Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why are we so bad at networking?

How come when Ghanaian (and African) professional get together it’s mostly to have fun and show off rather than to figure out how we can combine our brains and resources to help each other for a greater good?

I’ve seen it many times. I used to play soccer with a group of mostly Ghanaian and Nigeria professional in a major US city. In that group were lawyers, doctors, bankers etc. Yet nobody mingled and talked about anything progressive. It was mostly showing off who drove the nicest cars to the field (nothing against nice cars).

Recently, a former colleague of mine who moved to Ghana last year to start a company lamented the apathy of her Wesley Girls alumni network in getting her face-time with major corporations in Ghana to grow her business. She started a business that provides conference call numbers to companies where as many as 50 people can join a conference call at a time. Being part of an overachievers group like Wesley Girls Alumni, you would think she’ll land a pot of networking gold. Turns out most of her fellow alumni show up to meetings just to show how well they are doing.

Sometimes, I wish we in Ghana (and Africa) had a little of the Jewish culture in us. For anyone who has had any interaction with the Jewish culture you know the Jewish businessman has a Jewish accountant, a Jewish lawyer, a Jewish dentist, and a Jewish doctor. It turns out helping each other is self preservation.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Giving up on Fufu & Light Soup with Goat Meat

No. Not completely. But, Yes! For as long as I can remember, Fufu and Light Soup with Goat meat has been my favorite food. I’m afraid those days are over. Will I still eat Fufu? Yes periodically (Not more than once a week). Will I still list it as my favorite food? No. Not because I don’t enjoy it anymore. Nooooo! Far from it.

It all started when I went home to Ghana recently. My mom made arguably one of the best gourmet fufu and light soup with goat meat I ever had. I ate and ate and ate, and drunk some soup…a lot of soup. Sweet Jesus! The soup was nice and extra spicy, the goat meat was fresh and the fufu was made with organic cassava, yam, and plantain “sent from heaven” (see Keyshia Cole). This practically wiped out 2 months of going to the gym and biking like Lance Armstrong in the streets of Chicago prior to my trip.

In order to preserve my Anti-Pot Belly policy and for the sake of longevity and “sustainability”, I hereby officially change my favorite food from Fufu and Light Soup with Goat meat to Banku and Grilled Tilapia with hot pepper. As long as I eat a lot more grilled tilapia than Banku I think I’ll be fine in the long run.

What’s your favorite food? Is it “sustainable”?

(Picture from nududu.com)

Friday, July 17, 2009

What motivates you?

I've been getting a lot of interesting questions from people lately. The latest of them is the question: What motivates you? My answer is God, Family, Country, and Money/Influence. Let me explain:

God - Because I believe we are born with different passions and talents (varying degrees of course) for which we will be held accountable. My responsibility in life, I believe, is to search and pursue those talents to the best of my ability. My favorite scripture is John 9:4; " I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work". For me, this requires actively finding those "works" and executing them according to my God-given gifts and abilities.

Family - I realized (sometime last year) that compared to most of my friends I was born into a very communal/socialist family. In my family, helping and feeding others (family or not) is an obligation. What this means, for me, is that being successful enough to take care of myself and my immediate family is not good enough (actually it is considered a failure). You have to be successful enough to help others too. Somehow, it’s a cross that I gladly bear and it motivates me daily.

Country – I love Ghana. I’m not sure what Kwame Nkrumah and his compatriots saw when they were handed the keys to the country on March 6th, 1957 but I believe my generation (by that I mean Gen Xers) who grew up in Ghana saw the raw potential and the possibilities of greatness of our country and it left an indelible mark on many. I know many who are working tirelessly for the opportunity to be in a position to be part of the realization of that potential. I am blessed to be part of this generation of Ghanaians. Watch out, we’re coming!

Money/Influence –It’s how things get done. Need I say more?

So what about you? What motivates you?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Nice Body or Pretty Face?

After reading my comparison of "Ghana women" and "Nigerian women" (See My Maiden Voyage to Lagos, Nigeria) a friend of mine had a question:

If you had to choose between a nice body and a pretty face, which would you pick?

In a perfect world,especially in my 20's and 30's I would certainly want a nice body. There's just something magical about a nice female figure. God is a great designer!

In the real world, however, age, "gravity", and "natural expansion" will take a toll on any nice body quicker than a pretty face. So I'll take a pretty face over a nice body.

Which would you (or the men you know) pick?

What does PhD got to do with it? "Credentialism" and Ghana's Development

In the light of the successful change in government after the 2008 elections and Obama’s visit recent to Ghana I get the sense that Ghanaians are ready for the next level. We’ve seen it all, the snail pace, and the slow progress forward with “deliberate speed”, and we want more, faster! The “how” is where we are all stuck.

On my recent trip to Ghana I got the sense that everybody is waiting for something or someone from somewhere (preferably some Western country) to take us to the next level. You often hear “You guys need to come back home and let’s build Ghana”. For me, this suggests that Ghanaians living in Ghana (all 20 million of them) are not up to the task of nation building. That somehow they can’t dream up and build institutions, businesses, processes in a very Ghanaian way. That somehow all tangible progress must of necessity be foreign.

I am convinced that for Ghana to achieve this much desired next level in development we don’t need another “Honorable, Dr. Dr. Engineer, Lawyer, Architect, Economist, Chartered Accountant XYZ Kofi Mensah, MD Msc. M.Eng PHD LLM ACCA”. This is not to say that they don’t have a significant place in Ghana’s development.

What we need is for “Average Citizen Kofi Mensah” to grow his business from Accra to Kumasi, Takoradi, Hohoe, and Tamale. We need the average citizen who makes any product in Ghana to start thinking about markets in Nigeria, Liberia, Chad, Europe, and South America and bring his/her products to par with international standards with fierce urgency. The market woman who sells tomatoes and onions at Makola Market should consider becoming a small grocery chain.

We need every Ghanaian who has at least $1million in liquid cash to commit at least 10% to start or expand a viable locally grown business that provides goods or services in a very Ghanaian way. We also need banks to match these private financial commitments at reasonable interest rates.

Any ideas on what else could be useful?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It’s ok to plan

On my recent visits to Accra and Lagos I saw enough to make me wonder:

  • Do our cultures look down on planning?
  • Is planning seen as a sign of weakness? i.e. not tough enough to deal with the rigors of doing business in Africa?
  • Does the pressure to make money right now (however small) supersede the possibility of making millions by putting a little more effort into deliberate planning?

In Accra I got a chance to visit the new hangout spot in Osu called “CitiZen Kofi”. It is obvious the 5 story facility (complete with penthouse view of Accra just off the main Oxford street) was well planned and executed – and guess what, it’s owned by a Ghanaian.

For me it rivals any club/lounge/bar/restaurant you’ll see in New York, Chicago, London or any major western city in term of design, service, menu, ambiance, etc. Obviously it wasn't built with pocket change.

If you are a citizen of Ghana, by the power vested in me as a fellow citizen, consider it a civic duty (if you can afford it) to visit and spend some time (and money) at CitiZen Kofi in Osu.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My Maiden Voyage to Lagos, Nigeria

For me this trip has been a long time coming considering my maternal grandfather is from this country (Lagos and Ibadan).

My flight from Accra to Lagos was quick and uneventful with all the trappings of the increasing interaction between the two countries. I saw an old school mate of mine on the flight who I hadn’t seen in over 10yrs. He is currently the head of corporate communications for the Ghana branch of a Nigerian bank and was heading to Lagos for a meeting of other heads of communication within the bank.

I also saw two teenage “dada ba” Nigerian girls who looked like they went on a day trip to Accra because they were bored or wanted to get away. There were many others who looked like they make that Accra-Lagos trip often –much like a NYC-Washington DC Amtrak station look.

Since the emergence of Sarah Palin in the 2008 Presidential Campaign in the US, the old republican conservative mantra about “government does not have a place in our lives” has come up in one too many debates.

My first inclination driving from the airport in the dark night (with street lights that don’t work) was that anybody who doesn’t believe in government should visit Lagos for a weekend. For the most part it’s “everyone for himself, God for us all”.

I was in Lagos for 4 days and the national power grid NEPA was on for less than 2 hours total. That a nation that has one of the largest natural gas reserves in the entire world cannot provide electricity to its citizens who are willing and able to pay for this service is beyond belief. I saw people driving in Rolls Royces and Range Rovers in the Victoria Island-Lekki Pennisula areas, living in homes that could double as a huge multi-level church building or mosque. I also saw abject poverty in other areas of the mainland (Mile 2 area, Ikeja, etc). The disparity between the ultra-rich and the ordinary man is obscene.

A lot has been said about the differences and similarities between Ghana and Nigeria. I’ll save my comparisons for a more elaborate analysis except the oft compared “Ghana Woman” and “Naija Woman” (see Wo Se Ekyir blog "First Impressions of Lagos: Ghanaian's Perspective").

In a very general sense I will agree that Nigerian women have prettier faces whereas Ghanaian women have nicer bodies. For some reason, these generalizations do not apply to Ghanaian and Nigerian women in the US. Maybe the US is just the great equalizer as they say or both countries send their “best & brightest” to the US (or better still maybe I’m just hedging my options).

Other observations, experiences and questions:

  • The Okada are a lawless bunch (sometimes they just decide to ride their motorcycles against traffic with reckless abandon). However, they provide a crucial means of transportation for the masses.

  • Seems to me like there’s no utilitarianism (common good) in the Nigerian psyche. Why is that?

  • If you see a building that looks like it hasn’t been painted since 1950 it’s likely a government building and someone “chopped” the money designated for paint.

  • Nigerians are fearless business minded people.

  • I’ve been in traffic in New York and Los Angeles. There’s nothing like Lagos traffic. Nothing!

  • Not to sound like a pessimist but I can’t think through a scenario where Nigeria gets back to what we know as “normal” – running water and electricity on demand. Can someone please help me? Under what circumstances does this country return to a place where the ordinary guy gets a fair share?
  • For a long time I wondered why a lot of Nigerians living in the Diaspora decide never to go back and live in Nigeria. I understand now. You feel like a drop of water in the ocean. There’s not much 1 person could do to steer a nation of about 150 million in the right direction unless you are the President or something like that.

  • I drove in Lagos for 2 days. I should get some kind of certificate I can hang on my wall.