Friday, March 24, 2006

As the Week Draws to a Close...Thoughts on Ghana's Housing Sector; Ghana's National ID Bill (Passed); Areeba Ghana's Mobile Internet (GPRS)

It was with a great degree of joy that last Saturday, I saw the Ghana's leading Daily Graphic lead with the front-page news that there has been a new boost in the housing sector, with the introduction of the so-called Red Sea Housing company, a Saudi-based company that produces pre-fabricated houses, going for between $10,000 and $12,000.

Whilst for a developing country, that price and its equivalent in cedis is rather prohibitive, it is conceivable that with the falling interest rates in the country, people can obtain loans from banks, and pay off the amount that way. Regrettably, there is also only one mortgage financing company in the country, called Home Finance Company , which enables one to purchase a house, with them providing 80 percent of the loan, whilst you provide 20% deposit.

Or so they claim.

When I actually called them last week, it emerged that they have a ceiling for the amount they can give you. This means that, say I want to buy a house that runs to the tune of $50,000, and my salary enables me to qualify me for the remaining 80% of the amount, I can actually only get 36% of the value of the house!!

This called into question the need to save more, which there is nothing against, but at least, it would help if they reflected this on the website!

SO it was yet again interesting to see that there is in existence--since 1956--a mortagage-financing inistitution called First Ghana Building Society, which offer you the FULL 80%--irrespective of the amount. They are making some serious inroads into the country, and from what one of the top-brass people there told me when I called them, they will by mid-next year become a fully-fledged mortgage financing company--and this is good.

If you look at the astronomical rates of the houses in this country, as exemplified by the capture of WAC Properties that I got, when Ghanaians say they are suffering, it is little wonder why they arrive at that conclusion.

wac properties capture Posted by Picasa

Affordable housing is a prerogative of every citizen. It hell should be considered a human right!! The incumbent government likes to talk about a property-owning democracy. Whilst one can give them the credit that this a step, it's a step too little!

In my view, the housing problem in Ghana is less a problem and more of a situation. I think that experience has shown us that the human condition has a visceral desire to exploit a vaccum, since nature abhors one. It is therefore little wonder that not much is happening by way of regulation. Rent, for example, is often quoted in US dollars, and you have to pay a year--or sometimes, two--in advance!

This is not just speculation; I have done that twice since I started paying rent in 2004.

As regards National ID, like I intoned some weeks back, I grew up in a culture that imposed ID cards on you, so my view of the utility of it is refracted through that view.

Having said that, an article on Ghanaweb, by Ghana News agency entitled "National ID Card in the offing", reminds us that way back in 1972...

"The Acheampong regime promulgated the NRDC129 in 1972 that required citizens of Ghana aged 16 and above to be issued with identity cards. In 1973, national ID cards were issued to citizens in five boarder regions in the country including Volta, Northern, Upper, Brong Ahafo and parts of the Western Region. The project was discontinued three years later due to the lack of financial and logistic support. In 1987, the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) revisited the idea of national identity card and had been on the minds of policy makers to this day"

That one can be identified to me sounds reassuring, though the possibilities of another piece of legislation facilitating corrupt practises are not lost over me!

As for AREEBA Ghana, far be it for me to promote their GPRS, or Global Packet Radio System, which enables mobile internet (in all senses of the term), but I think it's woorking rather smoothly, which makes a change with Areeba's general provision of working telephony!

So I went on Tuesday 21 March, with the speed of light, to AREEBA's offices at 37 (so-called because that is where the military hospital 37 is located, as well as vehicle licensing, as well as the Lebanese-owned Max Mart that is treating its numerous workers with impunity, but that's another story...) to pay 50 thousand cedis, and get my phone connected to the GPRS network. Regrettably, multimedia messaging (MMS) is not working:-( so I have to go down there and sort it out.

This is the phone I use:

regrettably blurred picture of my SAGEM MyX-7 phone connecting to AREEBA Ghana's GPRS Posted by Picasa

It is a French mark, and originally looks like this:

I tried to capture it for the blog connecting and receiving, but somehow my camera couldn't do it, so you will just have to wait for the short video of it connecting;-)

I can assure you that you see "connecting and receiving" at the bottom of the screen, and within seconds, you can see the AREEBA page. If I go through another way, I get to chose my own URL, by way of the bookmarks. Yahoo is the first. The others take quite a bit of time, and, by extension, considerably more units!

Thankfully, my phone now has "GPRS" permanently featured in the right-hand side of the screen.

My parent's NOKIA phone has been more problematic in the setting up. My Mum's had to go back to Areeba for a look-over. It is far less user-friendly, too. Ouch!! This is surprising as most Ghanaian mobile users utilise NOKIA, and it's frankly a common mark here than any of the other brands!!

The UK's Prospect Magazine has an article in last month's edition about digital exuberance. The crux of the article is about how "technologies of connectivity can threaten stability and community".

It holds, in my view, a degree of resonance with regard to ICTs like GPRS and their potential impact for development, but it is somoething I will broach on another day.

On a lighter note, I called CITI 97.3FM's Programme Manager Nii Amah Dagadu to ask him why two programmes were no longer coming on -- "Every Home", which airs on the station on Saturdays, and "Teen Page".

"Every Home", like CITI FM's "Question of Law" that is hosted by one Mac-Diamond Nyamerko-Amerko (spelling?) a lawyer with the Attorney General's department, with a penchant for most-things spiritual (he also hosts a Sunday religious programme on the same station called "Hotline to Heaven"), is an icredibly thought-provoking programme that discusses relationships (role of fathers, mothers, parents in self-esteem; relationship building--divorce, looking good, being there for partners, building self-esteem with partners, etc...). It is in sharp contrast with the "Sex in the Citi" programme I huffed and puffed about last year.

In any event, "Every Home" is airing tomorrow, and the "Question of Law" will no doubt be looking, as per usual, at the LEGAL aspects of the week's news.

As for "Teen Page", I understood that it was not doing well, so a new host has been found, and it is being "re-packaged".

It is interesting to note that when I asked about CITI-FM's excellent one-month programme of "Heritage Month", I discovered that due to a virus, the whole programme was erased, but thankfully, an organisation that records programmes of radio stations in Accra can be contacted to get the recordings from them. They are called "Steadman Media Monitoring".

Fancy that.

have a good weekend!!
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