Ghana- Of voter registration and wasted computer science graduates

It’s the year 2012 and Ghana is gearing up for her presidential and parliamentary elections slated for Dec 7, 2012. As has always been the custom, the voters’ register is revised to take out the names of the dead, add the names of those who turned 18 within the 4 year period from the last elections, and also those who for one reason or the other could not register are given the chance to do so.

This year, the Electoral Commission of Ghana in agreement with all the political parties, has decided to usher in the era of so called biometric voter registration, a move aimed at curbing the incidence of minors who register, double registration and voting among others. This on the surface it’s a laudable idea, but- and there’s always a but- upon reflection, one cannot help but notice how the entire exercise makes the thousands of computer science students that the nations universities produce each year irrelevant.

How so do I mean? Four years ago the National Identification Authority started what was a nationwide exercise to register every person living in this country for a so called Ghana Card. The one card to rule them all, in LotR speak. One of the main objectives of this exercise was for the data collated to form the basis for a voters’ register since the Ghana Card was going to be biometric. Millions of Dollars was spent in carrying out this exercise. 

Fast forward four years and the biometric voter registration kicked off this morning, with the goal of- guess – registering voters to be issued a biometric voter registration card. I’ve been asking the simple question of what happened to the NIA Ghana Cards? What has happened to the data that was collected? The NIA exercise was very comprehensive. Why can’t we just use that instead of spending another US$125M in conducting this exercise? If I can use the voter registration card both for voting and as a national ID, then of what use is the Ghana Card then? 

Is it that we don’t have the brains to be able to write a bunch of if-else statements to sort the data collected? What is needed for a voter register? Every data set needed to make up a voter register was collected during the NIA exercise. The same data is going to be collected again, at the expense of time, energy, money and at a considerable disruption of both work and school activities. If we have to keep duplicating duties and wasting hard cash doing so, then what becomes the use of the thousands of CS students graduating each year? Is data sorting, collating and arranging so difficult that the cost of starting from scratch is better than building on what is already available? 

We live in a country where we keep hearing the rhetorics of how we’re moving forward and becoming the beacon of ICT in the Sub-Sahara region, yet almost every public act belies this. A causal walk into any IRS office will testify to this. If the politicians won’t let the young, fresh CS brains they train help cut down costs, then I really don’t see why they should complain about brain drain and how graduates keep leaving the country en masse. 

Of Patent Cartels and a Rising Africa

The past couple of weeks has witnessed a lot of bickering among the global technology giants, with Google claiming Microsoft, Oracle and Apple are waging a war on Android through “bogus patents.”

As an ordinary person without any knowledge of the legal aspects of this highly complex issue of patents, I’m more interested in its broader effect on the creativity of the African continent. There currently is a renaissance (well soft of) going on here on the technology scene.

We are seeing a lot of startups doing amazing things with technology in their own small ways in Africa, an example being this Android powered tablet assembled in Nigeria (no it’s not an email scam) for instance. Of course it’s not at the level of the hypePad or the Galaxy tab, but it’s a step in the right direction for the continent.

However, giving the recent Apple injunction on the sale of the Samsung Galaxy tab in the EU, one cannot help but wonder when Apple and the other giants will turn their eyes on African startups and accuse them of the “slavish copying” of design and “look and feel.”

Keeping in mind that most of these companies in Africa are small in size, the question of whether they can actually battle with these patent cartels in court comes to mind. Samsung has deep enough pockets to fight Apple in court, but can Encipher do so? 

One may advance the argument that these nascent African firms command such an insignificant size of the overall market that the patent wielders will not deem it worthy to bully them. But what if these companies begin to grow? It’s worth noting that Africa is a market of close to 1 billion people, most of whom will have their first encounter with the internet on a handheld. 

It’s nigh impossible for any company starting life to navigate the patent offices to ascertain what belongs to who. In the meantime, we have these giants applying for as many patents as they can, some so vague as to mean almost nothing. The aim, to rake in licensing fees from competitors. Will the cartel kill creativity with time? Can a rising African tech scene navigate the almost treacherous sea of patent wolves? I guess only time will determine that. 

What Startups Can Learn from Google+

After a series of misses in the social realm, Google seems to have hit it right this time around with Plus, their new social media service. Yours truly was fortunate to have had an invite into the pre-release and it’s really an exciting  service in the making.

A lot has be written about G+ and will be written. What I find very intriguing about this Google project is the level of interaction between Google and the end users. When one thinks of a company the size of Google, it makes this level of interaction even more unprecedented.

Having Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Vic Gundotra, Marissa Meyer among others all using the service and actively responding to user feedback will go a long way to make the service a force to reckon with. 

In all of this, there is a lesson to be gleaned, especially by startups; involve end users as early as possible and as much as possible. Previous Google social attempts all proved futile because the company assumed for users what they wanted. It’s very exciting and humbling having the likes of Vic Gundotra thanking you for your feedback in comments.

Since we all have ambitions to start our own businesses, the Google Plus success lesson should go a long way to guide us in all our ambitions, especially as young Africans who have the odds stacked heavily against us. 

[VIDEO] Free and Open Source Software in Developing Countries

This Documentary shows the Benefits of Free and Open Source Software for development countries.
The crew of the independent producers who made the film went to nearly a dozen countries around the world to see how the adoption of FOSS presents opportunities for industry and capacity development, software piracy reduction, and localization and customization for diverse cultural and development needs.
Stories from The Codebreakers include computer and Internet access for school children in Africa, reaching the poor in Brazil, tortoise breeding programmes in the Galapagos, connecting villages in Spain, and disaster management in Sri Lanka. The documentary also includes interviews from key figures around the world.
A verbatim reproduction of the  video description on YouTube.

Google Redesigns News Service For Feature Phones Using Opera Mini

According to the Google Mobile blog, the Google News service has now been strealined for feature phones using the venerable Opera Mini browser.

So we have rolled out a redesigned Google News for Opera Mini in all 29 languages and 70 editions of Google News. This includes an enhanced homepage featuring richer snippets, thumbnail images, links to videos and section content without explicit navigation, a convenient search bar, comfortably spaced links and the ability to access your desktop personalization on your phone.

This should go a long way to bring the comprehensive news aggregation service from Mountain view to more people from across the world who don’t use high end devices, helping to increase Google‘s reach across varying device users. To access it on your phone, simply log on to http://news.google.com.

This Week in Africa- Interesting African Headlines You May Have Missed

Another week has ended and it’s time to bring you a roundup of some interesting headlines from Africa. Here goes

We Need to Stop Google’s Exploitation of Open Communities
Mikel Maron writes about Google’s seemingly disregard for community projects that it uses without proper credit to them. He writes

What bothers me so much is how they have blatantly copied OpenStreetMap. First their MapMaker product is directly modelled on OSM, but with a restrictive data license, where you can not use the data as you see fit. Second, they have stolen the idea of Mapping Parties, a unique concept and name we developed. Third, they’re even copying initiatives to map impoverished informal settlements, like Map Kibera.

Google Appoints Female Country Manager for Nigeria
MacJordan reports on Google’s appointment of a female as country director for Nigeria. He writes

Google Nigeria recently appointed Ms. Juliet Ehimuan, the former General Manager of  Strategic Business Units at Chams Plc as its Country Manager for Nigeria.

The 20 Most Powerful People In African Business
Over on the Forbes blogs, Mfonobong writes lists the twenty most influential African business personalities. He writes

However, a new league of African businessmen is emerging. They are bold and fearlessly ambitious, building pan-African companies with regional and even global presences. They are influencers and change-makers. Their voices are never ignored within Africa’s business and political circles, and through their resolutions and actions, they shape the economic future of the continent.

Nigeria’s Jonathan takes big poll lead
Aljazeera reports that Nigeria’s incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan has taken the lead in the presidential election that was held yesterday.

Early results on Sunday showed Jonathan had done well in much of the predominantly Christian south, including areas such as the most populous city of Lagos, where the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had struggled in a parliamentary election a week ago.

Re; Why Getting Ghana Wrong IS a Problem
Yours truly was involved in an argument with some of his compatriots started by a CNN article which talked about the increasing menace of internet fraud in Ghana.

Then again Graham and Graham, I Luqman Saeed, don’t just see myself as a Ghanaian youth competing against my compatriots. NO! I see myself as a global citizen who is in competition with my contemporaries from across the world. And so I would not expect my American contemporary to be able to dazzle me in anyway whatsoever because I already am in competition with him and always try to be at par in terms of knowledge, use of technology and all that. IMHO, that is how we can get to market Africa to the world.

Bill Gates Pays Millions to AllAfrica (“Largest Electronic Distributor of African News and Information Worldwide”) to Push His Agenda
This is quite old but I had to fetch it to tell my point across to a friend on Twitter about who Gates really is and what he’s doing on this continent.

On previous occasions about a year ago we also showed that Bill Gates had paid a lot of money for African journalists to cover his work the way he likes it. The veil of “training” was used and James Love mentioned this rather recently, in a very comprehensive summary of his.
We are saddened to find that Mr. Gates just cannot let journalists do their work independently. Using his tax-exempt bank account (Gates Foundation) he targets a very major channel of communication in Africa.

That’s all for this week. Hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.

This Week In Africa- Interesting African Tech Headlines You May Have Missed

This Week in Africa is a new segment that we’re introducing onto this blog. It’s going to be a weekly roundup of tech related headline news with a focus on Africa and Africans. Without much ado, here goes today’s piece…
Ben Cole of Google takes a look at how technology impacts the lives of everyday Africans, the type that have barely head of what the internet is. He writes

…[I] had helped them establish web presences for their businesses, sign up for email accounts and get a taste for what the Internet could do for them. The work was immediately gratifying; I got to see the exhilaration in each person’s eyes as they saw their company on the Internet. But after months of plugging away and wondering what the outcome would be, I had a bit of an existential crisis. What was the real impact? Was any of this doing any good?

Mfonobong Nsehe writes on the Forbes blog about why it’ll be very difficult for a global scale technology company to come from Africa. He opines

Africans can create hugely successful tech products that will sweep the world off its feet. There are several entrepreneurs out there waiting to break through, but their ideas might never see the light of day because of a lack of seed finance.

Gameli Adjaho writes on the Gamelian world about South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometer Project. He reports

If everything goes according to plan, the landscape of the Karoo region in the Republic of South Africa will be transformed by 2025 into a beehive of intense scientific activity, bringing Africa into reckoning as a major centre of astronomy, the science of the stars. This exciting prospect has arisen because of South Africa’s bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

Google launched the Student Ambassador Program in Ghana and Nigeria during the week with the aim of “empower[ing] the African academic community with knowledge, infrastructure and tools to help Africa’s future leaders make the most of access to information.” Unfortunately my school was not part of those chosen in Ghana :-(.
Dale takes a look on the Ushahidi blog at the role being played by the platform in the uprising in North Africa. He writes

The Libya Crisis Map was very different than other mapping efforts. One, they didn’t need to train volunteers like in Haiti, the Stand-By Task Force was simply mobilized. Two, a number of customizable features like the Big Map were simply enabled via the Ushahidi Plugin. Three, Haiti response was an actual Ushahidi team effort, but this was United Nations initiative that called upon the Stand-By Task Force. 

Ghana’s never-seem-to-roll 6th telecom operator, Glo Mobile, has launched its fiber-optic submarine cable in Ghana promising to revolutionize how we communicate. 

If fully optimized by every sector of the society, the Glo 1 submarine cable has the infinite capacity to trigger an unprecedented social and economic revolution not only in the telecommunication sector but also in the agricultural, transportation, medical, hospitality, tourism and educational sectors.

That’s it for this week. Hope you enjoy reading those stories as much as I did. If you have any stories you’d want to be highlighted, you can drop them in the comments on send them to me on Twitter to be highlighted in next week’s piece. 

5 Reasons why Linux is the Future of Technology

From embeded spaces to mobile phones to desktops and servers, there’s not a single one of those except it’s being overtaken by the gradual but consistent revolution called Linux. Here’s why

The Breakdown of the Psychic Barrier
The situation where people simply state Linux is not for them because it’s either too difficult or unfriendly is what I like to call the psychic barrier to use. However, that barrier is being broken down gradually thanks to distros like Linux Mint and Ubuntu. I never cease getting amazed at the sheer number of Ubuntu powered laptops I keep seeing on campus, mostly owned by people who hardly even know the distinction between Linux and Windows.

Android
There’s no gainsaying that Android has indeed come to stay. Having claimed Symbian as its first victim and set to be the most popular smartphone platform by the end of this year, there’s little doubt that Android is securing that space as the purview of Linux for a long time to come.

Africa
As I’ve stated a number of times, Africa, a massive market of about 1 billion people, is still mostly untapped and under-served. Symbian used to be the platform of choice of you wanted to use a smartphone. However, I’m increasingly seeing a gradual shift to the two platforms: iPhone and Android, especially among my contemporaries in school.

All it’ll take for Android to excel here is for a handset maker to achieve the right balance between reasonable price and the right hardware capable of running Andoid at reasonable speeds. I personally tick Samsung to achieve this feat.

Then in terms of desktops, again I was fairly surprised the first time I walked into our school’s computer lab and found out that half the computers are powered by Ubuntu 10.04. To say the popularity of Linux is soaring here in Africa is an understatement.

Availability
Again, it’s ten times easier for both an individual and a business to get access to Linux than to its alternatives. It’s this simple factor that in the long run will counter the Windows piracy in the developing world, a practice deliberatley overlooked by Redmond to help entrench its OS and maintain its dominance.

Google
With Android already a stunning success, Google is now turning its attention to Chrome OS, the browser based, netbook centric OS. With the entire handheld market currently fixated on lightweight devices, Chrome OS need only repeat the Android formula to make that spectrum Linux owned.

There are other reasons why the status quo will never be the same, with Linux emergin ultimately as the winner. Some might not be so clear if you live in the heartland of proprietary software like the US, but as an African on the ground, I can confidently tell you that things are changing, the tables turning in favor of Linux in particular and open source in general, albeit at an agonizingly slow pace.

Nokia Won’t Sell Out to Microsoft Says CEO

The CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop has ruled out the possibility of a merger of Microsoft and the world’s leading mobile phone manufacturer. He was speaking recently in Dubai during an interactive session with the media drawn across the Midddle East and Africa.

Following the merger and the intense speculation that Microsoft was just a step away from buying the Finish mobile giant, CEO Steve Elop has now come out to state that those rumors are “unfounded”, adding that the partnership is for the mutual benefit of both parties.

Steven Elop was very generous in his admission of the role played by Africa and Asia in the success of Nokia and promised to “reward such disproportionate achievements with disproportionate investments”, though he did not explain as to what disproportionate investment would mean.

Now that it’s clear Elop has not completely sold out to Microsoft, we’d want to see a change in so many things, not least is the perpetual delays in the delivery of devices on their schedule date. I’d also personally like to see Africa’s loyalty to Nokia rewarded with the possible siting of a plant here on the continent. So yes Nokia will remain an independent company from Redmond, but will that last forever?