Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama disowns Okereke-Onyiuke, others

The campaign organisation of the Democratic Party‘s candidate for the November 2008 United States presidential election, Senator Barack Obama, has dissociated itself from the activities of a Nigeria-based group, Africa for Obama.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Obama Raises Over $51 Million in July

I want Prof Onyiuke and her Obama for Africa team to see this. The guy is busy doing his thing. We should learn from him and do our own thing. He doesn't need contributions from Nigeria to win the elections.

Obama Raises Over $51 Million in July
The Obama campaign said on Saturday that it received more than $51 million in July — including contributions from 65,000 new donors — slightly less than the previous month.
The report on donations to Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, followed by one day figures made public by the campaign of Senator John McCain, which took in a more modest $27 million last month.
Still, July was the best fund-raising month ever for Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and the fifth month in a row that donations to his campaign exceeded those of the previous month.
The Obama campaign said it had $65.8 million on hand, compared with Mr. McCain’s $21.4 million at the end of July.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obama, Onyiuke, and leadership in Africa

There seems to be a fundamental problem of confusion in the leadership strata in Nigeria; confusion that permeates and percolates sectors – business and politics alike. One area that vividly reflects the confusion is the power sector. The problem with epileptic power supply in Nigeria is obviously not one of resources to put the situation right. Suffice it to say the leadership is confused about how to tackle it.
Nigeria boasts of a rich pool of some of the best brains the world has to offer. This rich pool of human resources can be found at home and abroad. As far as financial resources are concerned, there is no gainsaying the fact that the money is there. The present soaring price of petroleum is putting in the coffers of the present government more than twice what it budgeted as anticipated revenue from the black gold. Ironically, the more the country earn from oil, the more the market for generating sets booms as darkness thickens across the country. Nigeria remains the world's largest market for generators. The pollution caused by these generators is simply unspeakable. Nigeria's electricity supply problems result from poor governance and not lack of capital.
While the nation still laments the discovery that the last administration spent $10 billion on power without adding one megawatt of electricity to national output, I fear that this administration with the way it is going might not perform any better. No matter the criticism against former President Olusegun Obasanjo, one thing we can’t deny is that he had a team. He had a team of technocrats determined to make a change. A good number of them executed their assignments meticulously without fear or favour. Today, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwesili and some others have assumed bigger roles in service to humanity, an ample testimony to the fact that they served well. But what do we see in the team of the present administration – an attorney general who by his actions makes you doubt the credibility of his law degree. Most painful is the removal and demotion of the anti-corruption icon, Nuhu Ribadu, for reasons nobody has sufficiently explained.
But those are really not what irk me this time. My worry for now is the recent activities of a woman leader I hold huge regard for – the boss of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Prof. Ndy Okereke-Onyiuke. As a capital market correspondent/analyst, I covered the Exchange for some years. I can tell the amiable prof. is a manager of men and resources, but her recent activity in the Africa for Obama Campaign has left me wondering whether she has reached her wits end. I find myself thinking the prof. will be better off now being reassigned to a classroom where she would have the opportunity to charge and recharge before she suffers the fate that befell Mr. Festus Odimegwu, the former boss of Nigeria Breweries.
Make no mistake about it; I love the change that Barack Obama represents. He epitomizes leadership and the new world that we long to see. He is brilliant and significantly reasserts what Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said decades back that “the black man is capable of ruling”. Besides, the historical significance of his emergence as a presidential nominee is inspiring. America has never seen anything like the Barack Obama phenomenon. Mr. Obama’s message of hope, healing and change, discounted as fanciful and na├»ve by skeptics, draws adherents all around the world. The 47-year old black American has by his phenomenal rise introduced a new type of political movement.
But do all of these justify Prof. Onyiuke’s recent N100 million fund raiser for Obama? I don’t think so. Firstly, it sparks racism, a cankerworm that Obama himself is fighting to end. (Ethnicity as opposed to meritocracy has always been the bane of Africa’s underdevelopment.) Obama’s rise has not been on the platform of being black, but because he’s selling a solution that many in America, blacks and whites alike, subscribe to. In a way, his rise suggests that ‘he looks like me’ or ‘he speaks my language’ politics is no longer fashionable.
Secondly, I don’t think the laws of the United States welcome fundraising by a Nigerian group for the purpose by mobilizing votes for Obama. Rather than mobilizing funds for Obama, who as a matter of fact, has not complained of cash shortage, Madam Onyiuke and Africa for Obama campaign, should dedicate their efforts and resources towards ensuring that the change that Obama represents, becomes a reality in Nigeria and Africa; that tribal politics is expunged from the political sphere in Africa. Isn’t it ironical that while America was busy celebrating the abilities in Obama, Kenya, the land of his father, was up in flames because of ethnic politics.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Goodbye, Passwords. You Aren’t a Good Defense

THE best password is a long, nonsensical string of letters and numbers and punctuation marks, a combination never put together before. Some admirable people actually do memorize random strings of characters for their passwords — and replace them with other random strings every couple of months.
Then there’s the rest of us, selecting the short, the familiar and the easiest to remember. And holding onto it forever.
I once felt ashamed about failing to follow best practices for password selection — but no more. Computer security experts say that choosing hard-to-guess passwords ultimately brings little security protection. Passwords won’t keep us safe from identity theft, no matter how clever we are in choosing them.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Technology's Power to Narrow Our View

Samantha Power, an award-winning journalist and professor, recently wrote this piece in Times magazine. It makes quite an interesting reading. It cautions on issues very crucial as our younger generation becomes more tech-savvy.

Let me start by confessing that I am a thirtysomething anachronism. I still read the hard copies of the New York Times and the Boston Globe, and I refuse to consider changing my habits. My students marvel at me the way I once marveled at my mother for being slow to get an e-mail account.

Much ado about Ghana Telecom sale

I like Ghana when it comes to nationalism. I am yet to see any other African as patriotic as the Ghanaian. He loves his country and is passionate about it. You only need to take a casual drive across Accra to find this out. The Ghanaian flag is a treasure that the average citizen doesn't joke with. He hangs it on his car. Makes clothes, and all kinds of wears with it and is always proud to defend it anywhere, anytime.
Most other Africans who visit Ghana attest to the people's love for their country and by extension Africa in addition to their unique sense of hospitality. I am told that this spirit draws from the days of the freedom struggle. Dr Kwame Nkrumah is one of a foremost pan-Africanist and he wasn't apologetic about it. He sounded it a couple of times in his speeches that 'the African is capable of governing himself'. He believed in Africa and made the average Ghanaian to think likewise.
The continent might not have joined the league of developed nations, but it's surely on its way. Ghana is a typical example of an African country on the path to greatness. Significant progress has been made in the last decade at consolidating democracy, political stability and economic progress. I am one of those who believe that come December 2008, Ghana will score yet another point on its success journey - a peaceful presidential election and smooth transition to another democratically elected president.
All said, I am however put off by the opposition that has greeted the sale of Ghana Telecom.
Government ownership of commercial enterprises all over the world is increasingly becoming old-fashioned. What is the use keeping in the hand of government an enterprise that only incures debts. Given the competitive telecom market it operates, I think the decision to sale GT makes sense. The real issue should be transparency in the deal. With a debt of over $400 million, it is obvious GT is not healthy.
I believe what is best for it now is to have it taken over by a competent private operator who will bring in the needed technology and expertise to turn things around. Vodafone's $900 million might not be a fair deal for some, but to continue 'business as usual' is certainly not a wise choice. As parliament considers the issue next week, I sincerely hope that reasonableness will prevail and not politics and undue sentiments. GT certainly needs an overhaul and privatisation is one way to facilitate that overhaul.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The future of tech in just one word: plastics

In the 2002 movie “Minority Report,” director Steven Spielberg painted the future as a place where no surface was still. Newspapers updated in readers’ hands and advertisements talked to passersby. Even cereal boxes were animated.
Now, these technologies are finally arriving, albeit in a piecemeal fashion. One of the driving forces: breakthroughs in plastics-based electronics.

Report: China is world’s leading renewable-energy producer

A report from the Climate Group found that China leads the world in installed renewable energy and is overtaking more developed countries in developing sustainable technologies.
The Climate Group, a nonprofit group backed by a several large corporations and regional and local governments around the world, found that China has reached 152 gigawatts of up-and-running renewable energy capacity, thanks to the world’s largest hydroelectric capacity and the fifth-largest wind-power capacity. The country plans to double its renewable energy output to 15 per cent by 2020.

Non-food biofuel and the future of alternative energy in West Africa

The UN Environment Programme recently advised African countries to follow the examples of Brazil and Germany to plan an energy future around alternative sources. GODWIN NNANNA in Accra examines the relevance of such options against the backdrop of rising oil prices.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Bawku violence in northern Ghana

The Bawku community in Ghana represents many things not usually associated with the West African country. In the last four years, hundreds of people, young and old, have been killed due to ethnic and political differences. Yet the crisis is not abating.
The conflict in Bawku tends to recur every election year and this year is no exemption. 127 houses and stores were either completely or partially burnt, while five cars were set ablaze in a major clash on January 1. Local media reports put the death toll at between 16 and 20 people while about 25 others sustained varying degrees of injuries.
During the presidential elections in 2000, more than a hundred people were killed there in a matter of days. With less than six months to this year’s presidential elections, tensions are already mounting. But the crisis in Bawku isn’t so much about who becomes Ghana’s president. The dispute plays out in various forms ranging from tussle over chieftaincies to party politics, fight over land, markets and names of places.
Commenting on the January clash, Mahama Ayariga, Member of Parliament for Bawku Central, noted that unlike the past when the conflicts in the area lasted for just one day, that one developed into a situation where people could not cross into ‘enemy territories’.
Since the beginning of the year, violent clashes have occured every month. In March, not less than 10 more houses were burnt down in renewed clashes.
After the latest clash in May which was the most violent since January, the government imposed a 22-hour curfew in the community. It was later relaxed to 12 hours when situations subsided.
So far, President John Kufuor’s attempt to reconcile the Kusasis and Mamprusis, the two ethnic groups at the centre of the crisis, has yielded little result, as killings continue to take place sporadically. About 101 Mamprusis fled the area last month to Goulougonsi in neighbouring Togo following renewed conflict in the community. They were allegedly chased out by some Kusasis youth.
Bawku, a predominantly Muslim community in northeastern Ghana, has an estimated population of 206,000 most of whom are either from the Kusasi or Manprusi ethnic groups. Confrontation between the two groups has been there for over 50 years, but the dimension it has assumed the last decade has become alarming. Over the years, the antagonisms have been crystallised and a pattern entrenching conflict between the two groups has been perpetuated.
Abdulai Faruk, a teacher and stationery dealer, told officials of the Bawku Municipal Assembly during a visit to Goulougonsi that his store containing goods worth over GHc1,500 ($1,500) was completely burnt down in the wake of the May upheaval. The Assembly officials had gone to assess the conditions under which the Mamprusi refugees were living.
John Agobre, Member of the Assembly in a press conference in Tamale, the commercial hub of northern Ghana, sent what he termed a ‘save our soul’ call to well-meaning Ghanaians and the international community. “The Bawku conflict has shamed, defamed and disgraced all of us,” he said.
“Our municipality has become notorious for persistent ethnic conflicts. You know only too well that it is a shame and disgrace for one to identify him or herself as coming from Bawku,” the municipal officer lamented.
“We can barely execute development projects now. Our resources are depleted for peace keeping operations, yet the crisis remains.” Agobre said the situation is critical for the Assembly as its treasury is now ‘empty and dried up’. The Assembly has been feeding the security agencies and providing other essential services for them since their deployment.
While many commentators say the conflict in the community is largely political, George Abugri, columnist with Daily Graphic, the state-owned daily, points to poverty and climate change as the major cause. “Bawku has gallantly absorbed the environmentally devastating impact of the advancing Sahel. Now the ecology can barely support agricultural production. Smuggling, an alternative illegitimate commercial activity which made some locals rich, is no longer lucrative,” he writes.
As he further notes, at the peak of its commercial boom, Bawku was one of the government’s highest sources of local council revenue. “There was a time when long caravans of push carts transported sugar cane from my village of Zawse to the Bawku market on market days. From a valley at the foot of the Agolle Hills at Zawse, also came cassava, sweet potatoes and fresh water crabs. That sounds like a fairy tale today, but it is true,” he states.
Abugri says the conflict continues to recur because an increasingly impoverished population and a huge army of unemployed, despondent and secretly armed youth find themselves trapped in a community with little or nothing to offer, and manipulated by politicians for their selfish interests.
Alhassan Samari, chairman of the Regional Security Council in Upper East region, told Peter Cardinal Appiah Turkson, the Catholic clergy who led a delegation of the National Peace Council of Ghana to Bawku last month, that the conflict has affected everything in the municipality including its revenue.
“Bawku is Ghana’s Niger Delta. The difference between it and the Niger Delta in Nigeria is that while the latter has so much oil and so every violence in it makes international headlines, Bawku has no such mineral resources of international importance, and so most of the killings there are never reported in the international media,” a local journalist told me in Accra. The crisis, he said, has lingered because most politicians from the region have not demonstrated strong commitment to ending it.
President Kufuor considers the conflict in Bawku a national embarrassment. Some analysts say the management of the crisis was partly responsible for the sacking of Kwabena Bartels, former minister of interior and his subsequent replacement by Kwame Addo Kufuor, former minister of defence, who returns to government after a failed bid to become the presidential candidate of ruling New Patriotic Party. He is seen as a hardliner with good diplomatic skills.
Christian Lund, a researcher who has written on the Bawku crisis, says the crisis presents a double argument. According to him, while communal conflict challenge the state and expose its incapacity, the conflicts at the same time invoke a powerful idea of the state as the most significant institution to qualify claims as rights or discard them as illegitimate.
All over the community, children are looking on helplessly unsure what the conflict will bring next. Everybody you talk to speaks of frustrations and are not in the least happy about what is happening in Bawku. A few workers who have braved the storm and are still at post during this conflict times are equally worried and not sure how things will turn out.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

No future without education

I've followed the teachers strike in Nigeria with huge feeling of disappointment. Thank God it's over now. My disappointment is primarily with the misplacement of priorities that I see in government circles.
I make no hesitation in saying it - the key to lasting prosperity for Africa is investment in education, particularly science and technology education. The recent teachers strike in Nigeria which paralysed learning for 3 weeks is regretable.
It is most regretable that a country that seeks to be among the top 20 economies by 2020 should take the education of its youth for granted. I really see no reason why defence should be taking such a large chunk of our annual budget when we are not fighting war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Yes, the Niger Delta problem is there but again it has its root in neglect.
If we are really serious about joining the world's Club 20 by the year 2020, investment into the education of the manpower needed to make this happen must be massive. I see investment into education and energy as key to Nigeria's development.
The teaching profession today looks very unattractive because the teacher's take home at the end of the month doesn't really take home. As a result a number of them are leaving the shores of Nigeria to find greener pastures elsewhere. Those that stay back are not encouraged. The infrastructure at their disposal is highly deplorable. Our teachers needs to be treated as the destiny moulders that they are. We obviously can't be what we are without them. Every good professional is a product of a good teacher.
Even good soup is a product of good investment. Today it is easy to hear some of our politicians say 'those good old days' refering to the learning situation when they schooled. What made those days good was because even though the country didn't earn as much as it earns now from commodities sale, better investment was made in education. A good number of our accomplished professionals today schooled on government scholarships. Some of them were from such poor families that they would never have attended the schools they attended if their parents were to fund it.
Investment in education may not produce immediate economic benefits, and can be difficult to justify on those grounds. In the long-term, however, it is essential if a country is to work its way out of poverty by self-sustainability.
I just hope that the recent nationwide teachers strike will be the last we'll ever experience.