Friday, May 21, 2010

A Paler Shadow of my Blogging Self

Given the frenetic nature of last week, coupled with the equally intense week (of web searches; more web trawls, plus a significant case of m&e on the horizon), I have been seriously driven to distraction in a way I have not been a very long time.

It looks like though nothing will ever surpass the last week, this week, and next, the month of June ought to be a better one for calming the mind to be the best I can be.

Frankly, I have been a paler shadow of myself--and not just in blogging. I need to catch up on reports; report some more; evaluate where I am going on every blessed thing that is important to me, and learn a lot of things more intensely than I had done.

Blogging might be this side of light next week; accept my many apologies!

I seriously will bounce back the first week of June...

Monday, May 17, 2010

As the Week Opens in Accra: What a Time on the "West Coast"!

In my experience, it seems like it is the cognoscenti of the US who like to call the West African sub-region the "West Coast", as if in an attempt to tease out the nostalgia of living in the States.

To cut a long story short, my mind is sure in Ghana, but my heart is...all over the West Coast;-) There are many wonderful facets of West Africa I discovered in the past frenetic eight days which I would not trade for anything.

There's the ability to connect seamlessly with mobile networks like MTN in Cote d'ivoire with my Ghana chip, but not so easily in Nigeria. Working with Zain when we touched down for the plane to re-fuel in Burkina, but how within an hour, Zain was off to be replaced by ORANGE.

Then there's the food; the greenery; the dryness; the reality of being able to get-up-and-go to any of the West African countries with ease, provided you have enough money on you...and the language! Ghana and Nigeria better wake up to the reality of a mostly-francophone West Africa...

Good to be back home, though!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Abuja Spaghetti This Side of Midnight

I know I jump to conclusions too easily at times, so I am going to take a sober approach to this: Abuja rocks!


I am sitting in an internet cafe (homepage set at trying to expatiate aspects of sights and sounds of Abuja and feed them into the mundane activities one gets down to--like having spaghetti.

So, it is true that, like in Ghana, I had to grow a gray beard before my food arrived from the 24hr restaurant here at 3-star Nugget Hotel, but when it arrived, it was the bomb: spaghetti, white sauce, vegetables, and boiled fish (that was very reminiscent of mackerel) lying in some sumptious sauce. Could not be more sated!

Sated, however, is not what I was this afternoon after experiencing--not having--lunch at the so-called luxury Hotel Nicon Luxury. Lunch was a buffet, with the most bland rice and jollof I have ever had. Well not quite "the most", but close enough! Worst of all, there was no fish--and one of the desserts had gone rancid!

The cake for dessert was as dry as a harmattan leaf! What to do? Don't ever confuse the semantics of "luxury" with the real McCoy...

Still, it cannot always be excellent, so cannot really complain as I am still enjoying Abuja.

As a Facebooker Olalade rightly said earlier today:

all of Nigeria is not as prosperous as Abuja and that's why it angers the boys in the Delta that their money has built such a grandiose project as Abuja but they don't have a corresponding city like that in the land where the money comes from

I don't want to get into politics right now, but the post had tremendous resonance with the developments aorund Nigerian politics, especially with the passing of the late Yar'Adua. Whether the former President was an effete individual who spent most of his time ill or not, the guy will go down in history as being instrumental in bringing a degree of closure to the Niger Delta crisis. This is how the Nigerian Compass puts it:

...when you now relate that to President Yar’Adua you would then discover that Nigerians would miss him. He was a fine gentleman and it is even on record that he was the most educated President that Nigeria has ever had. His simplicity, his approach to issues and his life style stood him out from all other leaders that Nigeria has ever had. He saw himself as an ordinary person who found himself in the presidency.

So he never saw anything extraordinary in his position as the president of the country. He had come, he had seen and to some extent , he had conquered but you cannot wish away his contribution to this country. His singular approach to the issue of the Niger-Delta where Obasanjo thought using the military option would solve the problem. What President Yar’Adua has taught us is that jaw jaw against war war can achieve so much. To that extent, I commend him because the relative peace that the Niger-Delta and indeed Nigeria is enjoying today was due to his approach.

So, bottom line is that it is alright to assume quite a bit of things about a country, but it is also alright to take the time to dispel stereotypes by taking the time to work through the narrative of assumptions.

I know Nigeria is far from a perfect place, and being in Ghana, I know Nigerians love the country for its relative and quintessential peace and quiet prosperity, but I think Nigerians have got to love their country more as well.

They have a great future going. Forget the oil. Remember the strong opinions; the strong minds; the regular appearances and contributions the the BBC Worldservice's programmes--especially SPORTSWORLD; the

GLO MOBILE indigenous service, the sharp contrasts...and you got yourself a developing country that is as beautiful as it is paradoxical.

If everything were supposed to be perfect about systems and governments, why on Earth would we now be having an unimaginable coalition exemplified by the strange bedfellows that the Liberal Democrats have become to the Tories.

I don't know, it's all Greek to me!

Hope Floats While I Chill in Abuja Heat

Been in Nigeria for the past two days for an ECOWAS-related conference, and you might think I am in my element.

Not quite.

As much as I praise the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for a number of positive developments in the sub-region (including visa-free travel since the 1980s), I am beginning to think that the

ECOWAS of the States towards the ECOWAS of the People--so-called VISION 2020--might be nothing more than a bunch of well-paid elites working in an European Union-style organisation thinking that grouping journalists and pther civil society activists together will empower people.

I saw this happening back in Brussels (2001-2004), when as a civil society activist working for a Brussels-based NGO, I attended many a CSO meeting organised--and paid--by the European Commission. The co-option by the EC of the CSOs was always lurking on the horizon.

That two CSO people I knew then now work for the European Commission can only attest to this fear of what might happen here at this meeting where ECOWAS is in effect providing good grounds for civil society to be part of the ECOWAS of the people...

Still, despite all the tallk about Nigeria and the attendant fear, I'm enjoying this country: the people are strong-minded (and the country has profound potential! Abuja is one hell of a prosperous city!!)

I like strong minds against the face of apparent hopelessness.

Without hope, we are nothing, dontcha think?

Best get back to the meeting. Lunch period is over...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Yikes, those Malian Bikes! (1)

In every blessed place you go in Bamake, you are most likely to be confronted by bikes. yes confronted, cos when you are so used to seeing cars all the time in a neighbouring country like Ghana, the women and grandmothers on bikes just reinforce the point that you have arrived in a West Afrocan francophone country.

I hear they eat bikes for breakfast! They want to kick me out of the Internet cafe as I do not have sufficient CFA. It is like 1000 for 30 minutes; and it is almost up.

To be continued...

Friday, May 07, 2010

So This is Mali!

Each time I try to type the capital of Mali, a huge pop-up distracts my attention. It is actually forcing me not to write the capital, so that it won't block me. I like the security, though; if only we had this kind of security that warns you not to disclose private details about yourself and where you are, Ghana might be doing better instead of being black-listed!!

Anyways, so here we are: in another West African country for a work-related conference. Just right up my street. I though Accra could do better; but this country could do a whole lot better! As we landed, I saw mostly trees, more trees, and even more trees, with red dirt to boot.

And the traffic...not as bad as Ghana. The country is celebrating its fiftieth this year; so there are quite a number of new constructions taking place. I hope they work on the red dirt; it must needs seriously be tamed!

While Ghana is battling with no less than SIX mobile operators of MTN/Vodafone/Tigo/KASAPA/Zain/up and coming GLO, Mali is battling an abortive battle: the reliability of two mobile operators would be great news had it not been for the fact that one -- the state-owned MALITEL -- is reputed to suck, and the second--ORANGE--could do better in terms of connectivity!

I would have thought ORANGE being a French-based telco would do far better, but alas! Call drops every other call.Within the country, it is fine, but...

Oh, Mali: it is too early to conjure up an impression. Let us see how things go the next couple of days...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Things Done in Accra When You're Dead...

Sometimes, when darkness falls, and the lights go off in parts of Accra, it is as if you're the world.

Even when you have alternative arrangements to obtaining power, the point is not lost on you on the astronomical amounts you expend to get your fridge and other electrical gadgets working through a generator.

Last Friday night at 23h30, the electricity went off our place and the next-door neighbour's. I know because when I went for a walk with Fenix, the houses on the lane--bar ours--had their lights on. A few houses on other lanes on the Estate had the generator running, so we could tell they were off.

That evening, I called the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) on 021.611.611. They call it a hotline, but I would prefer a hotline that's free, thankyou!

Anyways, I got the usual Welcome to the ECG Hotline. Please hold for a service operator.

Within minutes, a young lad was behind the line asking me key questions about the time the electricity went off; the location of the query; and my name. All was explained, and he accordingly commiserated with me, apologising for the electricity having gone off, but they would work "as quickly" as they could to restore it, but they would have to register the case in their database and forward it to an engineer.

Thanks were exchanged and I went off, slightly assured.

I woke up Saturday morning to beads of sweat dripping down my face, for the electricity had not come back.

A quick call much later in the day, around midday, revealed that ECG had dispatched the engineer around 8.30am, and he was doing his rounds.

I was assured "by the end of the day", we would have our power.

The end of the day--read 6, 7, 8, 9 pm--came. There was still no electricity.

A frustrated yours truly called yet again expressing veiled anger and disappointment at the promises offered. Entreaties and commiserations were expressed by the hot line staff, pleading with me to hold on, and that they were working on it "seriously" for us.

"Look," I went on "is it because it has not affected the whole Estate that a good 24 hours, I would have to call to have someone check my electricity? What is going on? Is it because it is a holiday that the workers have also gone on holiday?"

The same supplication-apology-assurance formula followed true to form, and I subsequently calmed down.

The next day, I was at boiling point; if a thermometer had been by me, it might have exploded!

A poor lady got the end of my wrath, expressed through more harsh and stronger words than the above for some fifteen minutes. I eventually calmed down, and thanked her for understanding the urgency of my request, appealing almost to her that almost 36 hours of electricity was totally unacceptable.

An hour or two later, I spotted a van with workmen in blue overalls cruising surreptitiously down the lane. I informed the folks that I suspect ECG were only now attending to the problem.

On a bloody Sunday! And 36 hours later?

We all shrugged, chuckled, and silently hoped that Sunday would be the last night without electricity.

A couple of hours later, the electricity was restored.

I cannot say I had a relaxing Mayday celebration. Frankly, it sucked. There is precious little one can do without electricity.

It truly is like you're the world.


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