The Internet – Leveling the Playing Field For Africans

There is no doubt that despite the relative high cost of bandwidth here in Africa, the Internet has become a big blessing to everyday Africans like myself and almost a billion others out there.

For a long time, we’ve had to contend with a myriad of obstacles in getting access to information and knowledge for various ends. For instance, it’s now just a matter of goolgling one’s question to have access to milions of resources, an exercise that takes a maximum of one minute.

Contrast that with times past when one had to travel physically to the local library (if there’s any your community) and pray there are books there that matter to your quest. I once walked into an internet cafe and was very happy to see a young girl of about 12 years old reading an article on Wikipedia about the periodic table. Chances are this girl will forever keep turning to the Internet for almost all her academic work and research.

There is almost not a sphere of our lives here that has not yet been influenced by the modern virtual world. From health to education to politics, the Internet has permeated and is here to stay. Of course it also comes with it negative effects, with the popular being what we term in local parlance as ‘Sakawa‘ or Internet fraud.

That notwithstanding, the benefits that the Internet bestows upon Africans far outweigh its detriments. However, the net as we know it, is under threat from an African perspective, and this threat is none other than what I prefer calling the app craze.

Rather than focusing on creating easily accessible applications and content irrespective of device and platform, we’re seeing an increasing shift to locked down systems where one is coaxed into the use of apps to get the best of that platform. Of course if you live in an environment where you’re surrounded by people wielding N1s and iPhone 4s, apps might be cool.

However, when you’re still surrounded by people wielding monochrome phones with browsers that only display WAP pages, you begin to get worried at the app craze trend.

With an almost level playing field with contemporaries in advanced countries, the power of the Internet as a universal platform may not live long if the app craze currently raging is not countered by us (Africans) through the development of services, infrastructure, content and platforms that are suited to our perculiar conditions and context. Yes the Internet is leveling the playing field for everyday Africans, but we’ve got work to do to sustain that.

Ghana- Of Port Corruption and the Use of Technology

There’s a lot of talk in Ghana about the latest release by the nation’s most famous underground investigative reporter about massive corruption at the state port in Tema. Personally, I am not so much interested in the story as I am about why we allow such things to happen easily in this day and age.
A cursory look at procedures at the harbor, and indeed in almost all spheres of our public institutions, one thing that stands out is how lagging behind we are in terms of automation. Shuffling papers about, moving from office to office, signature after signature, all means one thing- more human involvement. 
Having more human involvement in any institution simply opens up room for abuse of office. If you need me to sign something, and without my signature, you cannot proceed to the next step, then you are at my mercy and will be ready to do anything I tell you to. What bugs me really, is that if the many needless paper shuffling and signatures are all meant to authenticate transactions, can’t computers through automation do better than humans?
I cannot honestly understand why the government, and for that matter, most African governments, don’t just make full use of technology. This abhorring act of plain theft at the Tema Harbor is just one of the many, many unreported cases of thievery going on in this country. And all this can be reduced to the barest minimum if only our government will be willing to move to the 21st century. 
Of course I am not naive to think that our corruption ridden society will heal overnight, no. What I firmly believe in is that when the necessary foundations for fighting corruption are laid, that in itself will surely act as a detterent in one way or the other. We cannot just be losing over $200m US in revenues through tax evasion and then turn around and sing the praises of some really initiatives by the West in the name of taking us out of poverty. 
Instead of the nation bickering about how bad those people there are milking the nation dry, I’d like to hear an honest, intellectual discussion about how to prevent a few insatiably greedy people from milking the remaining 25m of us dry. Let us think of how we can use technology to better our lives and fight corruption. The age of “man-power” should be over, let the time of automation be now.

A Simple African Wishlist to Larry Page of Google

Hi Larry, I must confess to you that it came to me as a little shock that you’d taken over the reigns of governance back at Mountain View. Of course it’s your baby here we are talking about- that huge gorilla of a company that you and your friend founded a little over a decade ago.
You see Larry, aside all my healthy suspicions of huge companies like your own (Amazon vis a vis Wikileaks), I still really do admire Google. Heck, my friends call me a Google fanboy because I keep evangelising every single Google product to them; from Chrome (yea, not Firefox), to Gmail, to Youtube to Trader
My personal life has been enriched enormously by the massive array of splendid products that you give out for free- of course in the hope of making some ad money. Since you now are at the helm of affairs, I’d like to put to you this simple wish-list of mine with regards to my continent Africa.
First on that list is that you work with both handset makers, hopefully in China, and network operators here to bring Android powered smartphones to the masses. With a sizable number of my people accessing the internet through their mobile phones, you will appreciate the immense value affordable smartphones will bring to their lives. 
Think of the possibilities that such a move will open up to the everyday people here, not to talk about strategically bringing Android to a market of close to 1 billion people.
The second wish on my list to you Larry, is that you find a way of working with our universities here to make computer science education more accessible, ‘learnable’ and in line with current developments in that field. You see, I personally don’t have any formal education in computing. I really wish there was more of our public universities and the private but affordable ones offering computer science/engineering courses. With your massive engineering talent, Google sure will know how to impart that into the heads of young, eager to know Africans like myself.
There are so many ways you can achieve this second objective. One of them can be that you extend the CSHS program in the future to include universities here. There is only one future for everbody- one where computing plays a paramount and dominant role, I would love you to help my continent not be left behind. 
Finally (yes I have only three wishes Larry), please avoid African governments. Don’t ever channel any initiative through them. As Google was able to find a way to save itself billions of Dollars in tax avoidance, similarly do find a way to help everyday Africans like myself without going through the governments. If you insist on going through them, then you might as well keep your money because not a dime of it will achieve its purpose if you work through those mammoth vampires.
I could go on and on Larry, but will like to end here. I’ll be writing to you again in the near future. But for now, these are my wishes to you as the new (OK not so new) bus drive of Google Inc. You are a company that stands to improve the lives of people in Africa, take that chance and you will be rewarded with dominance in a market that is spat upon by the rest of your competition.

Has Google Become Too Stagnant?

Google, the most enigmatic company on the web, seems to be stagnating gradually. A careful look at the company over the course of this year paints the picture of a hugely successful behemoth that is becoming a victim of its own massive greatness.

The last time Google released something really groundbreaking was Gmail, if I remember right. Of course since then, they’ve cobbled up other small companies to add their own midas touch to make those companies hugely successful Google products, Youtube readily comes to mind here. However, even that strategy does not look to have worked for Mountain View this year given the 23 or so acquisitions.

The best product from Google this years is… well I can’t see any. They tried Buzz, which looks to have been left to its own faith. Over here in Africa, they’ve just introduced Baraza, a service that I honestly think could have just been plugged into Vark. Even the latest Google TV is struggling really hard to take off thanks to content owners blocking the service.

Of course you may see things otherwise, that notwithstanding however, Google is gradually taking way too long to release new products with the wow effect. Again, I concede to the fact that Google is in itself a huge productivity suit that gets the work done alright. But, with the current pace and slew of new startups that we see everyday, Google better start being Google or be ready to be given a run for its huge cash. 

Millennium Development Goals- Another Awesome Joke on the Poor!

The rich countries have always played awesome jokes on the intellect of the poor time and time again. This time around it is through the meme that has been flaunted around so much as the Millennium Development Goals. I so much have no problem with the targets set in as much as I do with the massive fanfare with which it is being received.
I would not go into the economics of why this ‘project’ is a joke. This piece originally tweeted by William Esterly really brings the point home. Forget about aid and all the other philanthropic overtures. Take away the subsidies that have killed the farming businesses of hundreds of thousands of petty farmers in all poor countries, let there be a little fairness in trading between the haves and have-not countries.
“The biggest success story was textile exports from Madagascar to the US – but the US kicked Madagascar out of the AGOA at Christmas 2009. The excuse for this tragic debacle was that Madagascar was failing to make progress on democracy; an odd excuse given the continued AGOA eligibility of Cameroon, where the dictator Paul Biya has been in power for 28 violent years. Angola, Chad and even the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also still in. The Madagascan textile industry, meanwhile, has collapsed.”
These so called goals that are purportedly  in the interest of the poor are just another way to soothe the conscience of the rich countries who knowingly, willingly and with the connivance of some greedy few who are supposed to be on the look out for the poor have inflicted so much harm on the unsuspecting masses. There is no better way to take a person out of poverty than to create the conducive atmosphere for them to be able to run their own small business.
In Ghana for instance, when you try to set up a business, you suddenly realize how the entire system is against your noble course. Talk of fees, levies, licensing fees, permit fees, regulatory fees, name any kind of fees and evil, state sanctioned extortion, it will be thrown your way. What all these MDG pundits and noise makers forget is that the achievement of these ‘goals’ will automatically be achieved when people are given the opportunity to fish on their own.
Aid was not, is not and cannot be the answer to the overwhelming majority of mankind that is wallowing in knee-grinding, abject poverty. There should be fair trade, remove those subsidies, let the poor countries themselves cut down on their mostly needless and egotistic bureaucracies, let the poor countries not focus hard earned resources on running their mostly large, greedy and highly ineffective governments. Then finally, let these poor countries themselves work together and invest like there’s no tomorrow in technology and education.
MDGs are a joke, a big one for that matter on the lives of the already desperate people who struggle to get even a Dollar a day to live by. Spare us the noise. You all know what to do!.

How GSM Networks in Africa Can Make More Profits Through Android

With the introduction of the IDEOS in Kenya, Android is set to make inroads onto the very profitable but undeserved African market of over 850m people. If I was in charge of running a GSM network here, I could make a lot of profits simply riding on the back of Android. Here is how.
You see, the mobile phone has moved from the stage of just a hello gadget to a total service delivery platform. Also, the mobile phone is the sole medium of accessing the internet for a majority of people. A look at the demographics of mobile phone service users in my country for instance, suggests that the majority are the youth who are into “cool stuff,” those who will be willing to pay for better phones beyond Java ones.
Now if I run a GSM network, I’d go into an agreement with any of the Chinese handset manufacturers who have the economies of scale to produce smartphones at reasonable prices preloaded with Android, cutting down on any licensing hassles. 
Then, target the youth who are very technology savvy by selling the phone to them through a contract service as is done elsewhere. That’s it. Do not sell the phones for cash upfront but rather spread the cost over a given period, say a year and let the buyers pay through the airtime they buy.
I am yet to meet anyone here who’d not want to buy such a phone under such a plan. Back that up with an intensive media blitz and  you will be on your way to becoming the Apple of Africa. There currently is one network that has this plan but unfortunately sells the Sony Ericsson Xperia with Windows Mobile, and the terms of payment are also not that favorable. 
Android has a great potential to expand here and also rake in lots of profits for handset manufacturers and service networks. Which of them will blaze the path?

An Update to Ghabunt.com

It’s been quite a while since this blog was updated, something that regular readers may have noted already. This is due to a change in my work schedule and also the just ended Holy Month of Ramadan. 
Now that the latter is over, I am making room in my routine for writing and keeping this site updated with the latest perspective from the Mother Land. Please do bear with me while I get my head around things :-).

Africa crashes out of the World Cup- Any lessons worth learning?

This time not for Africa!
This time for Africa, or so said Shakira. Well she got it wrong. Not this time around. Ghana, the only surviving African country in the ongoing FIFA world cup in South Africa crashed out yesterday in a penalty shoot-out against Uruguay. It was 120 minutes of drama for all of us here in on the continent.
Following the abysmal performance of the African contingent that represented at the glamorous tournament, a thorough analysis devoid of emotions could come in handy. Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Algeria, South Africa and Ghana were the six African representatives there. The first question worth asking is, why did they all crash out so easily? Cameroon for instance did not score a single point, not even a draw.
The diseases of football administration in Africa
I have read various technical commentaries and analysis about why Africa never gets anywhere in the tournament. What I am yet to read is what the problem really is. It’s simply a that of inferiority complex and corruption on the part of football administrators and selfishness, arrogance and plain incompetence on the part of players.
Inferiority Complex
Ghana is currently the under-20 world youth champion, having won the trophy earlier on in the year. One thing of significance about that tournament is that we won it with a local coach: Sellas Tetteh who is now the national coach of Rwanda. When the issue of a new coach for the senior national team came up, what primary school logic suggests is that you give it to the one who just won a tournament and is also a native.
But for some weird, inexplicable reason, we went for a foreign coach. One who has less experience and has never won any international tourney. To add insult to injury, he is said to not speak English and thus we have to hire an interpreter to make for communication with the country. How many of you see a any sense in this? Why do African FAs not have faith in African coaches?
Ghana has a wealth of talent in terms of coaches. But for some reason, which I believe is inferiority complex, our FA has always preferred foreign coaches to them. None of whom have ever led us anywhere. One other reason I can think of why they are not interested in the local coaches is because of personal interest and corruption.
Corruption
When you go for a local coach who you’ve known from childhood, you’re not likely to get any kickback from him. But when you bring in a foreign coach, it is always easier to negotiate with him about some kickbacks from his salary should you get him the job. So in this event, the coach who agrees to the highest possible kickback figure wins the deal. Not necessarily the most competent.
To make matters worse, that stupid law in FIFA regulations that states no “third party should interfered in the affairs of the local FA” makes the administrators of the game into demigods who are not subject to any control from the government, which in any democracy, is made up of the people, the very ones that cough up money to run the FA!
In essence, you have a body that the hardworking taxpayer raises money for, but is not answerable to them and can choose to do whatever they like, bring any coach they like, hire incompetent people to act as the team’s technical brains all in the name of some useless and moronic FIFA regulation. That is one major malady that is afflicting African football and its governance. I hope Nigeria’s president is able to stand up to FIFA and tell them to shove their regulation up where the sun does not shine!
Diseases of the players
In yesterday’s game, Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan displayed a trait of most African players when they get onto the pitch: selfishness and greed for fame. Some are arguing that we should not talk about Gyan because he’d scored in earlier games. I ask those people, should your children pass exams in one period and woefully fail in the most important one, do you just say oh it’s ok or seek what caused their failure?
Gyan, like most African players, has a certain mentality (Wayne Rooney of England suffers same) that he is entitled to a goal in every match. He must necessarily score, he must add his name to the score sheet, he must be praised by the fine ladies, he is a demigod! What Gyan, and those like him forget is that it is a team made up of 10 other men. There are times when you just cannot do it alone. You would have to necessarily pass on the ball for someone to do it.
Not these self appointed goal makers. They play with all the selfishness one can imagine because they are the only ones that have been anointed to find the back of the net.
Then too we have sheer incompetence on the part of others. The biggest miss of all time by Yakubu Ayigbeni of Nigeria readily comes to mind. Our players for some reason miss when they have absolutely no excuse to. I could go on and on about African players here.
The long and short of it all
Until Africa puts its house in order it can forget getting anywhere in the world cup. Until she gets a little (not much, just a little) bit sincere and competent people to man its football administration, players have their heads flushed of all the maladies afflicting them when they get onto the pitch, our dreams of making any meaningful and significant dent in the game of soccer on the world stage will eternally remain what it is- a dream. And I have a dream!
Cross posted from OMG Africa!