Monday, March 30, 2009

Taxi Tales: Of Men & Moral Ambiguities

The moral ambiguity that comes with not asking questions in a situation where the wrong thing is clearly being done is an article of the average Ghanaian's application of the law.

From tro-tros using the shoulder in traffic, to using illegal routes on the Tema motorway, you would be hard-pressed finding a Ghanaian who has not over-looked wrong-doing.

I am no exception!

Last Friday evening, I joined three others in a shared taxi to the Spintex Road--except that it was not a taxi. This taxi was a private-registered car, meaning that it had white number plates. This is one of the the beauties of commuting in Ghana--knowing how to identify either a private or commercial (yellow plate) car. I must confess that the car was rather comfortable, which is atypical to the usually-shared taxi that plies the Tema/Fridays/Baatsona route every day!

I, like the other three, said nothing because we all wanted to get home on time. We didn't call him--he did.

How could we have refused an offer like that?

And so the ambiguity continues...

Monday, March 23, 2009

As the Week Opens in Accra: Raining on Vodafone Ghana (ONETOUCH)'s Parade;

Offlate, blogging has been poor. I used to apologise for that. These days, no more, for being a blogger means being a real person--and real life does get in the way. So let me just apologise just this once--just for good measure: my many apologies!;-)

On a very serious note, a number of issues have preoccupied me -no end. Let's start with our communications industry.

Poor Vodafone Ghana Lines

I don't know about you, but I have noticed that ever since Vodafone Ghana became entrenched in the country, its lines have been very poor. Last week, around 1.00am just as I was pretending to finish off some important reading, I got a text message that I can get discounts on 1,2,5,10,20 ghana cedi credit.

As if anyone buys 10,20 ghana cedi ONETOUCH credit! Heard of the global credit crunch by any chance?

I shrugged, cancelled the text, and promptly went to sleep--not without ruminating over some Vodafone Ghana experiences the previous week. The first involved calling a Facebook Belgian friend, who was unable to hear me when I spoke with her on my ONETOUCH line, but could hear better on the MTN number. Ditto with BBC World Have Your Say on Madagascar, when I texted the BBC to have them call me (standard procedure) to make some noise about the usual regional integration stuff. I podcasted myself--as it were--by recording the piece on my digital recorder. I was appalled with the playback: a good part of it was inaudible, with the line breaking at intervals of thirty seconds. Thank you Vodafone Ghana! You came into the country to do what, exactly?? The erstwhile ONETOUCH was so much better!

I hate to say this, but off-late, the execrable-performing MTN has been performing less badly than ONETOUCH!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being...ECOWAS-ian & Fighting Crime in ECOWAS/AU Member States

I heard Head of Research, Conflict Prevention Management and Resolution Department (CPMRD) at KAIPTC Dr.Kwesi Ening on Metro TV yesterday talking about drugs, standing behind a podium at British Council against the backdrop of the logo of UNODC.

It was profoundly coincidental he should have been giving that talk, as only last week Thursday, I spent the better half of my lunchtime just perusing, googling, and reading material around crime prevention in AU countries. Specifically, I had been reading one of UNODC’s report on drugs (Eighteenth Meeting of Heads of National Law Enforcement Agencies, which was held in Yamoussoukro from 8-12 September ).

I also read a presentation by one Juliet Ibekaku—a legal expert—who touched on, inter alia, “Trends in illicit drug trafficking in West Africa; “regional trends in the combating of corruption money-laundering and terrorist financing”; “current regional strategies”; “challenges of fighting organized crime in West Africa”.

I was both enlightened and amazed by the material I had at my disposal. Enlightened, because as a great proponent of ECOWAS, and its free movement, I always knew at the back of my mind that open borders were always going to come with challenges of crime, in the sense that policy-makers wanted to ensure that West Africans could move up and down the sub-region freely, but this would necessarily be compromised by those who would exploit it. This would not—and should not—mean that they would stop the integration process, surely?

If they were not, then it meant that drugs would be freely moving within the sub-region—as explained in the report—and therefore ECOWAS would find itself wanting with needing to deal with the challenges of effectively policing ECOWAS without hindering free movement of peoples. That corruption was an element in the astronomical rise of drug trafficking was not really new, but what was was the fact that after all these years since the protocol was established in the late seventies, the Community had not yet considered the establishment of an ECOWAS FBI!
Back in 2001/2002, there had been some talk of a Criminal Intelligence Bureau that would be akin to an ECOWAS police force.

As you might expect, that has failed to materialize. Some web trawling revealed that the West African Police Chiefs Committee Organisation (WAPCCO) comes close to this; I would say it presumes to! Note that WAPCCO is more aligned to the international

police organization INTERPOL, and so it would never be the same thing as it being an ECOWAS organ. It is equally fantastic to read that there is an ECOWAS organ—the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money-Laundering (—that deals with white-collar crime. Their website is updated regularly, and they’re based in Senegal.

The irony of all this pussy-footing, in my view, is that ECOWAS’s conflict resolution imperative (in Liberia/Sierra Leone in the nineties, with ECOMOG) is very sound. The Kofi Annan IT Peacekeeping Training Centre here in Accra is a testament to ensuring that ECOWAS’s attempts at conflict prevention and resolution is “regionalized”, by having Nigeria and Mali host similar peace-training institutions. This begs the question: if we can do it for peacekeeping, what are we waiting for on an effective law enforcement mechanism for ECOWAS?

The Europeans established EUROPOL the very moment the Treaty of Maastricht was established. Why did AU member states not equally view law enforcement as an important element in the facilitation of regional integration?

I was very happy to read at the beginning of this week that the UN and the AU have launched a joint initiative to support an AU plan to fight drug trafficking and related crimes over the next five years.. I am also deeply encouraged that the AU has a “Plan of Action on Drug Control and Crime Prevention (2007-2012)”.

In the long run, these protocols are great, and it’s nice to know that ECOWAS is strong on peacekeeping and peace enforcement, but I would rather hope to see not just ECOWAS disposing of a Criminal Intelligence Bureau , but ALL regional economic communities—starting with the more formidable AU!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Introducing...the AU Citizen Blog!

If there is one thing I admire about tehe Europeans, it is their sense of "european-ness". Sure, people feel nationalistic, but the Fortress Europe has ensured that the European project has been pretty much drummed in. I can say rather safely that generally, Europeans feel proud about their EU.

Africans on the other hand are stumbling; they don't seem to be united, or even always agree to disagree so easily. I don't blame them so much, but I do think the policy-makers will not change if we citizens do not force them to. Technological platforms have created no excuse whatsoever to propoagate the African message and the African personality.

If those at the top will not do it, I believe it behooves you, me, everybody to do their part.

To that end, I set up the "I am an African Union(AU) Citizen" blog--a project that had been one year in the making--to project not just African values (as enshrined in the AU constitutive Act or the AU's Peace and Security Council), but what I call the "AU-frican" personality.

Furthermore, I will use it as a platform to encourage discussions on what the African Union is doing all over the continent--be it peace & security or on crime prevention and drugs.

Long live ECOWAS, love live Africa, long live the AU!

Access the blog

Monday, March 09, 2009

What Lies Beneath the Ghana-man...Anyone for Fresh air?

You can tell a lot about Ghanaians on the road.

Anytime it rains, the weather becomes naturally cool--yet you will get any number of drivers--mostly private--with their windows rolled up. For God's sake, with cool air flowing, why does one need air-conditioning in the car?

We did not the venerable BBC making programmes about the impact of the credit crunch on Africa to know that we all have to tighten our belt.

Sometimes I wonder whether what causes this is paucity of the mind -- or sheer irresponsibility by my fellomen...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Technology to Die (Hard) Fo(u)r!

It’s difficult to start philosophizing about every movie Hollywood has made, but without a doubt, in the same way that the September 11 focus has driven a number of films after 2001, it is safe to say that so does technology regularly drive many a film from Tinseltown.

The latest one, in my review of the representation of technology on both the big and small screen, is that of the 2007 blockbuster summer hit with Bruce Willis. The role of the ordinary but affable New York cop John Mclean (with the inimitable style) is reprised by Willis, which character is asked to pick up a computer hacker and deliver him to authorities. For those who have not yet made time to see the film, the bulk of the action begins after the scene when Mclean goes to the hacker’s abode--only to have gargantuan gun-toting criminals, including a strange Spider-Man character who is able to get from the street to the hacker’s apartment in minutes by jumping acrobatically over railings, shoot his apartment down. I believe the essence of the film comes out here, for we get to find out why these criminals want the hacker dead.

With the basis set, the rest of the film follows the narrative, whilst continuing to provoke the viewer into wondering what would really happen if techno-criminals ever got to shut down the electricity grid of a whole country, cause traffic jams; and make away with astronomical sums of money, while prosecuting a murderous agenda of killing their team and all those who might stand in their way.

So, slowly and surely, the plot is broken down for us. “Die Hard Four” is in essence about how Thomas Gabriel, an aggrieved technophile who also happens to be an ex-employee of the United States Department of Defense, “amasses” a bunch of ill-intentioned and equally-experienced technophiles (including hackers) to shut down the information systems (including satellites) of the US. His motive stems from a huge grudge held against his former employers who failed to take him seriously when he warned them that terrorists were capable of bringing the country to a halt by hacking satellite and ICT systems—and he shut down parts of the country using his laptop! No-one listened to him, despite the fact that a facility in the outskirts of the capital that would download the country’s whole financial information into a database was built by this same Gabriel. It would turn out that Gabriel would use this as his base to prosecute his agenda. Ofcourse Maclean had to stop him—not without dodging a fighter plane, which communication’s system Gabriel’s aide was able to hack into.

So, this is Hollywood, and by all means, most of it is over the top.

Technology to Die For!
When we look a bit more closely, there is clearly something going on—and in my view, it’s about how technology can both look at us and kill us in foul sweep. We might feel like complaining every now and then when our broadband/dial-up internet connection goes off for the umpteenth time, or when the electricity provision is as sporadic as the disco lights in a night club. Truth is we might be better off this way after all. Cast your mind back to ideas or memories of how public services work so seamlessly in the West, and think for a second about their digitally-exuberant society where almost everyone is so wired that even authorities think about wiring the underground.

Now, imagine that reality here in Ghana, where regulation is normally this side of ineffectual, and we might just have a perfect storm of chaos in our hands. Let’s not even yet talk about our humble National Disaster Managament Organisation(NADMO) being equipped with ICT tools to manage disaster efficiently in the same way that the UN and multilateral organizations pledged never to have a repeat of the tsunami of December 2006 off the coast of Southeast Asia by establishing early warning systems (EWS).

Let’s talk instead about the coping mechanisms that would exist in the event of a breakdown of Ghana’s information systems. Let’s also think a bit about what the regulator—the National Communication Authority—as the first port of call could do in informing its consumers about the necessity of extolling the virtues of a sound Ghanaian information society, whilst remembering that these same consumers ought to be responsible in the utilization of the increasingly wired society. So it should be that using ICT systems responsibly should be part and parcel of any agenda that the NCA has for us. Examples could include using our mobile phones *responsibly* when (driving) in the car or walking in the street; or the health effects of sitting for too long in front of the computer.

At this point, it seems we might have reached a supreme case of bathos, having climbed down from the bombastic action film of Die Hard Four to the almost mundane usage of our mobile phones in the car. At the end of the day, what separates the latter two is the usage of technology, and the lessons therein.

For me, the film asks very well how reliable a wired world is; but more importantly, how on Earth do we find the balance between a technologically-driven world and the analogue one, whilst contemporaneously using technology to enhance our lives without going overboard? Finally, it is also a commentary on the human condition and its relationship with technology: where the antagonist used his technological skills to create destruction, the protagonist’s sidekick (Maclean’s hacker) used it for good by restoring the destroyed information systems.

If that isn’t food for thought to die hard for, I don’t know what is!

(c)Sunday World (


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