Tuesday, August 29, 2006

This Gargantuan Dam Provides Ghana with Electricity...

Originally uploaded by ekbensah.
...and has been doing so since independence from the British in 1957, when the first President Dr.Kwame Nkrumah built it to power electricity throughout the country.

Ghana is, in effect, a hydro-dependent state, predicating its energy survival on rainfall into the dam that is generated into electricity. Currently, we supply electricity to some of our West African neighbours of Togo and Benin, whilst buying some of it from Cote d'Ivoire (according to engineer who spoke on the Accra-based English-speaking private radio station CITI 97.3FM) this morning.

However, as from 28 August--yesterday--the country has been compelled to undergo what Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and Volta Regional Authority (VRA) [that supervises/manages the distribution of electricity in the country's Eastern Region] call "National Shedding" Programme.

Although it is expected that rains will fall in the country, the rainfall expected this cool season (July-October) has been very little as compared to the earlier months, where there were thunderstorms almost twice a week in the country (April-June)

The equation is: no rain = no electricity. Therefore, by putting domestic consumers on this "load management" programme, where the capital--divided into six zones--will experience electricity black-outs from 6am-6pm, and 6pm-6am respectively every other third day, energy will be saved for the next fifteen days.

If and when the rain falls in abundance -- as per the season 'requirements' -- the exercise may be postponed. Until then Ghanaian media has been carrying it. One of them you can read here: http://www.ghananewstoday.com/gnt_cn_detailb_featured.cfm?tblNewsCatID=51&tblNewsID=1456&CFID=188447&CFTOKEN=76004271

I understand that the last time something like this was in 1998. It's been a good eight years! Where was the foresight to avert an inconvenience of this magnitude?!!

tags: ; ; ; ; ; ;

Google Senegal! Why not Google Ghana?


Yes! There I was tracking my organisation’s website only to see that google has a Senegal extension! Here is the link: http://www.google.sn/search?hl=fr&q=Third+World+Network+%2B+Ghana&meta=


If Google ever chances upon this page, could it let me know why it’s been so difficult to obtain a “google.gh”, considering the number of Ghanaians who have a Yahoo.com account!


Tags: http://technorati.com/tag/googleghana ; http://technorati.com/tag/ghana ; http://technorati.com/tag/google+ghana

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Welcome to Ghana's latest entry into mobility: Gold Cab!

This afternoon, I went to Madina (featured earlier) to go buy some groceries, with a friend who works where this car was parked (A&C Shopping Mall).

This would probably have not been news, except for the fact that this white car--a brand-new FIAT Sereno(sp?)--fully air-conditioned took me around East Legon, Madina for the two hours I used it for, charging me a cool Ghanaian cedis100,000/hr (that's under $10/hr).

It's one of twenty cars from this Kokomlemle-based Cab service. Kokomlemle is very near BusyInternet, which has also been featured on this blog earlier.

Coming to fetch me at East Legon cost NOTHING to me. I jsut had to pay for the hours I used them. The guy came in uniform, speaks very good English, and engaged in small, but good conversation.

Definitely one to recommend if ever you come to Ghana one of these days. TEL:+ / +

That inscription you see on the car is their logo. Click to enlarge!

So, in Ghana, we have, by way of transport:
a. privately-registered taxis that come in dual colours [Henry Osei is the owner of these cabs above, a businessman I am told];
b. tro-tros
c. private cars
d. metro mass buses
e. cab service--new!

Hooray for diversity!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Accra is Huge, and Priorities Remain!

Yesterday afternoon, some of us went to visit my colleague, who has just delivered a beautiful baby, in Dansoman (some thirty minutes drive from East Legon). Ordinarily, we should have spent a good forty minutes getting there, but due to Ghana's indefatigable and legendary traffic, it took us a good one and a half hours!

Suffice to say, the vastness of Accra can become seriously illusory when you work in a place like East Legon, where there is more plushness than dirty drains.

In one scene, which I regrettably failed to capture, we saw some guys emptying themselves into a small stream, that was, apparently, going straight into the sea. Yes, you read right: emptying themselves. One man wiped his backside with his left, pulled his trousers up, and...just left.

"What about soap?!?!" I exclaimed.
"What soap!!" my colleagues exclaimed. Some of them sucked their teeth in collective disgust at the extreme disparities in the country [and we want to celebrate 50years of independence in style?????] and suggested implicitly that I have been very much cushioned from such scenes. It was suggested I should visit places, known as "Old Accra", where there is scant room to breathe and live salubriously, as a way of educating myself...


Against this backdrop, when one reads stories about the imminent Accra Shopping mall (to be finished in 2007); Kufuor cutting the sod for roads, as he did this afternoon, you begin to think very seriously about priorities!!

The National Communications Authority of the Ghana government slapping a 2.5bn dollar fine on Areeba is always a good start!!

Friday, August 04, 2006

As the Week Draws to a Close in Accra…The Unbearable Lightness of Being West African; Liberia’s 150-year anniversary; Menacing Problem of Drugs

As I write*, the 7th ordinary session of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO)has opened in Abuja, with Ministers of Health from Benin, Liberia, Ghana; Sierra Leone; Senegal; and Niger attending.

Obasanjo has talked about how 12% of his country’s budget would go towards health, but African leaders had to make more effort for it to be higher if the MDGs could be met.

On another note, however, hearing and reading the news that Ghana would start using ECOWAS passports concurrently within the country in 2007 got me thinking about the value-added from using both types. SO I did some research, and found an excellent article (http://www.thisdayonline.com/archive/2003/05/21/20030521dev01.html) that indicated that it would be with a view to phasing out the national ones. In short, it would be a way of establishing a West African (ECOWAS) identity to the world.

Though it is true to say that when, say, you arrive in Ghana, you find an "ECOWAS" line, and other national’s line, the sentiments by a popular comedian, KSM, who joked that the latter line goes faster than that of ECOWAS holds very true!

It bears reminding that the ECOWAS region is the only in the West African, where there is free movement of people, as well as the freedom to reside. Perhaps, this quote explains it best:

It is part and parcel of the Protocol for free movement of people and goods. The ECOWAS Treaty provides for community citizenship and proof of that is for an individual to own a community passport to enable them travel within the region. It is an effort to promote in a general sense of African integration through regional integration. The ECOWAS passport is a supra-national instrument for travel, which all the ECOWAS States have recognised and are asking the international community to recommend. Consequently, it is more important than any of the national passports within the West African region. The holder is not considered a foreigner, and is free to pass easily through international borders without the rigour faced by non-ECOWAS citizens. It is meant to enhance regional integration.

Personally, all these developments attest to the ECOWAS-ness, as it were, of the region. I am Ghanaian first and foremost, but I am increasingly feeling that there will come a time when I can well and truly call myself an "ECOWAS national". I am almost there, but once our leaders get their act together on Common External Tariffs and whatnot, with a view to the ECOWAS currency, the ECO, I might just feel a bit more like I am living in a region that is quintessentially West African.

To be fair, it is great to see that in a country like Ghana, a number of NIGERIAN banks have made their home: Zenith Bank (it even has a hotline now!-- http://www.zenithbank.com/); Standard Trust (http://www.standardtrustghana.com/); and Guaranty Trust Bank (http://www.gtbplc.com/portal/index.pl?id=35020), but it would be great to see a more concerted effort elsewhere other than the banking sector on regional integration.

Speaking of which, you must have heard about Liberia, and the celebration of 150 years of its independence from the US. Well, suffice to say, Ghana played an instrumental role in facilitating the developmenmt of Liberia’s electricity.

Perhaps, the Statesman newspaper put it best in its editorial, entitled "West Africa is our oyster" when it wrote:

"There is no way that West African countries can compete divided. But the policies at the ECOWAS level must be boldly translated on the ground by the private sector. What the V{olta} R{egional} A{uthority}, Government, Databank, Cal bank, Tropical Cable, etc, have shown is that a combination of the public and private sector can make Ghana ruthlessly competitive in West Africa and beyond."

I am highlighting, briefly, what the-above organisations did (the information was culled from the Daily Statesman newspaper, a government-supportinig newspaper):

Databank Financial Services, Ghana’s premier investment bankers, went to work to structure the financing and provided risk cover to secure a loan of $1m from Cal Bank to fund the project
• Next were the supplies. All in all, Liberia bought 1,200 light poles, the electrical wiring and four power generators, from Ghanaian companies in May, while VRA technicians were seconded theer to train local personnel, renovate and connect the system
• Ghanaian entrepreneur Tony Oteng Gyasi’s "Tropical Cables and Conductors Ltd", a Ghanaian leader in manufacturing, procured the cables needed for the transmission wiring
• The wooden poles and stay blocks were provided by Du Paul Wood Treatment (Gh) Ltd, a Ghanaian firm run by former Bank of governor, Kwabena Duffuor
• The huge generators to provided the power for Liberia’s Capital city were also provided by a Ghanaian company, G&J technical Services Ltd., owned by Godfrey Asiedu

The culmination of all these concerted efforts went to provide electricity for Liberia, a fellow ECOWAS country. Whilst the Statesman newspaper feels that this highlights the need to push for private sector led by Ghana, I am more of the view that it accentuates the possibilities within the region of a greater collaboration.

Sure, ECOWAS may be divided politically on issues of the free trade agreements with the EU over Economic Partnership Agreements, and it is something that requires urgent attention in the sub-region, but, without a doubt, this could be the beginning of something better in ECOWAS.

The Drug Menace
Like a scene right out of Hollywood, the drugs affair exploded into the consciousness of Ghanaians a few weeks ago when some drugs disappeared off a boat, MV Benjamin, when it docked at Tema. Unlike in the 1995 gangster thriller, The Usual Suspects, where $91 million of cocaine in a boat, docked at a pier in South Pedro, just south of L.A., exploded along with the boat, in Ghana, the boat, containing many millions of dollars worth of cocaine, simply disappeared—without a trace.

That is until the revelation of complicity over the drugs, followed by the swift arrest {on the orders of Attorney-General/Minister of Justice Joe Ghartey) of four putative drug barons two days ago at a public hearing under the aegis of Justice Georgina Woode’s eponymous committee that had been set up to look into the disappearance of the 77 parcels of missing cocaine.

One Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Kofi Boakye, a charismatic director of police operations, was caught on tape in a discussion with some of these barons {in what the Chronicle entitled "Kofi’s Convention with Drug Barons", which you can read here: http://allafrica.com/stories/200608020897.html }, and now proceeded on leave with immediate effect.

Perhaps, I have done a great disservice to the multiplicity of events that have unfolded in between, simply because I am not seeking to re-hash what the press has said, but merely to give one a bigger picture about the drug menace, and how it is threatening to engulf the Police Service in a maelstrom of yucky finger-pointing tags of corruption. If you want more information, please go to this link here: http://news.google.com/news?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rls=GGLG%2CGGLG%3A2005-34%2CGGLG%3Aen&tab=wn&q=Ghana+drugs+; and http://www.ghananewstoday.com/gnt_cn_detailb.cfm?tblNewsCatID=51&tblNewsID=1097.

As I pretty much intoned two weeks ago when the popular musician, Daasebre, was caught in London, it’s pretty much time that the sub-region looked more closely at the formulation of an anti-drugs policy. Ghana is now incontestably a transit point for drug smuggling. Incidences of abuse may be low as compared to other countries, but I really do hope that people do not begin to see that stability, or being an "island of peace" is going to operate against the country in the most nefarious manner.

Food for thought: news in this morning from the Chronicle, indicates that "More cocaine arrives - Another £1m worth intercepted at Dabala". Read it: http://www.ghanaian-chronicle.com/thestory.asp?id=11086.

This time, it was a cross-border (ECOWAS) crime. Enough said?

*the section on Liberia was written last week

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Middle East Reminds me of Why the Fight Against Injustice Continues

Ok, so it’s still been a long time. I hope you’ve been doing great. You’ve been visiting the site but not commenting:-( Well, here’s some food for thought.

Tensions in the Middle East have facilitated some free-thinking, as it were, by many including the BBC, which intoned last week that the Iraq War was comparable to that pet topic of mine—the Suez crisis of 1956--where Nasser the nationalist asserted himself at the expense of the interests of his country by simply nationalizing the Suez Canal, which was key for trade for the Brits and the French.

So, this is what the Brits and the French did in order to protect their interests.

For the Brits, "collusion with the two was a way of re-establishing a hold over one of their most prized colonial assets -- the Suez Canal -- that had provided them with considerable economic leverage for many decades since the 1880s. As Stoessinger writes, "to Britain, control of the canal symbolized her status as an empire and as a world power."

For the French, "their justification was predicated on the belief that Nasser was helping fund "the Algerian rebellion against France."

This is how the BBC describes the genesis of the plot:

"Israel was longing to have a go at Nasser anyway because of Palestinian fedayeen attacks and the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran.
The ruse was that Israel would invade Egypt across the Sinai peninsula.
Britain and France would then give an ultimatum to the parties to stop fighting or they would intervene to 'protect' the canal.

And so it played out. The Israelis even had to moderate their attack in case they won before the 'intervention' forces could arrive. But the British and French went in to 'save' the canal.

There was only one thing wrong. Eden had not told the Americans.

From: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5199392.stm

I won’t bore you so much about the Americans except to say that the Americans were not amused. Eisenhower played a rather principled stance; the UN got involved under the aegis of the charismatic Dag Hammarskjold. The first-ever UN force—UN Emergencey Force—was deployed after the UN SG condemned the pusillanimous acts of the tripartite ruse of Israel-Britain-France. Eventually, the UN troops would supervise the gradual withdrawal of the Israelis and monitor the border between Egypt and Israel.

The regrettable and sinister element in the conflict, I wrote, was that "that considerable attention was diverted towards bringing British, France and Israel to heel, to me indicates that whilst the latter three were scattering into the woodpile like rats, the big Russian bear was walking back to its cave scot-free. In the end, the irony of the Suez debacle is that as the noise of the rats ducking for cover reached fever pitch, neither the roar of the Stentorian US nor the strong urges of the UN were able to do anything to help Hungary as it burned"

While the Suez crisis may be all well and good, I am more comfortable looking at how current crisis in the Middle East resonates with that of the Crimean War that ended in 1856, with a Treaty of Paris.

The Crimean war, in sum, saw the demise of the Russians in South East Europe, and secured the definitive demise of the so-called Concert of Europe – a kind of historical prelude to the UN’s Security Council -- that had kept the peace from 1815-1856.

Why that is significant is that it brings home the Russian factor, which I would like to broach very quickly.

I am sure you may re-call that in January, Russia cut supplies to Ukraine in a row over prices. Russia has a monopoly over Gazprom, and in April – in a far departure to the situation during the Crimean war of 150 years ago when the Brits became so Russophobic it was not funny – made explicit its plans to take over British-owned Centrica.

I think you might speculate that the Russians are at their peak, considering how the Blair government is also keen to promote the further opening of its markets. The BBC reported that the UK’s Trade Minister Alan Johnson said "Whatever the difficulties and challenges of globalisation, the answers will not be found in the stagnant waters of protectionism,"

Privatisation versus nationalisation

A lot of people might think that is a true point; I beg to differ. It is interesting, in my view, to note that the nationalisation of Nasser in 1956 runs in serious askance to the privatisation of the UK government over its state-owned Centrica, among many things. Can you, however, imagine that the UK government has been actively pursuing the privatisation of it National Health Service (NHS)?

I can hardly believe how increasingly neoliberal the UK government under Tony Blair is becoming.

More on that later…

What, for me, is symbolic is the progressive forces that I see at work in the world. I find it rather ironic that exactly sixty years after the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, that saw the unleashing of progressive forces and alliances, we find in the same month of July similar progressive forces rejoicing over no less than the collapse of the talks of the World Trade Organisation.

Let’s face it: you cannot talk about the fight against imperial tendencies of, say, the United States over Iraq, without taking a critical and reflective look at the policies of the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank.

Boring, maybe, but suffice to say that those are the quintessential axes of evil.

From a historical perspective, 2006 has been a year when privatisation –both in the domestic and multilateral level – has been high.

The rather technical yet menacing acronym of GATS, or the General Agreement on Trade in Services (http://www.gatswatch.org/) is, in effect, ...

...an international trade agreement that came into effect in 1995 and operates under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The aim of the GATS is to gradually remove all barriers to trade in services. The agreement covers services as diverse as banking, education, healthcare, rubbish collection, tourism or transport.

The idea is to open up these services to international competition, allowing the way for huge, for-profit, multinational firms.

"The GATS is not just something that exists between Governments. It is first and foremost an instrument for the benefit of business"

European Commission, 1999
Since February 2000, negotiations are underway in the WTO to expand and 'fine-tune' the GATS. These negotiations have aroused concern world-wide. A growing number of local governments, trade unions, NGOs, parliaments and developing country governments are criticising the GATS negotiations and call for a halt on the negotiations.

In India, as I write this, India is being asked to open up its legal service for foreigners to compete and many more are sure to come—most probably in camera and without public scrutiny.

The biggest threat around GATS is that it forces a locking-in of privatisation. If a country changes its mind to, say, open up its health sector to the WTO, it would have to compensate ALL of the WTO members. If you are an industrialised country, you might be able to afford it, but it would still cause a heavy strain on your budget and economy, no?

At our conference at the plush South Africa 4* star Cresta Royale Hotel (ironic, no?) the week of 17th July, Pete Hardstaff, Head of Policy at the UK-based World Development Movement argued how privatisation was being pushed very forcefully by Europe.

Whilst there are many on the European continent, one particular one I referred to earlier is that of the privatisation of the UK’s health sector under the NHS. The Socialist Worker, among many papers, has reported extensively on this. For them, it has underscored the neoliberal ideology of Tony Blair.

So alarming has this latest privatisation drive been that, in an attempt to forestall, or counter it, a website has been created to fight it: http://www.keepournhspublic.com/newsroundup.php

Latest reports from today’s press indicate that the American firm (Texas-based!!) that was handed the ₤4bn NHS contract was investigated for overcharging. It has set its sights to take care of purchasing and distributing everything "from bandages to hip implants."

So, in the long run, what are the lessons here for us, small people?

I think that history reminds us of the myopic interests of leaders. Suez was one; Iraq is another. As to whether the parallels drawn can only go to underscore the perfidy, or treachery, of our governments when they decide to go a-filibustering, and particularly when it blows unceremoniously in their face, is moot.

What we, as citizens, might remember is that no matter where we are, no matter our background, the fight for global justice everywhere becomes meaningless unless it is linked with the total disjuncture of global greed—be it at the multilateral level or the governmental one anywhere

Tags: privatisation; Global justice


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