Thursday, December 15, 2005

Two New Investec Funds Target African Markets

"FUND manager Investec Asset Management yesterday announced the launch of two funds investing in African markets, to tap further into the continent's vast
investment potential.... "

interesting development drawing attention to financial markets outside south africa. hopefully the interest in the huge potential for returns in some of the sub-sharan african markets leads to better access to capital for companies operating in these countries. IMHO access to cpaital has long been a problem, and is a key component in tackling the challenge of development through entrepreneurship. Unfortunately the returns haven't been very consistent, with the GSE (ghana) having a terrible run for the better part of this year.
In addition to this we need to get our governments (and people) to ensure better governance, so investors ( both from within and outseide the country) have better security. Then that'll pave the way for more interesting investments, like the expansion of PE firms outside of south africa, and access to venture funsing on a larger scale.

Tags: Investec, africa, finance africa, Top stories - Ghanaian graduates develop software to ease health care delivery

"ChildNet Electronic Publishing, Ghana's first local educational software
developer and producer will be launching its first product, Squirrel's
Compututor. ChildNet Electronic Publishing was formed in 2003 by four University
and Polytechnic graduates to develop their own range of software for children."

some pretty exciting news in my opinion, i haven't actually seen the product yet, but there's something to be said for the fact that new graduates are actually going into that area, and the public interest is great as well. It gives me hope that perhaps even a few more people are seeing that there is only so far that we can go if our fortunes are permanently tied to cocoa production, and subject to the vagaries of the world market. On a personal note though, I think education is *incredibly* important, and that technology can be an incredible force in improving access and quality, so i look forward to following this project. There'll be afollow up post when I have more information, and hopefully have demo'd the software. That's one of the drawbacks...none of the stories say very much about exactly what the software does, whether it is being used anywhere, the target audience, business model etc. I guess we have to start somwehere though, no?

Tags: ghana, e-learning, ChildNet

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

BBC NEWS | Africa | Microsoft Swahili speakers launch

BBC NEWS | Africa | Microsoft Swahili speakers launch

"The company argues that in a region with few computer users and high illiteracy rates, the Swahili version of Windows will inspire East African governments to expand their IT economies, encourage literacy campaigns and attract more computer users."

encourage maybe, but isn't there still the high cost barrier?

Monday, December 05, 2005

TECTONIC: Jonga search engine launches

"Alistair Carruthers launched South Africa's biggest Web search engine, Jonga, today. The one-man project took two years to complete and features a creative mix of open source and proprietary technology."

More below:

TECTONIC: Jonga search engine launches

Saturday, December 03, 2005

US Visa Lottery Drains Ghana

General News of Monday, 21 November 2005

A comparison of a few countries' populations
Ethiopia: 73 million
Nigeria: 129 million
Bangladesh: 144 million

and Ghana? population: 21 million. What do the countries above have in common? Those are just a few of the countries which (according to an article in Ghana's Daily Graphic) Ghana has surpassed in the number of profesionals leaving the country each year. Yes, the number of professionals, not the percentage of the population leaving. It is estimated that an average of 8,000 Ghanaians leave the country annually through the US diversity lottery. That is to say nothing of the people who leave and go to other countries, people who work in both the US and other countries illegally, and the students who leave to go to university and do not return. Whichever way you look at it, Ghana has a significant problem with the 'brain drain'.

Doctors and nurses emigrate at an alarming rate, making the health sector one of the most hard hit, but according to the article, accountants, engineers, lawyers and pharmacists are also among the people leaving in large numbers. Why are they leaving and where are they going? It is estimated that about 47% of Ghanaian college graduates live outside the country. This statistic is scary.

In my view, this can be looked at in several ways. First, on just the most basic level, who is left working in the country? The director of the Ghana Health Service, Dr. Akosa estimates that he has 'at least 9 hospitals which have no doctors at all.' This is to say nothing of the many other hospitals which are woefully understaffed. In Korle-Bu, the nation's 'premier' teaching hospital, many of the doctors still making the rounds on the wards taught people who in many other places would be close to retirement. Yes, their students would be close to retirement, to say nothing of them. The brain drain in the health sector puts an incredible strain on the remaining health workers, and the sector in general. A case in point is when the recent death of 3 Ghanaian urologists in a road accident cost the country 43% of its urologists. Yes, for a country with a population of over 21 millon, there were 7 urologists. How many Ghanaian urologists have been trained in even the past 20 years? The situation with nurses is no bettter. A 2003 report estimates that Ghana had about 10,000 nurses at the time, for a population of over 21 million, when nurses training colleges turn out over 600 nurses a year.

University lecturers, civil servants, technical professionals...different profession, same story. The Tema oil refinery recently closed its catalytic cracking plant shortly after the media had been full of stories of technical professionals from the plant leaving for more lucrative jobs in other countries.

The situation is admittedly bad, but why do they leave. That's not a hard question to answer. One just needs to compare the average salary of a nurse, doctor, univerity lecturer etc. in Ghana with one in a developed country, and the answer is clear. And it is not even a question of greed or wanting to maximize their earnings( for a lot of people), but a need to survive. It is easy enough from afar to talk about the need to sacrifice for the good of one's country, and give back etc. but when feeding your family from one day to the next, and paying your kids' school fees become aproblem, it is no wonder that sacrificing for your country slips down the priority list.

The more interesting question perhaps is what can be done? Many interesting suggestions have been promulgated, and several implementations of sorts have taken place. A lot of people place the burden of action on the developed countries, especially in the health sector, and there have been calls for a total ban on the employment of nurses ( read poaching) from certain countries. In Ghana for instance, it is currently very difficult for trained nurses to get visas to go to 1st world countries. Some people have talked about foreign countries paying governemnts directly for the professionals working in their countries, but that would be a messy undertaking by any estimation, and at any rate, is the money really what we need? Yet others say the emigration of Ghanain professionals is not as bad as it is made out to be, afterall, remittances from Ghanains living abroad are one of the single largest contributors to GDP of the country. Unfortunately, I don't think the remittances translate directly to a replacement of the skills lost with those who leave.

In a nutshell trained professionals are leaving largely because they can't make the money commensurate with teir skills in Ghana, and often have deplorable living conditions. A simplistic solution many people put out is to pay them better. That's easy enough to say, but where does the money come from? On some level, the government could probably cut spending in other areas ( read: how many ministers does a country of 21 million really need??), but that is not an entire answer. I would argue that the promotion of private enterprise would lead to wealth creation, and increased government revenue in terms of tax revenue and general consumer spending, and that could translate to more money to put into esssential services like education and healthcare. Ghana's 'golden age of business' is a step in the right direction, but with stories i've heard from people about the continued difficulty of sourcing capital and setting up a business, it seems more like a 'gold plated' ( and not reallly golden) age of business...

Another solution would be encouraging college graduates from Ghana ( and other African countries to return home). Of course there need to be increased opportunities for them, but to a large extent people need to be willing to go back for these opportunities to be expanded.

This has become a rather lengthy posting, but I think it is an important issue, and hopefully i practice what i preach :-)

File under: ghana, brain drain, diversity visa lottery

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ghana's 2006 budget encourages Venture Capital Funds

Business News of Thursday, 10 November 2005

The private sector is talked about a lot as one of the highest potential drivers of growth for the economy, but acess to capital is usually an obstacle in promoting private enterprise. Baah'Wiredu's 2006 budget gives previously unheard of incentive to people interested in launching VC funds, so hopefully this should spur some innovation and private enterprise. One of the highlights is tax deductions for financial institutions who invest in VC subsidiaries (100% of their investment), and the Ghanaweb article also says:
"The incentives are the upfront relief from stamp duty in each year on subscriptions for new equity shares in venture capital funds, the full tax exemption from corporate income tax, dividend tax and capital gains tax for five years and the provision for the losses from disposal of the shares during the tax exempt period to be carried forward to the post-exempt period up to five years."
It is great that the government is not putting itself in the middle of this, and is encouraging the private sector to take it up. It does however raise a question someone brought up in a conversation we had. The issue of regulation. The tax breaks are pretty substantial, and we could see a slew of people setting up VC funds to finance (in my friend's words) 'their sister's rice importing business.'

File under: ghana, vc, baah-wiredu

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Togo: the (largely) untold story

People around the world were quick to decry Faure Gnassingbe being put in power by the Togolese army after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema. This led to elections marred by violence, and after that little has been heard about the situation in Togo. In September, the UN released a report stating that almost 500 people were killed in violence surrounding the elections, but the report has received little attention, and the plight of the Togolese people goes largely unnoticed.

Togo comes to mind after a talk I went to on Tuesday, where a Togolese human rights journalist spoke about the situation, and showed pictures of the post-election brutality. The pictures were horrifying, to say the least, and gave a perspective of the story we don't hear much. The journalist was in the US talking to groups of people and trying to rally people to put pressure on governments to put pressure on Faure and Togo to aloow for a more pluralistic democracy in Togo. He argues that while there may have been elections, they were far from fair, and opposiiton supporters are still being persecuted in Togo. The journalist himself is currently in exile in Ghana, after narrowly escaping in his words, an attempt on his life by the Togolese government.

The talk raised a lot of issues for me, the first just the most basic one of people being denied their fundamental human rights. The journalist showed multiple pictures of people who had been killed and beaten just for wearing opposition colours - horrific pictures. Can there be progress/development when people do not have the right to hold and assert particular points of view, when a perception of your opinion is enough to mark you for death?

Another issue was why he was in the states to begin with - something we talked about at length. I asked the journalist why he didn't talk to leaders in Africa, Kufuor, Obasanjo and those of other neighbouring countries, afterall, their pressure helped to force elections. He recounted how they have tried that to no avail; he was adamant about collusion between the regional governments, but I will not pursue that for now. What struck me most about this was the similarity between the current situation in Togo and what has previsouly happened in Ghana and many other places. The extra-judicial kidnappings and murders are reminiscent of stories from Ghana under a certain leader who shall remain nameless, and few African countries are strangers to elections where the incumbent military junta wins under what many people believe to be dubious circumstances. Why then would African leaders not go to the aid of people fighting many of the same battles they fought? Is there something to his claims of collusion, or are each countries problems just too large and numerous to warrant attention to any others?

This is an issue I've been thinking about for a while, particularly in relation to the idea of an African identity( a topic i will leave for a future posting). Are we largely blind to the problems of neighbouring African countries because we see them as having no bearing on us? This issue came to the forefront again when I was listening to a Ghanaian radio programme online. The host was commenting on a news story about violent protests by a rgoup of refugees in Ghana. He and his co-host made uncomplimentary comments about the refugees, and how they should be sent back to their countries,since Ghana has its own problems. Admittedly Ghana has many problems, and unrest caused by refugees is certainly not something to turn a blind eye to, but surely such comments go against any semblance of commiseration and attempts to provide support to fellow Africans.

I digress, but my point was to look at why to a large extent, Africans are unwilling to help each other. I could understand the (Togolese) journalist when he calimed to have lost faith in international institutions, but when he made the same statements about other African countries, particularly the governments, that hit me hard. He was largely convinced that none of them cared about the plight of the Togolese people.

Later in the day I saw emails which had been sent to him from other Togolese in exile in Ghana. My heart tore as I read stories of their misery, strangers in a foreign land, dying to go home, but having to make a choice between a familiar environment and comfort, and their lives. It was as simple as that.

I'm the first to admit that Africa has many problems, perhaps some arguably more threatening than human rights abuses in Togo, but this shouldn't fall between the cracks. When people do not have the right to express themselves freely without fear for their lives, there is a problem. A similar situation is brewing in Ethiopia, with the government of Meles Zenawi victimizing protestors.
Is this a cycle we will never break?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Illiteracy 'hinders world's poor'

BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Illiteracy 'hinders world's poor'

BBC carries this story on the link between illiteracy and poverty. It's another point in favour of focusing on literacy as a driver of development. I would agree that literacy is important, but to play the devil's advocate here, the article fails to make a strong case for the link between redusing illiteracy and increasing people's economic wellbeing. Sure, it shows that there is a link between poverty and illiteracy, with the poorest regions of the world having the lrgest percentagees of illiterate people, but stops there. As a former professor of mine would say 'correlation does not imply causality'

File under: education, literacy

Tuesday, November 08, 2005 - Fab Labs unshackle kids' imaginations - Nov 8, 2005 - Fab Labs unshackle kids' imaginations - Nov 8, 2005

CNN carries a story about the Fab Labs MIT is setting up around the world, and the story of the innovation of one girl in Boston. A Fab Lab has also been set up in Takoradi, in Ghana, and wired news has previously carried a story about this. This is an interesting venture in design, and according to fablab staff, kids are picking up computing and design skills fairly quickly. Is this perhaps a way to encourage indigenous innovation and solutions to some of Ghana's challenges? One of the projects being worked on looks at harnessing solar power for cooking etc.

FIle under: fablab, Ghana, MIT

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"i go chop your dollar"

I'm still laughing to myself after seeing the hilarious video for 'i go chop your dollar', by Osuofia of 'Osuofia in London' fame.The video itself is rather poorly done, with little in the way of innovation, poor cinematography and a set of not very enthusiastic dancers. It is the song itself I find funny, since the video was the first time I heard the song. Osuofia sings about '419' crimes, or advanced fee fraud. He talks about 'the white man' as the victim, and is resolute in his plans to continue perpetrating such fraud. He makes amusing statements about the amount of power he has and the resources at his disposal - not dissimilar from the claims in these '419' messages. Central to the song though is the claim that '419 it no be crime, it's just a game, everybody dey play am.' I was highly amused when a friend sent me this, and indeed still am, but it raises a few questions i think are pretty serious.

A UK presentation at the 2002 International Conference on Advanced Fee (419) Fraud claimed that global losses to this fraud may total $1.5 billion. That's some pretty serious money. The song is meant to be taken lightly, but is it really taken lightly by everyone who hears it? Or does it provide some sort of justification for perpetrators of this fraud, and exacerbate an already bad situation. After all, the song begins with Osuofia bemoaning his suffering in his former penurious state, and in that way justifying the crime as a source of income. If I was a low-income person ( as I would imangine mostof these criminals are) considering perpetrating such a crime, that would certainly make me see it as slightly more reasonable.

Another justification used is that 'the white man' is too greedy. Admittedly there is something somehwat avaricious about someone who beleives they have been randomly selected to help with some secret transaction, often with a promised reward in the millions of dollars for little to no effort on their part. Not to mention the fact that many of these letters make no bones of the fact that it is an illegal transaction; trying to avoid government scrutiny or the payment of some form of fees. That being said it is not (in my opinion) justification for committing such crimes, although the song gives the impression it is.To cut a long story short, is this seemingly harmless song actually encouraging the continuation of 419 scams?

On another note, in one attempt to combat the spate of these crimes, which to a large extent originate in Nigeria, the Nigerian government has considered outlawing spamming. While the hefty fines might serve as a deterrent to an extent, how much of a dent can this really make in the crimes? There is the problem of enforcement to begin with, and perhaps this is not the best use of Nigeria's resources( ie the tracking of spammers). In addition to this, is this the way to tacke the problem? Some of the 419 emails are quite ingenious, to say the least, and take some amount of brain power to cook up, not to mention following through till the money is collected. Given an estimated success rate of 1%, very few scammers are making money (even though the payoff can be tremendous when they do). That being said, might not another way to address the problem be to channel the energies of these people elsewhere? Perhaps training schemes to encourage people to set up in private enterprise? Or business plan compeittions as an incentive to use their brain power for something more beneficial?
Just a piece of my mind....

And to end, here is my favourite 419 email of all time :-)
Dear Mr. Sir,


I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in
space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.

In the 14-years since he has been on the
station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $ 3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.

Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account or subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.

Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.

Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.

Please acknowledge the receipt of this message via my direct number 234 (0) 9-234-2220 only.

Yours Sincerely, Dr. Bakare Tunde Astronautics Project Manager
Tags: nigeria, africa, 419

Friday, May 13, 2005

Open Source on the rise in Africa

Open source rising in Africa by ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn -- One of the fastest-growing markets for open source in the world is Africa. (The satellite image is originally from NASA.)If you think of sub-Saharan Africa in terms of jungles or primitivism, you're making the same mistake Europeans do when they think of America as the Wild West. Africa has a large, and growing middle class, spurred [...]

Tags: africa, open-source

Sunday, May 01, 2005

of politics and Africa...

"Cultural center destroyed in ______", "Refugees flee fighting in _______", "Government soldiers and rebels clash in ______"

You fill in the blanks, because those could be headlines about many different African countries. Isn't that sad? Now it's Togo, but there've been many more before, and it doesn't seem that as Africans, we've learned enough to hope that this might be the last. I've been greatly saddened by the conflict in Togo, and mostly because it comes in the wake of conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leonoe, Ivory Coast....and that's just West Africa. Will we never learn that nothing is worth the price a civil war exacts from a country?I realize that injustice can only be tolerated up to a point, and that after a point desperate people resort to desperate measures, but when has fighting resolved any of our problems?

After Faure Gnassingbe was installed as president earlier this year, it was international pressure that had him removed from power, and not acts of violent opposition on anyone's part. In fact, I think that if the opposition had tried to remove him by brute force, they would still be fighting a (losing) battle. Why then do they think that insurgensy now will reverse the results of the elections? Sure, it might increase pressure on the government to justify the results, but at what cost? Over 12,000 people have already fled the country, and it doesn't look like that is going to let up anytime soon. Wouldn't perhaps a campaign to increase international pressure on the government to hold another election, or to recount the votes in the areas with high irregularities have been more effective?
To answer my own question, maybe not. Especially not after ECOWAS ok'd the elections, saying there weren't enough irregularities to deem it unfair.

I'll end what is already a long posting here, but basically, i think african politics leaves much to be desired, and that we have no hope for eceonomic advancement unless we're able to move away from the transition of power by the gun to transitions by the ballot box..

Tags: africa, media, elections


Anyone who knows me even slightly well knows that i love children, and related to this, i'm really passionate about education, and ways to improve the quality and accessibility of education, especially in Africa. Here's a quote which sums up a lot of what i tihnk about education and educational policies..

"There is no extravagance more prejudicial to the growth of national wealth than that wasteful negligence
which allows genius that happens to be born of lowly parentage to expend itself in lowly work"
-Alfred Marshall

Basically, I have a problem when people are limited by the resources available to them. My ideal is a situation in which the only limit placed on the possibility of intellectual exploration for a person is their desire to pursue it. This struck me particularly during a documentary i watched over the weekend, invisible children. In brief, it is a documentary about children in Uganda who are forced to flee their homes every day, and make a 10km trek to a big city to sleep there, to avoid being conscripted into the Lor'd Resistance Army (LRA) by the LRA rebels. These young children make this journey alone every day, with no adult supervision, and sleep in bus terminals, and the often damp, dark basements of various other buildings. But lest I digress, back to the point about education.
One segment of the movie featured the children as they completed their the extremely poor light of very few candles. These are children caught up in a war, without their parents, often having lost siblings and friends to the war, but are still able to find the determination to learn. Isn't it sad that they should have so much drive but be denied the opportunity to advance? One of the students said he 'wanted' to be a doctor. Another that he 'wanted' to be a lwayer. These both in the past tense because they realized how bleak a future they had in their present situation.
It's things like that which really get to me, and hopefully Africans and other people around the world can help to work together to change this.

Camp Amelia, a non-profit I work with, is one effort to improve the quality and accessibility of primary education . Check out . It's just one thing, in a limited set of locations, but as long as it makes a difference to even one child's life, i think it is worth it.

Here to stay :-)

After a long hiatus, and a period of deciding whether or not I want a blog, I've decided to keep one. I haven't changed my mind about not wanting to write about me, but i think i've come to find a separation between personal and 'other' that i'm ok with. that being said, this will be about my thoguht on issues i think are important, and not my personal life (or at least not much of it :-) )
the problem now is that i have so much to say, after being away for so long...well let's get right to it then. to make it easier to read, i'll do a series of posts...stay tuned haha

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


I’ve always thought it slightly presumptuous that I should deem my life interesting enough to expect other people to read this blog is not about me. Instead, it’s about some of the things I’m most passionate about, and why they’re important to me. This seems to have started off pretty formally, but it’s just going to be a series of conversations. With myself? With you? Who knows?

This entry is called impossible because that’s my philosophy on life right now. Most of that word is POSSIBLE. Just like most things in long as you set your mind to them.

I’m making this one short because I promised myself I wouldn’t start till after finals, so more later. But while we’re on the topic of finals….the situation at Legon (check it out on Ghanaweb) has had me alternately shocked, disgusted and just sad.

More later, dare to dream:-)