, and lack of adherence to basic safety standards for local vehicles are widespread. Many vehicles are unlicensed, and most drivers lack basic driver training or insurance. Use defensive driving techniques, including maintaining sufficient following distances to avoid accidents. 

On average, six pedestrians die each day in Ghana. Pedestrians must maintain awareness of dangers at all times: large commercial vehicles are slow to brake, vehicles may swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid potholes, motorcycles travel between vehicles and on shoulders and sidewalks, and drivers often pull out or turn despite oncoming traffic. Drivers should be prepared to avoid pedestrian crossings and expect sellers and panhandlers to mingle with traffic. 

Due to poor driving conditions, unsafe driving behaviors, and the poor mechanical state of many vehicles, vehicle accidents are common and often result in serious injury and/or death. There have been increased reports of vehicular fatalities over the past few years. Emergency services are limited or nonexistent in many parts of the country in case of vehicular accident or breakdown. Drivers should carry emergency medical supplies, spare tires, fuel, and tools on long trips, as emergency medical response may be delayed and there is no roadside assistance. If possible, use convoys to mitigate breakdowns.

Large crowds may gather at the site of an accident, and could become hostile and aggressive against those perceived to be at fault. If you fear for your safety, go to the nearest police station. Normal investigative procedures require the police to conduct an on-scene investigation, after which all involved parties go to the Traffic Department for a vehicle inspection and provide details about the accident for a final report. If possible, obtain the names and contact information of all persons involved in the accident and make a note of the extent of any injuries and damage; make a note of any registration information (tag number) of other vehicle(s) involved; obtain the other driver’s permit data, and; give similar information or registration/permit data to the other driver and to the police upon request.

Police routinely stop travelers at checkpoints, and may search vehicles and passengers. Foreign nationals should carry identification and documentation of their immigration status. Drivers must possess an international driver’s license (available from AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance). For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s reports on Driving Overseas: Best Practices and Road Safety in Africa.

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transport is unregulated and unsafe. If travelers do use public transport, they should use taxis, not tro-tros (small private buses). Tro-tros do not meet Western safety standards and often transport more passengers than is safe. Avoid communal and shared taxis due to greater risk of robbery. Factor public transportation safety into travel plans, and pre-arrange travel with trusted transportation service providers when possible.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The newly constructed Terminal 3 at Kotoka International Airport (ACC) has greatly improved arrivals and departures from Accra. Only arriving passengers may enter the baggage claim area, and drivers or others greeting arriving passengers must wait in a cordoned area just outside the terminal main doors. Pre-arrange with your hotel or company for transportation services from the airport, and confirm the identity of drivers before entering vehicles; criminals posing as drivers have robbed travelers. Taxi drivers have a reputation for taking newly arrived passengers on circuitous routes and charging excessive fares.  

Theft of luggage and pickpocketing occurs at the airport. Do not leave luggage unattended. Ensure that identification documents, wallets, and portable electronics are secure. Impostors posing as airport porters and strangers offering assistance with luggage have stolen belongings. Remain wary of unsolicited help unless offered from uniformed airport staff with visible ID cards bearing their name and photo.

Armed robbers have targeted travelers leaving the airport, including following them to accommodations to rob them there.  A common tactic is to deliberately cause a minor accident to stop a car and then rob the occupants. If another car hits yours, or you suspect someone is following you, drive to the nearest police station and report the incident.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Accra. There have been no terrorist acts specifically targeting U.S. interests or citizens in Ghana. However, terrorist groups are active in several parts of West Africa. There is evidence that ISIS elements are recruiting in Ghana, and likely have aspirational intentions to conduct an attack. 

Over the past year, unknown terrorist groups have conducted a string of attacks throughout neighboring Burkina Faso. Consult travel advisories from the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou prior to crossing into Burkina Faso or visiting areas in close proximity to the Burkina Faso-Ghana border.   

Regional terrorist groups, including al-Qa’ida and Islamic State affiliates in the Sahel, have demonstrated their desire and ability to carry out kidnappings and active shooter-style attacks targeting Westerners. There have been multiple active shooter-style attacks on locations foreigners frequent in West African capital cities since 2015. Soft targets (e.g. hotels, resorts, and restaurants), hard targets, security forces, and areas of congregation could also be targets. Road travelers and foreigners operating in rural areas have been the victims of kidnapping in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is minimal risk from political violence in Accra. Ghana is a stable democracy that has held six elections since 1992, with three peaceful transitions of power between political parties. The most recent election took place in 2016. While there was some sporadic election-related violence, particularly between grassroots supporters of the two major parties, Ghanaian politics generally takes place in a peaceful context.  Over the past year, vigilante groups (politically affiliated gangs) have disrupted local elections, public meetings, and court proceedings, and staged protests at government facilities. The Government of Ghana has set up a task force to address ways to disband political vigilante groups to head off potential violence. Elections scheduled for 2020 may increase inter-party tensions, creating a potential for increased political violence.    

Civil Unrest 

Protests are common but generally peaceful, and there has been little serious or widespread civil unrest in the past few years. Avoid large crowds and demonstrations.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Ghana has numerous chieftaincy disputes every year that generally involve competition over limited resources. Some of these disputes have prompted episodes of localized violence. Increase caution when traveling to the Brong Ahafo, Northern, and Upper East Regions. Civil unrest due to chieftaincy disputes can occur at any time. While such disputes are typically non-violent, the likelihood for violence developing from a tribal dispute is greater in parts of these regions. Travelers to rural areas, especially in northern Ghana, should consult travel advisories before travel and remain aware of the potential for episodes of unrest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Swimming in Ghana’s coastal waters, especially along its southern beaches, is dangerous and strongly discouraged, even for excellent swimmers. The ocean currents along the coast are powerful and treacherous; several people drown each year.

Economic Concerns

Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Ghana. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.

Personal Identity Concerns

Ghana’s criminal code outlaws “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which local authorities frequently interpret as consensual same-sex sexual relations. This is criminalized as a misdemeanor in Ghana. The U.S. Embassy is aware of arrests and related extortion attempts for such activities, but has not received reports of prosecutions.

Ghanaian law explicitly prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, health care, air travel and other transportation, and other domains. The government does not systematically or overtly discriminate against persons with disabilities, but such persons may experience societal discrimination. The law provides persons with disabilities access to public buildings “as far as is practical.” However, most buildings, transportation, and educational facilities do not provide for people with special needs. Because many streets are unpaved or not well maintained, and sidewalks are not prevalent, individuals in wheelchairs or who have difficulty walking face challenges.

Drug-related Crimes

Ghana has become a significant trans-shipment point for illegal drugs, particularly cocaine from South America and heroin from Afghanistan. Ghana has taken limited steps to combat illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Trafficking has also fueled increasing domestic drug consumption. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has an office in the Embassy and works closely with the Narcotics Control Board, which coordinates government counter-narcotics efforts. These activities include enforcement and control, education, treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Ghana are severe; convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The use of illegal drugs procured in Ghana may have life-threatening consequences. There have been several deaths of U.S. citizens resulting from the use of narcotics procured locally. 

Piracy and Maritime Security

Piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea present ongoing challenges for regional maritime security. In 2018, the majority of such events occurred off the shores of Nigeria; however, multiple boardings of anchored tankers, bulk carriers, tugs, and other vessels were reported off the coast of Ghana. These 2018 boarding incidents occurred near Sekondi-Takoradi and involved robberies or attempted robberies that appear to be opportunistic in nature.

Police Response

The Ghana Police Service (GPS) is almost solely a reactive force and demonstrates only moderate proactive techniques and ability to deter crime. Police often lack the equipment, resources, training, and personnel to respond to calls for assistance or other emergencies. The police have a poor record of investigating and solving serious crimes. Local police may lack the resources to respond to serious crime throughout the country, including areas of Accra. There is a visible police presence in Accra. The Embassy receives good support from the GPS and the Special Police Units that protect U.S. government facilities in Accra. 

Public smoking is illegal in Ghana. The U.S. Embassy is aware of arrests for cigarette smoking in public places, but has not received reports of prosecutions.

Ghanaian law prohibits wearing military clothing or camouflage.

Ghanaian law prohibits photography of sensitive installations, including military sites, government buildings, bridges, and the airport. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment                   

If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately.

Crime Victim Assistance

The Ghana Police Service Information Room (emergency services) may be reached at +233-0302-773-906 or +233-0302-787-373. For emergencies dial 191 or use MTN/Vodaphone short code 18555. 

U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Ghana who are the victim(s) of a crime, including loss or theft of a U.S. passport, should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy can provide a number of services to victims of crime. Embassy staff can provide a list of local doctors, contact family members or friends and explain how funds may be transferred. Consular officers can help victims of crime understand the local criminal justice process and provide a list of local attorneys, if needed.

If a visitor is involved in a traffic accident while in Accra and cannot reach settlement at the scene, report the accident immediately to the traffic police, who will respond and conduct an investigation.

Police/Security Agencies

GPS maintains a specialized Domestic Violence Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) to assist victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. In addition to its law enforcement responsibilities, the Unit can refer victims to medical providers and counselors, as well as to community support services.

Research any prospective security or private guard company for quality and reliability when considering using their services.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities are limited, particularly outside Accra. Carry adequate supplies of any needed prescription medicines, along with copies of prescriptions, the generic name of the drugs, and a supply of preferred over-the-counter medications. If traveling with prescription medication, check with the Government of Ghana to ensure the medication is legal. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medications.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

The West Africa Rescue Association (WARA) operates a local ambulance service as well as an air ambulance service. WARA is associated with International SOS Clinics.

Air ambulance service (recommended for severe injuries or illnesses best treated in the United States) is available from AEA International at 800-752-4195.

Insurance Guidance

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars or more; they often require travelers to be medically evacuated (medevac) where adequate medical attention is available. Medevac services are very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that specifically covers medevac services or who are able to pay for the service in advance. The cost for medical evacuation may range from US$40,000 to $200,000.

Country-Specific Vaccination and Health Guidance 

Before coming to Ghana, consult with your physician regarding malaria prophylaxis and obtaining vaccinations.

Mosquito-borne illnesses (e.g., malaria, yellow fever, and dengue) are a significant problem; prevention of bites and proper yellow fever immunization are important throughout Ghana.

Meningitis is a concern within the northern parts of the country.

Diarrheal illnesses, including typhoid fever and cholera, also remain a concern, as are sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Ghana.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Accra is active, meeting every other month. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The U.S. Embassy is located in the Cantonments neighborhood at #24 Fourth Circular Road, Cantonments, Accra. 

Business hours: Monday-Thursday, 0730-1700; Friday, 0730-1230

Embassy Contact Numbers

Switchboard: +233 0302 741-000

US Marine Security Guard Post 1: +233 0302 741-775 (Emergencies only)

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Ghana should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Travelers should check with their sponsoring organization to ensure they have the correct documentation in place or risk penalties, including detention, fines, and deportation. To avoid confusion or delays, travelers are strongly advised to obtain a valid Ghanaian visa at the Ghanaian Embassy prior to arrival. 


Additional Resource:
Ghana Country Information Sheet

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