Tuesday, December 20, 2011

MERRY CHRISTMAS and a PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR

To paraphrase the legendary Mark Twain, reports of my blog's death have been greatly exaggerated!

This blog--whether it is Trials & Tribulations of a Freshly-Arrived Denizen...of Ghana; Accra Pictures by Day & Night; or Critiquing Regionalism; et al--are very much alive. The silence is attributed to the usual end-of-year pandemonium and cacophony.

No doubt, they shall all be back in full swing in 2012!

Suffice-to-say, as the sun sets on 2011, I sincerely hope however and whichever way you arrived at this blog entry, you'll be touched by the spirit of Christmas and goodness in the air and make sure you and your family HAVE YOURSELVES a great and scintillating Christmas break.

May it sound, peaceful and stress-free!

Have a supremely enjoyable and wonderful Christmas -- till we meet again in January 2012!;-D

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mid-Week Madness:Making ECOBANK Work for the People!

As Africa Trade Ministers meet in Accra between for the 7th Ordinary Session from 29th Dec-3rd Dec, 2011, one of the recommendations they have made in their "ACTION PLAN FOR BOOSTING INTRA‐AFRICAN TRADE" is for banks like ECOBANK to do better in supporting intra-African trade. In paragraph 25, they write: "Given the greater perceived risks of intra‐ African trade, the credit squeeze has tended to be more for such trade. This calls for more efforts in the development and strengthening of African financial institutions and mechanisms that accord high priority to the promotion of intra‐African trade and investment. There are currently some examples of African institutions whose activities need to be strengthened and replicated for the boosting of intra‐African trade. They include the COMESA PTA Bank, ECOBANK, the East African Development Bank, the African Export and Import Bank (AFREXIM), and the African Trade Insurance Agency(ATI)"

We know as ECOBANK users that ECOBANK has far from lived up ideally to the name of the "Pan-African Bank" when it comes to the way it deals with its customers. Frequent ATM problems across the continent, including a lack of appreciation of the genesis of ECOBANK, means that we currently have an ECOBANK that is not delivering adequately to the little man in Africa.

ECOBANK remains the only bank on the continent that is backed explicitly by a regional economic community (ECOWAS). It therefore behooves it to go beyond the profit-motive and deliver more responsibly and efficiently to its customers all over Africa, with a special focus on facilitating banking for the African customer. If it is true that ECOWAS has a vision that by 2020, it should ensure a safe and sustainable West Africa, then it behooves it equally to monitor ECOBANK to deliver more adequately to its customers than it currently does.

This group seeks not just to complain about the ECOBANK group, but to facilitate a discussion about how we as citizens can bring pressure to bear on ECOBANK to live up to its claim of being a Pan-African bank by being more transparent and efficient in the way it delivers to customers.

Kindly join me as we collectively put pressure to create a people-centred ECOBANK working for intra-African trade and the dream of an Africa where financial transactions are easily made. Thank you!


Join the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ecobankgroupWatch/

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You Wouldn't Think the Day Has Claimed...5 Lives because of Torrential Rain!



I woke up this morning around 5.30am to the news on one of Ghana's leading private, English radio stations -- CITI 97.3 fm -- that people coming from Central region into the capital Accra were stuck because water from a bridge around the area had caused significant damage, and made roads impassable. Then came more news that people were "missing". When I heard no less than the managing-director of CITI-fm Mr.Samuel Attah-Mensa giving updates, replacing the usual religious slot at that time, I knew this must be a serious matter. I want to first begin by saying "kudos" to CITI-fm's Richard Sky (apparently up at 1am monitoring the impacts of the rains), Bernard Avle, and the MD, and the collective effort for informing us on the rains so early.

Without a doubt, other radio stations have been doing a yeoman's job of reporting the floods.

I want to use today's entry to pay tribute to all those working hard, including Ghana's National Disaster Management Organisation, to ensure that lives are saved and a sense of normality is reached for citizens of Accra. In the meantime, let me leave you with pictures I culled from news websites in Ghana. I was unable to capture my own pictures as I am blessed to live, and have woken up in an area where the water drainage is considerably better-structured.





  
Ghana is no stranger to torrential rain, but one of this magnitude in October is odd. On my accradailyphoto blog, you can view other posts dealing with impacts of rain. Check the link out here: http://accradailyphoto.blogspot.com/search/label/ghana%20rain

If you're in Ghana, and need help from National A Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO), kindly call these numbers:  
0302.772926, 0302.780541, 0202.019090, 0289.554160, 0299.350030

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A (Female) Co-Blogger was Physically-Assaulted this Morning...please Help!

A good friend and blogger Golda Addo was (unnecessarily) assaulted in traffic this morning. I am copying and pasting this in her own words. Please see below. Spread the word on this. Thanks!

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: golda addo <gnaaddo AT yahoo.com>
Date: 2011/10/20
Subject: [GhanaBlogging] Assault this morning
To: Ghana Blogging <ghanablogging AT googlegroups.com>


This morning, at about 7.38 am, I was physically assaulted in my car, on the Mallam-Weija Highway by a man of about mid-thirties, about 5'11 tall, toughly built ... dressed in balck office shirt and tucked into black denim trousers, black belt, black office shoes, holding a black briefcase. I did not see his face very well though. It all happened in under 1 minute.
 
I was sending my son to school, and you all might know that there is major construction going on in that part of town (the highway).
Traffic was moving in short, fast spurts and normally, traffic wardens stop the vehicles to permit masses of people to cross at points in time.
 
This man was standing WITH  a large mass of people all in SAME spot, and we were moving at about 30kmp/h, when just about 10 metres before I got to him, he dashed across my car. Nobody else made any move to cross.
Needless to say, I had to stop abruptly. He had looked at me before dashing across, and had expected me to have screeched to a halt, so took his time. By the time he realised that 10 metres was too short for this to be a safe calculation, he was left with no choice, but to hop and leap .... into the middle of the road, where the cars to my left were also passing by without stopping.
 
He was trapped in the middle, I has made a sharp brake, the car behind me was blowing his horn like crazy, and next thing I knew, this man swings in my direction and flies his hand in through my half-open window and strikes my face with what seemed like all his might! His parting words were "You fool!"
 
I was instantly down, my head was on the steering wheel, my son burst into tears in the back seat, and my face hurt like crazy. I could not see anything and there was blood in my mouth. The man was nowhere to be found, and cars just kept passing me by, especially the ones behind me who saw it all. Several passersby chased after the man though, and tried to catch him, but he was already over the other 4 lanes of the highway and in the tro-tro huddle.
 
I had to move off the road and park, but for 5 minutes I was unable to do this because my right eye was fairly swollen, and both eyes were tearing up. My mouth was like "tsofi" and bleeding. Cars honking like mad behind me, and my son wailing .... the passersby talkgin me through it all.
 
I decided to leave it be, and drive on slowly .... I did have to get my son to school on time after all.
 
The police team (of 4) standing about 20 metres fro the scene did not notice any of these in all the 5 minutes it happened, nor the traffic jam it caused.
 
I feel so safe in this country. This is not my first time of facing abuse and harrasmment as a woman, a woman who drives, and a woman who is perceived as successful and independent in this country ... from men. But this is my first physical abuse.
 
If anyone can spread this message, I will appreciate it. If you know of any friend, co-worker, acquaintance who fits this bill for today, was in the Mallam area this morning, seems a bit out of sorts this morning, etc ... find out  for me. If you can, pass this on. If you know anyone on the social platforms .... do share to them. I'd like to meet this man and ask him why he did this, and if it felt good ... striking a woman in the face, and leaving her and her son in tears.
 
Thannk you all. My number is 0244 82 83 22
 
Golda.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Accra, Dakar, Bamako – or Steps to Make Travelling in ECOWAS Less Stressful

Real life regularly happens to us, taking us from our beloved blogging. Since my last entry, a LOT of real life has happened. The following is an article that's to appear in the Wednesday 19 October 2011's edition of Business and Financial Times newspaper under my column "Accidental Ecowas and AU citizen".

-------------



“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:

Accra, Dakar, Bamako – or Steps to Make Travelling in ECOWAS Less Stressful

By E.K.Bensah Jr

Last two weeks, I had the priviledge of going to the Senegalese capital of Dakar for a work-related conference, and I came back home  to Accra even more frustrated than ever as to why travelling throughout the sub-region should be as chaotic and frustrating as it is. 

As you may well know by now, the cornerstone of any serious sense of regional integration ought to be the power to freely move from one country to another. Given that ECOWAS has been around for more than three decades, one would have expected that there be a certain and acceptable level of standard at the airports. Sadly, as some of you may well know, there is not.

Where’s the wireless?
First, while there is wireless in Accra, I don’t believe there are so many hotspots at Kotoka International Airport the way there are at Senghor International Airport. As soon as one touches down in Dakar, if you have a smartphone, you are likely to see some five or six hotspots show up on your mobile phone. Bamako Senou had three, but none of them were accessible without a password, and when one enquired to obtain access, no-one seemed to know. If you are likely to be stuck at the airport for whatever inexplicable reason, at least, one needs a degree of sanity through access to the internet on one’s phone or laptop. Senou just did not seem to measure up.


Where’s the network?
While it was possible to use my MTN number to contact friends and family during a stopover at Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, same could not be said at Bamako or Dakar. This is simply because the French-backed ORANGE – instead of the South-African MTN – is widely used in most francophone West African countries. Forget AIRTEL. That network is not used in any of the aforementioned countries. TIGO and EXPRESSO, found in Ghana, are used in Dakar. I don’t know for EXPRESSO, but when I enquired about using my TIGO number in Dakar, I was told I had to deposit minimum of 150GHC as security before I am able to use the network in that country. When I asked one of the hotel workers, however, he said that in Dakar, you merely pay 2000CFA, or equivalent of 6GHC before being able to “roam” with your number!!

Where are the English magazines?
So we know how attached the French are to their language and the propagation of their literature, but this takes the biscuit. In Ghana, you will find both English and French magazines on sale; conversely in Dakar and Bamako, there were only francophone newspapers and magazine. Bamako had the exception of selling “Africa Report”, but both at Dakar airport and at a supermarket in Senegal’s capital city, one could not find a single English-speaking magazine. How is that supposed to engender regional cooperation and understanding among the francophone and Anglophone member states?



Where’s the West African carrier?
In the ECOWAS sub-region, there is regrettably no “Air ECOWAS”; instead, there is the Togo-based “ASKY”, managed by Ethiopian Airlines and which has backing from ECOBANK; ECOWAS; UEMOA; among many other stakeholders, lending itself the image of being ECOWAS’ “de facto” carrier. Never mind that the name is deceptive or the fact that the cost of air tickets at ASKY are high, it does not even yet cover all of West Africa! There is AIR SENEGAL and AIR MALI, but the conspicuous absence of Ghana Airways leaves a bitter taste in the Ghanaian mouth.

In the light of all these major complaints, here are some ways in which ECOWAS, as a sub-regional organisation, can deal with these challenges:


 
First, ECOWAS ought to establish a standard for its airports, which include hotspots, accessible wireless, and fully-working air-conditioners in all parts of an ECOWAS member state airport


Secondly, the Nigeria-based West African Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly, which is an association of telecommunications regulators in West Africa, ought to sign an Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) between itself and ECOWAS so that it can create a standardized telecom operator throughout the sub-region, so that the traveler does not waste resources on SIM Cards. While it is very encouraging to read that in 2010, WATRA  sought to lower call tariffs across West Africa and called for a common ICT operating platform in West Africa, much remains to be done with ECOWAS to ensure that travelling and calling in West Africa are as seamless as elsewhere in the West.


Finally, ECOWAS should join the Association of African Airlines(AFRAA) to ensure that the plan for joint fuel purchase is effectuated so that the cost of travelling in the sub-region is brought down considerably. These may be pie-in-the-sky ruminations, but in West Africa – as in the whole of Africa, hope springs eternal!


In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" (http://www.critiquing-regionalism.org). Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on ekbensah@ekbensah.net / Mobile: 0268.687.653.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What I told "Daily Graphic" about Combatting Road Indiscipline


1Over the weekend, Daily Graphic journalist Samuel K Obour (https://www.facebook.com/skobour) contacted me to seek my opinions for the "forum" section of Saturday's "GRAPHIC". Here are what you're likely to see.


    What are your views on the spate of road accidents in the country?

I think it’s frankly criminal that Ghana is becoming known as an accident-prone country, especially when we have a National Road Safety Commission that is supposed to advocate for discipline on the roads. We complain about potholes till the cows come home, yet as soon as they get repaired, we abuse the smooth roads and kill ourselves. Is that not a reflection of our indiscipline? Couple this with the continuous use of BENZ 207s, which happen to be owned by private citizens, by tro-tro drivers and we have a situation where the private owners of these vehicles appear more interested in the bottom line at the end of the day, than the service they provide for passengers.

2.    Would you say the high spate of road accidents is bad for our country's image?
Absolutely. I do not think any one can understand a situation where people complain about the potholes, but then are killed when the roads are good. It says to people that we are terribly unserious and that our institutions are also not working the way they should. This is unfortunate because I have interacted a number of occasions with the NRSC and they do do good work. Sadly, I think they have not yet capitalized on the social media experience to reach out to people – especially the youth who are increasingly getting onto the roads at younger ages, and are “accident-averse “. 

3.    What do you think are the causes of road accidents in the country?
If I were to enumerate them, the number one cause would be road indiscipline, especially by tro-tro drivers and commercial drivers. 

I don’t want to make the mistake of casting the net writ large and accusing all commercial drivers of being illiterate, because I have even met a few graduates in these capacities, but I do want to say that most of them are semi-illiterate. This does not help because it means that they are unable to understand road signs in the way that literate people would do. They are also unlikely to understand the reasons behind certain signs, or who has right of way, that kind of thing. So, my second point would be road safety illiteracy. 

Third, poor communication by NRSC. As the frontline agency promoting road safety, its efforts are at best minimalist. It needs to do more outreach, especially to the youth who are likely to be more reckless than people of my parent’s generation. Let’s be frank: anyone can drive a car, but not everyone can understand that you don’t overtake when there are double-lines, or that a curve is the most dangerous place to overtake. The youth and young-at-heart are likely to take foolish and stupid risks, which if the NRSC preempted, could target effectively.  The NRSC needs to get serious on New Media (FB/twitter) and make toll-free numbers for ALL networks—not just for Expresso, MTN and one or two. 

As for the TEMA motorway, the government must get serious on using targeted communication to users of that motorway, and fix back the phone booths that the visionary Kwame Nkrumah established when the motorway was built. Even if mobile phones are de rigeur, there is no reason one cannot complement these booths with the promotion of excellent network coverage for subscribers to be able to call emergency numbers 24/7.

4.    What should be done to tackle the road accident menace?
Pls see above!

5.    Your conclusion
Pls see above, but also: TV3 / Metro TV/ Net2 and all our TV and radio stations should set up MMS services so that people can send pictures freely and easily to their servers, which can relayt these to the police. The police, for example, had a twitter account on @ghanapolice. Since March, it has not been working. If it did work, those on social media could send pictures to those working on the GHANA POLICE twitter account.

In short, Ghana Police should act both as a SERVICE and a FORCE to ensure that they establish links with agencies like the NRSC to give us a sustainable and healthy Ghana we so long for.

Friday, September 02, 2011

As the Week Draws to a Close in Accra: Of Politics & CITI97.3Fm's destination of choice in the "Write-Away" contest

For the past week, I have been struggling very hard to remember what has happened during the week -- and all I can think of is politics, more politics, and even more politics. Sometimes I wonder whether Ghana will ever change this predilection and grow up.

Truth be told, it is growing up: Ghana has become more discerning. At least, some of the media has. I continue to commend the English-speaking private radio stations like Joy FM and CITI97.3fm, who consistently offer a good mix of politics with "development-related" issues. But it can certainly be more.

This week, CITI fm has focused a lot of their discussions on education. It is what Citi Breakfast Show host Bernard Avle called the station's "pet" topic. I have to say that their "write-away contest" for kids between 10-14years is an innovation I have yet to see any other radio station emulate. The ability to get kids to think about their country, by assuming they were president is great.

My only beef is why do the destinations always have to be South Africa and London? Why can it not be another West African country -- like Senegal, Cape Verde?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

There's a New Columnist in Town!

Far be it for me to blow my own trumpet, but then I am used  to it: if having a blog is not an exemplification of that, I do not know what is!

On a more serious note, Wednesday 24 August saw me entering, once again, the folds of columnists -- this time as a political science columnist(rather than a Business one) for Ghana's "Business and Financial Times" paper. Here's the reason why I started it:

It is one of the reasons why this new column was thought-up: to respond to the dearth of analyses about ECOWAS and the AU by Ghanaian media practitioners. The real challenge now is to ensure readers begin to accept these challenges and be ready to respond to them. Secondly, ECOWAS likes to make a lot of noise about the sub-region moving from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of the people – as per ECOWAS Vision 2020. For it to be realised, it is going to take all of us to get there. Will you join me?
 Many people know my alter-ego to be one that has made considerable noise on regional integration. I just thought I'd get more serious and create the future I want: leaving a legacy and many column inches about not just a topic dear to my heart, but one I believe many more Africans and Ghanaians to take seriously in the next couple of years.

The ECOWAS and AU will not go away, and the only way to make them more accountable is by reporting on them. Until the reports transcend being ad-hoc, accountability is unlikely to happen. I know Ghana as a topic is more popular than regional cooperation/regional integration, but if the instrumentality of the Arab League in  the crisis in Libya tells us anything, it's that the tectonic plates are shifting from multi-polar to regional. So let's "shine our eyes!"

Read me on Mondays and Wednesdays in  the B&FT, or online at http://www.thebftonline.com if you can.

Kindly check out my latest piece: Why “Africa” is Lost in the “Abuja Treaty” Translation: http://www.thebftonline.com/bft_subcat_linkdetails.cfm?prodcatID=6&tblNewsCatID=63&tblNewsID=9224

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mid Week Madness: Where are Those ID Cards We were promised in July?

This is really getting out of hand.

Some of us saw the beginning of July not just as a hopeful period for the country, whereby our beleaguered cards would finally find themselves in our hands, but also a period when we could have faith that our institutions could deliver on "promises".

Almost two months later, I need to be eating my words. I cannot for the life of me understand why there are so many problems with the National ID Authority. The inset picture is a screen capture of their website. I am not quite sure what the "50% complete" is a reference to. If it's with regard  to  the distribution of the cards, that must be a joke. If not, why that figure?

All in all, there seems to be immense confusion around the cards and their distribution thereof. Most parts of Accra were supposed to have received it by now -- they have not.

To read a story (http://gbcghana.com/index.php?id=1.358607.1.529718), which blames "anomalies" of "beneficiaries" for the non-appearance may be true, but hardly encouraging.

The NIA should honestly come clean on when people should receive their ID cards. Please tell us something!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Shame on You, Skyy Plus! You're not "Making it Happen!" Work Harder, or Lose Customers!

I am just off the phone speaking to a customer service representative at the call center of SMART TV/SKYY PLUS. I am a very frustrated man.

A week or two ago, I received a text message from SKYY PLUS stating that from 1 August(yesterday), they would start charging 16GHC(US$10.6) a month for their service. I was confused and quizzed, so decided to look at the number, which looked very much like 0302.740.630 -- the number to contact the erstwhile SMART TV, which we bought and subscribed to in August 2010.

Now, I say "erstwhile", because neither SMART TV nor SKYY Digital had the decency to inform customers via text messages that they had merged. As to when exactly the merger happened is unclear. Googling the net, one finds an article on modernghana.com that states:

"As part of efforts to satisfy the demand of its customers, Skyy Media Group, operators of Skyy Digital, has introduced a new pay TV bouquet called Skyy Plus.

Born out of a collaboration between Skyy Media Group and Next Generation Broadcasting (NGB), the new bouquet is aimed at making available to millions of Ghanaians high quality television programmes and channels at an affordable price.

Speaking at a ceremony to outdoor Skyy Plus, Wilson Arthur, the Chief Executive of Skyy Media Group, noted that his outfit saw this commercial arrangement with NGB as very strategic as they were putting together their expertise and television content to ensure that the viewing experience of many homes in Ghana were enriched
." (from: http://www.modernghana.com/music/15160/3/skyy-digital-introduces-skyy-plus-in-accra.html).

Let me just say that I hope I am not beginning to regret this merger, which was never announced to customers. SKYY PLUS, it seems, was more concerned about the bottom line than customer service -- and is very much exemplified by the attitude of Sedem, based at the Airport-residential HQ of SMART TV, who claimed he was too "busy" to respond to my queries about some of the questions I have over SMART TV.

Now, the biggest problem for me is this, and this was revealed by the main customer service representative at HQ: SKYY PLUS antennas are not as STRONG as those of SMART TV. My query, then, is if that is so, why on Earth did they decide to merge? Why merge with an inferior competitor? The situation now is that we have channels we are receiving from SKYY PLUS(Skyy world/Skyy one, etc) alongside channels from SMART TV, which is the baby of NEXT GENERATION BROADCASTING.

As to whether SMART TV is alive and well, no-one even knows. Though it is SMART TV customer care I called, I instinctively addressed my issue as a SKYY PLUS problem -- and rightly so. This, despite the fact that I was told last week that SMART TV is "still there".

In short, it is a whole mess, and I am not quite sure whether it is a good idea that I am still subscribing, or I should just abandon the bouquet they are offering.

I want to see the following things:

1. a clarification over the SKYY PLUS/SMART TV merger and its consequences for customers
2. a clarification over the double antennas
3. an apology BY TEXT and/or radio/print to SKYY PLUS customers as to why this is happening.

Anything other than this is unacceptable, and I would therefore implore Ghanaians far and wide--through my twitter/Facebook/and Google Plus status--that they better abandon SKYY PLUS if they don't want trouble, or better still, customers better forget about paying the 16GHC a month till SKYY PLUS/SMART TV get their act together!

ekbensah@ekbensah.net
0268.687.653

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