Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Taxi Tales: "They are Killing Us!"

It has become an article of my quotidian walking diet to stop by the Spintex Road GOIL filling station to either pick a taxi, or walk home. Depending on my mood, I pick a taxi. Last night was no exception.

There was a slight difference in the usual silence that rings through from the filling station to my house some six minutes away from GOIL. Usually, I am so knackered, I allow myself to converse with my thoughts. Yesterday, the difference was in the mini-conversation I had with the taxi-driver after he said that I would be charged GHC1.20--instead of GHC1.00. He told me that yesterday was "the last day" he would be charging me that rate, which I found interesting, considering I have never seen him around that area before.

Oh well.

He went on to say that "they" were "killing us". I knew exactly whom he was talking about. Generally, he was referring to the government; specifically to the National Petroleum Authority that has, yet again, allowed Ghanaians to suffer and experience the vagaries of the fluctuation of oil prices on the market.

Joy Online, in its report put it this way:

This is the second time petroleum products prices have been adjusted in less than a month and the third since October 2007.

The Public Relations Officer of the NPA Steven Larbie tells Joy Business report that the reviews will no more be done monthly but according to price movements of crude oil on the world market.

What it means is that a gallon of petrol now sells at 4 Ghana cedis 68 pesewas or 46,800 cedis; while a gallon of diesel is 4 Ghana cedis 63 pesewas or 46,350 cedis

Putting these prices into context, you can understand why the consumers will have to pay the taxi-drivers. I have had quite a few tales of these over the past few days--and I really cannot blame them.

What I do think is extortionist is when the taxi-drivers decide, consequently, to offer arbitrary prices, knowing fully well that they are providing us with the service, and so without them, we cannot get to our destination!

Whatever the case may be, it's true, this government is killing the average consumer's disposable income.

That, on top of these high prices, one spends around GHC50.00 to buy the equivalent of electricity that would have taken me (before November 1st) almost three weeks for, now, just under two weeks!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Global ICTs: The Silent Development Revolution

(as appeared in last Sunday's edition of Sunday World:
Global ICTs—The Silent Development Revolution

By E.K.Bensah II


When the American poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron wrote the poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", he perhaps got it right with regard to the development of ICTs in the context of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).


Before 2005, WSIS had assumed an unclear UN process that had little practical connection to development. Now, it is virtually impossible to talk about the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) without talking about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


When world leaders met at the UN in 2000 to draw up the MDGs, one of the goals was to achieve universal primary education. Given that education is, in essence, a passport to one's future and opening up of possibilities for any child, UNESCO has led the way of hosting seminars on Knowledge Societies in the Context of WSIS. For UNESCO, its vision of knowledge societies is based on four principles: freedom of expression; quality education for all; universal access to information and knowledge; and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. UNESCO is far from the only UN agency involved in the WSIS process, but its role as one of the pre-cursors of the WSIS is moot.


Despite the critical involvement of UN agencies, such as FAO and UNDP at WSIS, it is clear for many observers that the Second Phase of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) that took place from 16-18 November in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, was disappointing. It certainly was for civil society organizations (CSOs) who, after an alleged stabbing of a French journalist, were denied by the Tunisian authorities to hold a Citizens Summit on WSIS. For others, however, one of the more concrete things, to have emerged from the whole summit was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-sponsored One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), going for one hundred dollars.


The brainchild of the Professor Nicholas Negroponte of MIT, the lime-green laptop is made of rubber, so that when it closes, it will be sealed to protect it from environments, such as harsh environment in northern Kenya. It can be powered by a retractable crank that can be used to generate 10 minutes of power for every one minute of cranking up the machine.


Negroponte's team turned down Apple's offer to use its operating system, opting instead for a slimmer version that uses a 500MHZ processor and open source software under Linux. It is equipped with a 1GB flash RAM instead of a hard drive, a word processor, email application, and programming system.  


Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it "an impressive technical achievement", adding that "it holds the promise of major advances in economic and social development."


Pressed on why laptops in place of "proper" development, MIT argued that laptops are tools to think with. More specifically, their relatively affordable price of hundred dollars is coupled with how they can be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics.


In October this year, Uruguay bought 100,000 of the machines for schoolchildren aged six to 12, with a view to procuring a further 300,000 for every school-going child in the country by 2009.


Here in Ghana, Finance and Economic Minister Baah-Wiredu announced in the annual reading of the budget that the laptops in question will be introduced to Ghana from next year.


For many observers of the WSIS process, the laptops have constituted not only something concrete coming out of WSIS, but something that can be used to facilitate development. In the long run, WSIS has highlighted the importance of using ICTS to facilitate development, and so rural areas being able to afford to use such ICT tools is moot in getting closer to the Millenium Development Goals of halving poverty by 2015.


The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has piloted studies, for example, where the use of ICT tools, such as mobile phones, has helped farmers in Senegal to obtain prices of goods.


Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General of ITU and of the WSIS Summit, said that "the WSIS was not an end but a beginning." What the Tunis phase did was remind one about the much-talked-about Digital Divide; how to govern the internet, and how to use ICTS for development. Whilst the Digital divide—as evidenced by the chasm between those who have ready and steady access to computers and, by extension, the Internet – very much exists even within countries (such as the rate of using the internet cafes in Accra as compared to the rate in the Northern region, which is three or four times the cost), the use of ICTs for development, for example, is being facilitated by non-governmental agencies like the Accra-based GINKS, which aim to " provide information and Knowledge sharing that will facilitate capacity building for ICTs Products and services"


Other developments are also taking place. One notable one is that of a story in the Ghanaian Times of 1 April 2006, in which it was reported that Accra Girl's Secondary School has become the "first school in Africa to have an electronic learning (e-learning) center to facilitate the adoption of [ICTS] into its academic programmes." The issue of internet governance, however, is a murkier—and more technical affair that merits as much consideration and study as those issues that pre-dominate international development.


Internet Governance, concrete outcomes

The issue of internet governance has assumed similar dimensions characteristic of the North-South divide in, say, the international trading system. If at the WTO, it is the so-called QUAD (comprising Canada, the US, UK, and Japan) that have a major say surrounding the decisions made on the multilateral trading system, so it is that when it comes to the internet, the US is right at the heart of controlling how domain names, for example, are assigned.


A communiqué produced by the European Commission in late April 2006 has argued that this system of control by the US is slowly changing—and that is also thanks to the Tunis Agenda on the Information Society that came out of the WSIS Summit last November.


In the Agenda, paragraph 63, for the first time, recognises that "Countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country's country-code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). Their legitimate interests, as expressed and defined by each country, in diverse ways, regarding decisions affecting their ccTLDs, need to be respected, upheld and addressed via a flexible and improved framework and mechanisms ".


Put simply, this means that unlike before when countries needed the approval of the US Commerce Department before changing, say, to, countries, exercising their sovereign right, can now go ahead and change it—ensuring that the existing non-profit ICANN (Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers) oversees the change through regional registries, such as AfriNic, which helps, as its website maintains, to " provide professional and efficient distribution of Internet number resources to the African Internet community, to support Internet technology usage and development across the continent and strengthen self Internet governance in Africa by encouraging a participative policy development" .


Even the decision to create "", before Tunis, would have meant seeking assent from the US! What this old way of doing things would have meant is that if Ghana were considered not strategic enough a country, the US Department of Commerce cold turn down that domain name.


Some of these technical issues were discussed at the first-ever forum on Internet governance, which the Greek government played host to in October 2006. This year, the second Internet Governance Forum was held in Brazil, where the issues of content regulation; the duty of states to protect freedom of expression online, including the protection of children online; a set of global public policy principles—including, inter alia, an Internet Bill of Rights were discussed.


The future of WSIS

At the UN level, monitoring what WSIS will do to the access to information is a key concern.   Malaysia's Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Jamaludin Jarjis, said last year that "access to information should now be regarded as a utility and basic human right." He adds that conventional development means were no longer adequate in today's economic climate, where knowledge capital was the new currency and the new, raw material."


The UN, at a Geneva meeting, in July 2006, maintained the world body should continue to play a leading role in expanding information and communication technologies to promote development.  The World Summit requested that a UN group on the Information Society ought to coordinate the work of the UN system.


It bears reminding that although the WSIS process seems rather nebulous to many in the sense that linking ICTs to development seems rather tenuous, in the long run, what remains clear is that as long as the Internet and ICTS are with us, so, too, will WSIS. It is a process that remains critical to the MDGs, and like most revolutions, its legacy for posterity can only be for the betterment of society.


Emmanuel.K.Bensah is Ag. President of Ghanaian Association of Journalists in ICT (GHAJICT) (

Monday, November 19, 2007

Presidential Convoy Accident: Matters / Questions Arising

With arms akimbo, these two ladies look at the scene of the accident of the President last week. It's great that the President is alive and well--especially for his age--and going round his normal business. One question that has only been asked in the confines of the family home has been this: what was the president of the nation doing going to work at around 11am, when most workers were at work two-three hours earlier?

It's not that I won't sleep if I don't get an answer, but in the same manner that it is serving as a wake-up call on many fronts, especially road safety, it should also serve as an urgent reminder to get to work earlier--no?

Ofcourse I make light of a serious issue, but let's face it: he's alive, and we must needs move on with pushing our leader on accountability on all fronts--including why Ghanaian citizens were able to get so close to no less than the "first gentleman" as to lift him from the car? Where were the security detail?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ghana President in Accident...Some 20 Minutes Later... in Pictures

Traffic on the 37 military road


A crowd


A police tow van


a police officer directing traffic

A crowd is able to congregate round a green light, against the backdrop of what looks like heavy traffic

Something's certainly caught the crowd's attention

This is the perfect scene for comment. Some twenty-five minutes before I arrived here from a work-related press conference to see this scene--and take a picture of it--my Mum called me to ask me whether I had heard the news about no less than the President of Ghana John Kufuor being involved in a near-fatal car crash that involved the car somersaulting THREE times, after a car, travelling at top speed hit it.

Here is how Reuters reported it:

Ghanaian President Kufuor involved in car accident - witnesses

Wed 14 Nov 2007, 13:34 GMT
[-] Text [+]

ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghanaian President John Kufuor, chairman of the African Union, escaped unhurt when a car crashed into his vehicle on Wednesday, rolling it over several times, officials and witnesses said.

Presidential Press Secretary Andy Awuni said Kufuor appeared healthy and composed but was undergoing medical checks in the presidential palace to ensure he was not at risk.

Witnesses said a red car coming from the opposite direction struck the president's vehicle at a major intersection near the Kotoka International Airport in the capital Accra.

"The car finally rested on the sidewalk and the people around helped his security men to pull him out. The president came out holding his head," James Kobinah, an electrician working nearby, told Reuters.

Awuni said police were investigating the cause of the accident and would question the driver of the red car, who was being treated in hospital. Some other people involved in the accident were also receiving medical attention.

"The picture is not very clear about the accident," Awuni said. "It's a bit strange for the car to run into his car directly."

© Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved

This is how Ghana's Joy FM reported it:

President Kufuor escapes unhurt after his car was rammed late morning Wednesday while on his way to his office.

President Kufuor is reported to be in good health and already back in his seat at the Castle, Osu, after he escaped unhurt in a late morning accident on Wednesday.

A man yet to be identified is said to have driven a Benz saloon car straight into that of the President at the Opeibea Intersection on the Airport – 37 Military Hospital road.

President Kufuor was said to be on his way to his office.

According to Mr. Andrew Awuni, Press Secretary to the President, those who were injured, including the President’s driver, have been moved to the 37 Military Hospital for medical check-up.

“But the President is doing well. He is right in his seat here at the Castle,” Awuni assured.

Awuni, who described the accident as a strange one, said only two cars were involved but added it was not clear how many people may have been involved. He could also not tell the whereabouts of the driver of the other vehicle and suggested he might be at the hospital or with the President’s security detail.

Explaining why the accident appeared strange, he said usually outriders would be fending off all junctions, which they did, “nevertheless this car came and just ran into the President’s car and of course nobody expects to see an accident so sometimes you don’t get to see how it happens.”

News filtering from the rumour mill as I walked round to take pictures was that the driver was a Lebanese man. The taxi driver who brought me to the office speculated about how problematic it would have been if it had been a Ghanaian that crashed into the presidential convoy!!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Taxi Tales: Of Demolition Men...

It began yesterday with what would prove to be a discerning afternoon, replete with dramatic and cascading scenes of pockets of crowds congregating in clusters of emotion, awe, surprise and resignation as men fron Accra Metropolitan Assembly, in collaboration with Zoom Lion--all clad in reflective attire--started demolishing structures, kiosks and whatnot.

All this was happening in a messy atmosphere of smoke, emanating from the furious fire of burning wood and metal.

It truly was a sight to behold.

The helplessness of those whose kiosks were being destroyed was palpable. The glimmer of hope in their eyes for a daily income must have died there and then.

But this was to be expected--for in the past few weeks, the AMA has undertaken a clean-up exercise of Accra--to rid the capital of filth before 15 countries descend into the country in January 2008 for the Cup of African Nations, to be hosted in Ghana.

Either way, the taxi driver who brought me back to the office was ambivalent. He felt that Ghanaians are too stubborn for their own good and that, whilst the situation was sad, the "squatters" had been informed as recently as a six months to a year ago.

"We Ghanaians, we are too stubborn!" he added as he fropped me off, taking my fee.

Could't agree more!!

Friday, November 02, 2007

As the Week Draws to a Close in Accra…There’s Something Good on TV Africa; DSTV Has a Run for its Money, Whilst GBS Enters Ghana

Akumba Ben is a typical example of an erudite man who carries a quiet confidence. A man with the ability to ask surprise questions, possibly think on his feet. Akumba Ben is the man interviewing all the Presidential aspirants—a good nineteen of them—from the incumbent NPP administration, as well as from the CPP on the Tuesday programme "I want to be President" on TV Africa.

To each candidate, he brings questions—some general, a few, more specific—that get right to the heart of what type of policy the aspirant wants to bring to being a President of Ghana. After thirty minutes of interviewing, the small audience, comprising usually journalists and the like, ask their prepared questions based on what they know or what they have heard of the aspirant at the studios.

These days, there’s something certainly good on TV Africa. Thankfully, it’s not just on Tuesday nights.

Saturday nights are a to-die-for: the highly-acclaimed "Prison Break" is on. It started some six weeks ago, and is riveting stuff. I sent a txt msg to a Ghanaian friend living in Canada the first Saturday I watched it exclaiming it was hit stuff. She got back to me recently explaining that in Canada, they’re in Season Three! Two years is not too behind if you consider how challenged the station was in terms of programmes.

That last two Thursday’s edition of "Graphic Showbiz" had one comment praising the station, as well as a celebration of where TV Africa is going these days underscores the validity and appeal of this growing popularity towards a station that projects itself as promoting "African values".

There’s a refrain on the station that often precedes programmes of African origin: "They ask. Always they ask. What is the story of Africa?"

Therein, in fact, lies a small paradox.

For with a station that purports to promote African values, the values of 24, and "Prison Break" are seriously inimical to the putative African values!

In the long run, it’s all about balance.

Since you cannot have too much of a good thing, then it stands to reason that you cannot have too much African stuff on TV Africa!

DSTV Here Today, Gone…When?

There's a new satellite service provider in town, and I'm sure DSTV isn't too happy, even if it's enjoying its current monopoly like no-one's business. I heard on the radio yesterday that it's slashed its prices to GHC139 (US150) as start-up for its decoder, satellite and whatnot.

Meanwhile Gateway Broadcasting Services--owned by a Brit, Julian McIntyre, -- has been on the African continent for the past six months, and in Ghana for almost a month. It really has been giving people's TVs a new life!;-)

It has fifteen channels, and is aiming to get a "G-Africa" by the end of the year, where it will show African movies only. I am happy to see that 2006-launched NBC hit HEROES, which started airing on the UK's terrestrial station BBC2 only this year is in its 13th episode on G-Prime, which is the major channel by GBS that features movies--both classics (as in popular 80s and 90s films) and otherwise.

Having been brought up to be awakened to the sensitivities of the underdog--whether putative or not--I am happy to say that though there remain some serious catching up by GBS over DSTV, I for one am not going to run to DSTV any time soon!

Enjoy the weekend!!


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