Monday, June 19, 2006

Produce your boyfriend - or else...

The title reminds me of the punchline to a bad joke, but unfortunately this is not a joke.
I was listening to a Ghanaian radio programme [as an aside.. more and more of my posts seem to include things I hear on this infamous radio programme], and there was commentary on the police commitment to clamp down on crime. Specifically there was a focus on prostitution, and the arrest and prosecution of prostitutes.

I heard a statement which almost had me checking if it was indeed the year 2006 ( and not perhaps 1906). I would have not have believed that a public official could have uttered such statements if I had not heard him myself. According to the Greater Accra regional police chief, women going to bars and hotels etc. by themselves at night may be asked to produce their husbands or boyfriends who they are there with, to prove that they are not prostitutes soliciting customers. ( as these alleged prostitutes would then face arrest). In Ghana??? A country with 'freedom and justice' as its motto, and a place where citizens supposedly have freedom of movement?? This is obviously not something that is being enforced, but I find the fact that the police chief in the capital city could say this scary, and scarier still the fact that he considers it perfectly legitimate to target any woman by herself at a bar or restaurant by herself as a prostitute.

The presenter went on to ask him whether there might not perhaps be single women who could be out for a drink with friends, or even by themselves, an innocent enough situation. His response?? "the timing is very important...if you are a decent woman, you should be able to go there early and move out. If you stay there till 1am, you know it is dangerous" At 1am?? Without a man to show I cannot be out by myself in Accra?

I comment less frequently than I used to on issues related to women's rights, and certainly never have on this blog. It is not to say that I don't have opinions, but I find that too often statements are taken out of context and taken as representative of all the other actions or positions a person takes. It is also possibly as Sefi Atta might say for fear of being labelled a feminist. This time though, I had to say something. What is it about our society that is so skewed towards certain 'traditional' roles for women, and the quick labelling of women as 'good' or 'bad' based on a set of criteria in which they have no say. It comes out in this issue, but also goes back to the now oft-heard argument over how much a woman might be to blame for a situation in which she is raped. And whether perhaps what she was wearing had anything to do with it, or where she was at the time. I'm all for people taking responsibility for their actions,but really should a man's lack of self control be overlooked at the expense of a woman's ability to dress as she pleases?

Then there's the issue of the Ghanaian domestic violence bill, which has been welcomed by both men and women all over the country. Oh - apart from the clause about marital rape that is. For most men ( and some women) there should be no mention of rape in a marriage. When a woman agrees to marry a man, she gives up her right to say no to him.

How can people be so gifted in so many different areas, make extraordinary strides in science, politics, business, sports - be capable of sophisticated analysis on a range of issues, and yet still be stuck in the stone ages on certain issues?

When will a single woman be able to hold her place in society, without needing a man as some sort of validation?

Black Stars - shining on and off the field

My post yesterday about the euphoria over the Black Stars' victory, and the unifying effects of football reminded me of something else I've been meaning to post about.My post yesterday about the euphoria over the Black Stars' victory, and the unifying effects of football reminded me of something else I've been meaning to post about, The 'I am a Black Star Campaign', an initiative of the NeoAfrica Foundation. The campaign website has an explanation of their project:
Every Ghanaian must strive to be a "Black Star," an individual who embodies excellence, integrity and sacrifice beyond personal gain, for the greater good of our country and our continent.

The premise is that the Black Stars' commitment to excellence has earned them a place in the World Cup, and has the whole country rallied around them. What excited me about the project is not just the commitment to excellence, but the aim of recognizing people who are living that excellence. I was talking to a Zimbabwean friend of mine a couple of years ago ( how time flies!), and we had a long conversation about role models, and which people were celebrated as we grew up. He spoke of Strive Masiyiwa of Econet Wireless, and although we went off on a tangent, there were several other people he mentioned as well. What struck me though was the fact that growing up in Zimbabwe Masiyiwa's example was one that a lot of people wanted to emulate. He spoke of how he and a lot of his friends wanted to replicate Masiyiwa's phenomenal success in business. I thought of Ghana, and who we saw as examples of success when we were growing up. Sure there was Sam Jonah of Ashanti Goldfields fame, and a few others, but to a large extent the only people who are widely know to young people and celebrated as successes are people with political power.

I've thought about this a lot, and the lack of visible role models for young people. Although I miss every moment I'm away from Ghana and I'm always looking for opportunities to go back, or to work on projects that impact communities at home, I don't for a minute regret having left to go to school. My horizons have been expanded beyond anything that was possible at home. By that, I mean not only the opportunities I have access to, but more importantly what I perceive as 'possible.' There are people at home who I like to call 'professional pessimists' . Quick to deflate people's dreams, doubting that anything other than what they have already seen can be successful. Now on the other hand, I firmly believe that if you can dream it, you can do it. This attitude relates to entrepreneurial culture ( which I will be disciplined enough to leave at that, since that is an entire post on its own), but fundamentally to all aspects of everyday life.

It is partly a culture, but also the ability to see people who have excelled in their fields and conceive of what has not been done before as possible. The really cool part about the 'I am a Black Star' project is that it doesn't celebrate people in business, or politics or other select fields, but celebrates people setting examples in their everyday lives.
The teacher extending education to the most remote villages; the ethical public official upholding integrity in our government; the business owner committed to giving back to his community; these are all Black Stars! Our nationwide campaign will feature inspirational profiles of such exemplary individuals and beseech all Ghanaians to discover and exercise their own power to make a difference in their communities.
This is a great start at developing a culture of role models, and hopefully one of people who have enjoyed more success mentoring others. One feature of the campaign is wrist bands which remind people of their commitment to live out the example of the Black Stars in their everyday lives.

certainly commendable, let's see how it plays out

Sunday, June 18, 2006

How brightly can a *black* star really shine?

Evidently with blinding intensity, when the stars in question are those on the Ghanaian national team. I am still on an undescribable high after the game yesterday. Simply ecstatic after such a masterful display of football :-) I'll let up with the superlatives now, and admittedly there were several chances the team missed, but it was an excellent game, whichever way you look at it.

There was a lot of disappointment after the game on Monday, and I for one was heartbroken. It was an excellent game, but an inability to finish our attack and convert the many chances to goals left us with a 2-0 loss against the Italians. Hence the euphoria in the wake of yesterday's game, and against the Czechs nonetheless. The last *obstacle* is now the U.S. I can't wait till Thursday, and I hope that is a victory, if for nothing at all, to show that we are a country (and continent) to be taken seriously.

I'm always in awe of the phenomenal unifying power of football, and i was reminded of that again yesterday. There's unification on a large scale, such as the stories we hear from the Ivory Coast. The players are acutely aware of these responsibilities, clear from Didier Drogba's statement on behalf of his teammamtes to the country "Ivorians, we ask for your forgiveness...let us come together and put this war behind us."
Yesterday though, I was reminded of how football pulls people together even on an everyday basis. I was in my element after our first goal came so early, and evidently so were a lot of other people. My phone was struggling under the burden of calls, vociemail and text messages from all over the world. My friends who were Zimbabwean, Nigerian, Zambian, Mexican, Ghanaian, American, from St. Thomas - everyone was keenly following the game, and living each tense moment with the Ghanaian fans. In the words of one of my friends "Congrats, every African is happy."
These were sentiments I shared as I watched the other African teams play - praying that Angola could sustain the draw against Mexico or take the lead, wondering if there was any hope for Ivory Coast after they were down 2-0 to Argentina, hoping Togo could sustain their 1-0 lead over South Korea...

Times like these take me back to thoughts of how much of a force Africa could be if this support extended beyond football. We've been disappointed by all the African teams at some stage - none of us won our opening games. That doesn't deter us as fans thoguh, we continue to offer our support, and hope that perhaps the next game will be better, hope that perhaps if Ivory Coast loses, Togo might still have a chnace, or that if Angola is out, Ghana might win and still leave us with an African team in the running. Is it easier because there is so little to lose? Or perhaps because there is little effort expended on our part?

I am still chilled when I recall comments I heard on a Ghanaian radio station about refugees from Darfur in Ghana.. Callers to the programme were largely of the opinion that they should be sent back where they came from, and that they were not welcome in Ghana. I know it is a lot more complex of a situtation than simply having a governemnt take in people from anywhere who seek refuge, but there was complete disregard for their plight, not even a wish to help balanced by a regret that the country only has limited resources.

There was also the day I was listening to the same program, this time with Nigerian friends of mine, as callers discussed a shooting incident that had taken place at a Ghanaian university, ostensibly involving Nigerian students. I could only hang my head in shame at the preposterous generalizations the callers were making - branding all Nigerians as criminals. There was a call for the wholesale expulsion of Nigerian students from our schools, and comments on how they were introducing unheard of criminal elements into our society. Arguably, many parts of Nigeria are more accustomed to violent crime than parts of Ghana, but is that to say that none of the crime in Ghana is attributable to Ghanaians? Or that none of the commendable things in our society are attributable to foreigners?

as we watch the games and revel in the successes of the African teams, I hope we can build a culture that is supportive both in good times and in bad..

Friday, March 17, 2006

Better internet connectivity for East Africa - will it be EASSy?

BBC NEWS | Africa | Warning over African internet cable

BBC news has an article about the EASSy cable to connect East Africa. The cable is supposed to provide direct interconnectivity for the countries of East Africa, and then link them to 'the global fibre optics network'. It sounds great in principle, and if it really does provide people with significantly improved access at reasonable prices that'll be great, but will it?
The article goes on at length about SAT3, the cable connecting countries along the west coast of Africa to each other and to Europe. Like EASSy it was heralded as a breakthrough in communcations that was supposed to provide previously unheard of speeds and reliable, constant connectivity at a low price.
I'll take ghana as an example since that's the market i'm familiar with. The article talks about how
In contrast, Sat3 has led to a huge expansion in internet access in Ghana
Sure there's been an expansion in availability, but is it really accessible to people? Right now ( outside ghana) for $17.99 a month, I can get a broadband connection with an upload of 1.5 to 3 Mbps , and a downstream connection of about half that.

Now let's take Ghana
from internet ghana, i can get a (business) download of 512 kbps and upload of 128 kbps for $225 a month ( of course only after I've paid the set-up fee of $150. There is also a school option of 256/128 k for $100 a month and a $200 set up fee ( it costs more to set up than in an office?)
from busy internet, i can get 512 k for $1,399 a month ( the shared package! it is $2,299 per month for a dedicated connection) This mind you is for downloads, i am kindly informed that uplink speeds are 25% of downlinks...
from ghana telecom, i can get a 256k downlink and 64k uplink for $95 a month (and a $195 installation fee) and for a business, i can get a 512/128k connection for $195 a month and a $295 connection fee.

Sure, the connectivity options are there, but when they are so prohibitively priced, soes that really count? Not to mention the fact that some of these exhorbitant prices are for what is little more than glorified dial-up.

I know i've gone on about this for a while, but I don't see why this should be the case when the cable that links us directly to Portugal lands right on the coast!! Sure, I don't expect to be able to pay $18 a month for a 1.5mbps connection in accra, but really these prices. in case you couldn't tell from the fact that their prices are significantly lower than everyone elses, ghana teleom is the national telecommunications service provider, and basically 'owns' the sat3 infrastructure in ghana.
it has finally opened up to allow access to private companies, but at these ludicrous prices.
The BBC article mentions two causes of these high prices in the SAT3 member countries, the second of which applies to ghana
  • Secondly that companies which dominate their domestic markets are under little pressure to provide a fast, cheap service to their consumers.
this is the case of ghana telecom. there is no incentive to provide improved access, and frankly no penalty for failing to provide it. One of the reasons i've heard for the necessity of the exorbitant prices? "we invested a lot of money in getting the connection, and we have to be able to recoup our investment'. A 2004 study on facilitating access to the west african sat3 connection states that ghana telecom spent $24 million on the sat 3 connection, and also admits that 'only 10 - 15% of the capacity is being used while internet users are demanding more bandwidth.'
Now I'm no economist, but let's take a look at this here. Ghana telecom has made this investment which they need to recoup. they open a miniscule portion of the available bandwidth to private companies at exorbitant prices. these companies in turn offer droadband connections to their customers at similarly high prices. most people are priced out, few people are using the service and ghana telecom does not make as much money as it could.
now how about a scenario in which ghana telecom lowered the prices a bit. more comapnies are able to access the bandwisth, and offer it to people at lower prices. more people access the service, and a host of industries which need a reliable high-spees connection at a reasonable cost relocate to ghana. there is more revenue for the private ISPs, more money for gt and most importantly affordable internet access!
this is hardlya sophisticated argument, and it has been made by many before, but is it really that hard to get?

the news on the east african cable is exciting, and since all these problems with sat 3 have been identified, hopefully it will be spared the same fate. somehow though i don't think it will be that EASSy ( sorry i couldn't resist...)
tags: sat3, eassy, ghana ,telcos, africa, internet access

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Google Okays Abuja for Wireless Network Project?? Nigeria: Google Okays Abuja for Wireless Network Project

in what is reported to be the first of a planned roll-out in several African cities, the Nigerian finance minister has (purportedly) announced plans by Google to cover Abuja with a wireless network.

i can't find any official news from google, or indeed any news that isn't from coverage of the briefing (in Abuja) at which she announced this, but hopefully the interest she says Google has expressed translates to a firm committment to network Abuja...

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala says this is in relation to some work already being done in Abuja, perhaps the initiative Chippla referred to in his post a while back.

the text quoted from her actually only says a proposal for a Nigerian city was in the works, and she suggested Abuja...
perhaps some over-zealous journalists making it sound like a done-deal?

i have heard the usual arguments about people needing food to eat first, there not being enough people to take advantage of the nettwork, poor infrastructure etc. but i think that if it is true, it will be a welcome addition to other initiatives to promote technology as an engine of growth in Nigeria

"Malaria Monitor" wristwatch - Engadget

"Malaria Monitor" wristwatch - Engadget

another interesting gadget which i came across....pricks you four times a day and lets you know whether parasites in your blood have reached a critical level "before symptoms manifest themselves"

according to the article, there has been much interest in this yet-to-be-launched device, with 'several African governments and the WHO' having expressed interest, as well as mining companies.
if it will be on sale to individuals, i imagine that the personal market will be huge as well, judging from the number of people i have had to convince that malaria does not mean certain death :-)

not being ahuge fan of needles, i'm wary of being pricked four times a day ( although the $280 price tag means i will not be purchasing one anyway)
i also wonder about whether people might consider sharing them? perhaps students on budget trips...
but certainly an interesting device - Fair Trade Ga Coffins

interesting item for sale on eShopAfrica... - Fair Trade Ga Coffins

Welcome to Ga coffins or decorated chests from Ghana
These hand sculpted wooden coffins or decorated chests have been featured by National Geographic. They are made by the famous Ga coffin carpenters in Accra, Ghana.

Traditionally these chests are the size of a full coffin or a half-length coffin (see the bottom of the page for detailed specifications). However, we are working with the coffin carpenters to scale down their work making it easier to ship. They are also developing new lines such as the football and computer mouse - see pictures below.

The coffin carpenters can make just about anything you want. Below is just a sample of their creativity. They can work from a photo or a model. Order a chest according to your hobby or interest - these are truly antiques of the future. See how these amazing pieces are made in the Coffin Gallery.

i still can't get over this one. The coffins from the coffinmakers in Accra have long been recognized for their creativity, but since when did they become 'chests' for sale online? My favourite part is the fact that they are made by 'coffin carpenters', they are 'traditionally the size of a full-size coffin' but they're just shests, not coffins...
i guess they might be looking at making smaller sizes, but considering that only full-size coffins are displayed now it's highly amusing...

on a more serious note though, since these 'chests' have gotten so much attention, is this finally a way for their makers to reach a wider market? the story says that one of the coffin makers has a business based on eSHopAfrica, but I wonder how much control he actually has over that, and what sort of revenue he gets from that. somehow it strikes me that someone else was the initiator....

my personal favourites: the mouse, and the err...flying coffin painted like a ghana airways plane :-)

Monday, January 16, 2006

World Cup trophy tour...and then some

another overdue post from ghana..
the picture is a bit hard to see, but it is of prez. kufour raising the trpphy aboce his head in accra during the trophy tour. i'm not complaining about the ceremony per se, because i was there, and certainly wanted to see the cup, but it raised a few questions for me.
the event was advertised as an opportunity to see the world cup and have your picture taken with it, so one would have thought it would be a one to two hour ceremony at MOST. i was very wrong, firstly it started 2 hours ( yes, 2 hours! ) late, for reasons i will leave you to guess. after that we were taken through a series of performances by the Black Stars supporters group and the Winneba Youth choir, a film on Ghana's football history, a special 3D film on the world cup and the trophy tour...and speeches by coca cola executives, the president, the list goes on...
by the time we finally got round to seeing the cup, we had been there 3.5 hours and counting.

i don't take issue with the ceremony, and how it was organized. not even really with the fact that it started late. did i mention the fact that apart from the president, practically every minister of state and deputy minister was there as well??? basically for at least 4 hours that morning, none of them did any of the work they're in office to do for the country. i mean seeing the trophy was nice, but was it worth that much? if it had been some sort of investors conference, or strategizing session...maybe an update on each person's vision for ghana in 2006, just something which might bring some benefit to the country somewhere along the line it wouldn't have been as bad. but a loss of that many hours of productivity ( multiply all the ministers, deputy ministers there by the number of hours) all to see the world cup trophy? that is a hard sell. granted i did see one minister leave before the ceremony was over, but that was it. and this on top of a holiday season in which for the previous 2.5 weeks every other day was a holiday ( or so it seemed) sure there is christmas, but then there is boxing day, and then another day because christmas fell on the weekend, and there's new year's, and another day because new year's fell on the weekend. and then who workd on the 24th anyway? and oh what's one more day at the end of the year?

i'm thinking we need to take another look at productivity, and the reasons for which we lose productivity. at a GDP per capita of under $400, maybe only the Minister of Education and Sports should have been there?

The Beauty of Competition :-)

a much overdue post on some observations i made in Accra

by the very first day i was inundated with adverts on the radio from all the cellular service providers
Scancom Ghana: areeba ( spacefon, then spacefon-areeba and now areebaa) : buy a sim card and get one free, plus the chance to be entered into a draw to win a mercedes, plus 2 free areeba t-shirts
Millicom Ghana :buzz : get buzz, because we're the only ones with buzz crbt ( caller ring back tone) and your friends can hear all these wonderful songs when they call you etc.
Ghana Telecom: one-touch: get one-touch ecause we have one-touch family and friends, where you can call your 4 (?) favourite people for 40% less.
Kasapa Telecom: kasapa: get kasapa because calls are free after 11pm and on weekends

some of the networks were advertising features that other networks already have or were also introducing, but each was trying to push theirs out as unique, and the best buy. i was amazed everytime i heard the ads. was i really in accra? 13 years ago, Millicom Ghana Ltd. pioneered Mobitel as the first cellular service provider, and that was followed by kasapa ( then celltel). 9 short years ago Scancom introduced areeba ( then spacefon) and quickly picked up a lot of customers since they had GSM whereas mobitel had pioneered an analog service. spacefon soon became the dominant service provider, and their sim cards and pre-paid units were extremely highly priced, but seeing as they had very little competition, they could afford to do that.

today the landscape is completely different. although areeba has the broadest coverage nationwide, and by far the largest subscriber base, one-touch and buzz now offer services to rival it, and are picking up quite a few cutomers with their more reasonably priced pre-paid units. also quite frankly, areeba used to be the network of choice also because it was considered 'cool'. not so and one-touch have upped their 'coolness factor' and are competing hard.

kasapa is a different story. they are pioneering CDMA technology in ghana, and have managed to offer a fully connected handset for about 100,000 cedis ( a little over 10 dollars). in accra in december, there were quese daily outside the kasapa offices to get phones. there were police officers at the offices to control the crowds - it was that bad.

it has been really exciting to see how the competition has forced the different service providers to improve their performance, and find a basis to compete. they all sold sim cards for unreasonable prices in the beginning, but now all the rates have been slashed incredibly. who would have ever thought that you could get a 'starter pack' (sim card and a few units, with instructions etc.) for 20,000 cedis (a little over $2, buzz promotional rate in december)

granted, there is still some work to be done on the quality of service itself, particularly in relation to calls between areeba and one-touch. when i first to accra i thought my phone wasn't working, due to the number of times i got the message 'call not allowed!' but i realized later that was the usual process for making a call from an areeba user to a one-touch user. both companies claim they are not doing anything intentional, but the interconnection is terrible. this is while there is an ongoing feud between the two on interconnection rates (money paid by ghana telecom to scancom for calls originating on the one touch network and terminating on the areeba network and vice versa). one wonders whether it is really no fault of the providers. hopefully 2006 sees the National Communications authority mandating that something be done about this.

Tags: ghana, areeba, one-touch, kasapa