Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Unforgivably Ghanaian - Selling/Buying Forms

I recently received an email from a young relative in Ghana about the process of applying to the University system in Ghana:

".......the cost for the University of Ghana, Legon form is 110 Ghana cedis (about $55 US Dollars) and that of KNUST is 125 Ghana cedis. (about $65 US Dollars)". 

That's a total of about $120 US Dollars. What exactly is the student paying for. Is this an application fee or the actual cost of the form? 

By the way, $120 is an entire month's salary for a public school teacher in most of the country.  

Why in 2013 is the Ministry of Education still selling physical paper forms for university applicants. 

Why does the Ghana university system have computer science departments? Can they not simply put forms online or have students fill out their application forms on their phone (which everybody has including my grandmother in the village)? 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Unforgivably Ghanaian - Investors = Foreigners

What is the word for investor in Ga? Twi? Fante? Ewe? How about Dagomba? Hausa?

When government officials and the political elite talk about investors they are invariably referring to foreigners. Why? Does this explain why almost everything that requires any capital investment is owned by non-Ghanaians?

I have seen government officials travel to the US and made statements like "I'm not here to meet Ghanaians, I came to meet investors". There are several Ghanaians who can invest in the opportunities available in GH but nobody approaches them. Why?

Unforgivably Ghanaian - Travel and see

We have all heard our fellow Ghanaians say this – “travel and see”.  For me this suggests that you really haven’t “seen” until you’ve “travelled”. This bothers me – having lived outside Ghana for many years. There is an underlying sense among Ghanaians (perpetuated by the ruling elite) that anywhere else (especially Europe, America, and South Africa) is better than Ghana.

We are fascinated with travelling outside the country and people who do.

The truth is that the basic needs and challenges of life are the same everywhere. What we all want is access to health care, some education, and opportunity to work and be productive. The freedom to socialize and express ourselves.

Ghana doesn't need to be like New York, Atlanta, Amsterdam, Jo’burg or London. We just need to be the best Ghana we can be. There's no need to travel and see.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ghana – Our obsession with cars

Ghanaians love cars! In biblical times, as we are told, a man’s wealth was measured by how many herds of cattle he had. In ancient Ghana a man’s wealth was probably measured in wives and children, beads, gold jewelry, and kente clothes.

In modern Ghana, dare I say, a man’s wealth is measured by the car(s) he drives. The more expensive, the better – of the SUV or German engineered variety!

Whoever said a car is a bad investment never talked to Ghanaians. Most people see an instant and recognizable gain in social net-worth after buying a new expensive car in Ghana.

If you don’t believe me how else would you explain the following?

  • Ghanaian MPs (members of parliament) make about $2,000 per month or $24,000 a year but each of them drives a $50,000 SUV. Yes all 200 and something of them.
  • The rush to secure government vehicles when there is a change in the political party governing the country. Forgetting the billions of worth of contracts signed in the final days of the previous administration that amount to a massive looting of the treasury that we eventually sell our collective souls overseas to repay.
  • Ghana is one of the top destinations in the world for stolen vehicles, mainly luxury vehicles from the US, Canada and Europe.
  • Chances are you can get millions of dollars in business by delivering a brand new Mercedes Benz S Class worth about $100,000 to a politician.
  • Chances are you can give a local chief a car worth about $50,000 plus $20,000 cash for about $100,000 worth of land.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I want to help you – The problem with foreign aid to Ghana

Let’s assume you’re a young man, living in Accra, college educated and married to your college sweetheart with two kids ages 7 and 9. You make about $1,000 per month and your wife brings in about $1,000 from her job at a local bank. Both of you are in middle management with the potential to move into senior management in a year or two or three. A rich man comes to your house and says this:

“Listen up Mr. Kofi Ghana, I want you help you. I want your wife to stop working. I want to provide $5,000 a month for shopping, cocktail parties, and spa treatments for her. I’ll provide a nice luxury car with a driver for her daily trips to town. She doesn’t have to cook anymore. Here’s a gourmet chef. I’m moving your kids into the most exclusive international private school in Accra. They get their own driver and several maids and they don’t have to do any household chores. I’ll pay for all this but I’ll pull the money in 12-24 months. I will give you 3-6 months’ notice”

Question: As a husband and the head of your family will you accept this offer?

As a husband my concerns will be:

  1. How will we manage after my wife and kids get used to blowing $5,000 per month for 2 years on my $1,000 per month salary?
  2. My wife will clearly miss the opportunity to get promoted at work being gone for 2 year. Even if she didn’t get promoted she could have saved her salary as capital to start a business or something.
  3. What about the kids? They won’t ever get to make their own bed or wash dishes or help with cleaning.
  4. How will the kids adjust to making new friends in the local government public school after rubbing shoulders with kids of the rich and famous for 2 years?

This is exactly how foreign aid works in Ghana. USAID is notorious for such behavior. They don’t come to Ghana to make us better our capabilities. There are countless examples of this. The problem is that Ghanaian organizations and government institutions are so conditioned to wait for help that they take anything masquerading as help from foreigners.

Daily Graphic December 11, 2010


The export of pineapples from Ghana has declined by almost 60 per cent over the last five years because of a global shift of preference. The Project Coordinator of the Export Marketing and Quality Awareness Project (EMQAP) at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Mr Mawuli Agboka, said this during a tour of George Fields Limited and the Gold Coast Fruits Limited, both pineapple-growing companies. “One of the main reasons accounting for the problem is the shift in demand for the Smooth Cayenne to the MD2 cultivar by European consumers and that has rendered most farmers in the country bankrupt,” he said. The tour was to share information on the performance of the MD2 pineapple fertilizer for farmers and exporters. Mr Agboka said the country had initiated steps to increase pineapple production and exports by 25 per cent next year. As part of the remedy farmers are being trained in a new technology on how to increase production and improve yields, as well as investment in machinery and cold storage facilities, among others.

The news article from the Daily Graphic above is a typical example. Don’t believe anything you read. The truth is that the US propped up Ghana’s pineapple industry artificially for 2-3 years. When they left with their highly paid “experts” and “resources”, Ghana’s pineapple exports dropped by 60%.

Here is how I believe the USAID could have helped and been part of the solutions:

  1. Give soft loans directly to pineapple farmers and associated businesses with some suggestions on how to improve their businesses.
  2. OR stay in Washington DC! Don’t come to Ghana all at because after you leave thing are usually worse than before you ever came to “help”.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I didn't know we don't process most of our Shea Butter nuts

Shea Butter is big business in the US now. But according to this PBS documentary we export most of it in nuts without processing them. It looks like it doesn't take much to process. Maybe I should get into the business - process them in Ghana, employ some people and make some money.

Kudos: To PBS for a nice job on Ghana. The story gets to the point without the "these poor africans need our help" drama we see when the western media covers Africa. And I'm glad they are talking about Ghana. Not Africa.

Disclosure: 100% pure organic Shea Butter made in Ghana has been my lotion of choice for the last 10 years and counting.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Whose land is it anyway?

The other day I spoke with one of the richest men in Ghana (founder of a large financial institution) and he told me he stopped buying land in Ghana because he has lost all faith in the land title process.

A few months before, I heard how a man in East Legon was almost burned alive (literally) by a rival group in a dispute over land. Forget juju! We are literally killing each other over land in Ghana now!

There are some plots of land in East Legon that have 3 or 4 owners locked in court disputes for decades because some unscrupulous local chief and his family sold and resold the same plot of land to different people.

My question is how come the 3rd and 4th buyers didn’t know the land was in dispute? Shouldn’t there be an easy, convenient, accessible, and authoritative way of finding out who owns what plot of land in Ghana and which are in dispute?

This issue is so fundamental to the future of our country but I wonder why nobody bothers to ask our “honorable” parliamentarians what they are doing to address the problem. I guess everybody is busy talking about how our newly discovered oil will magically make Ghana like Norway. Walahi!

It’s one of the reasons land in places like East Legon is overpriced by at least multiples of 5 (i.e. land that should cost about $10,000 a plot costs $50,000 a plot). Since there are so many plots of land in dispute, any legitimate piece of land will cost you more. This is why homes in Trasacco Valley cost almost $750K. Do you really believe those houses are worth $750K? Of course you are paying for the peace of mind. Would you rather buy land for $100K to build a house in East Legon and be locked in court battles for 20 years or would you rather just pay up now and know beyond a shadow of doubt that you own a house - albeit an extremely overpriced house.

It’s serious enough that one of the richest men in Ghana will not dare buy land anymore. Just pause for a minute and think about the economic implications of that.

What would it take to solve the problem? Who are we waiting for?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The tragic tale of my talented tailor

I’m done! I’m totally done! You ask why?

Well, let me tell you why. My family has known this tailor for about 10 years now. He honed his skills in the early 90’s in Lome, Togo when it had an “economy” and its French-West African styl and strong currency was the envy of some Ghanaians. After Togo, he worked for famed Ghanaian designer MKOGH in Accra before setting up his own shop. Somewhere along the line he met my mom and he’s been our tailor ever since. His sewing is better than most.

The problem with our family tailor is that over the last 10 years he has proven himself over and over to be a first class “deceiver”. Tales of his deceptive ways run like Ananse stories in my family. There was the time when he promised to finish my dad clothes and bring them to the airport before his flight. Of course he never showed up. Then there’s the story of how he has kept my grandma’s sister’s materials for over 3 years and never finished clothes until she passed away (may her soul rest in peace). Then there are the several uncles and aunties who gave him material many years ago and haven’t seen the material or their shirts at all. One of my uncles has threatened to call the police to get his material back from this tailor. When you think about it, it’s borderline fraud. He takes peoples’ material with the promise of providing them a service and basically never provides the service or returns the material. That is fraud! It’s the moral equivalent of taking your car to the dealership for servicing and they don’t service it but they won’t give the car back to you – with promises of comeback tomorrow, don’t worry; I’ll finish it for you!

Given all this history I figured I could use economic incentives to get this tailor to sew my African outfit in the time agreed. First of all, I paid him fully for all his services when I gave him the material. Then we agreed that he’ll have my stuff ready in 4 days. Basically, it took 5 days (record time) and several threats of violence to get the tailor to bring my hurriedly (and haphazardly) completed outfits.

Now, here’s the moral of the story. Being a tailor in Ghana is such an integral part of Ghanaian culture, considering the several outdoorings, funerals, and parties we attended in new clothes. That a tailor with such talent is so careless with his job is a reflection of how a lot of people live and work in Ghana.

In a normal world, this tailor will send samples of new styles to me ahead of my arrival in Accra. In his distorted world even after paying him fully before he starts work he doesn’t complete his assignment in the time agreed.

Like many in Ghana, he is very talented in his field of work but he wants something for nothing. He doesn’t want to put the structures in place to build a successful organization that lives up to his potential. This is why I’m official done! I’m in the market for a new tailor.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Exodus Project - Ms. Akua

Ms. Akua is the founder of Hired Capital - a recruiting and human resource consulting firm based in Accra, Ghana. Visit their website at www.hiredcapital.com

How long were in the US? What was your experience in the US? How has your experience in the West shaped your perspective?

10 years. University and work. Exposed me to how things are done here, how people relate and how the system works here. It’s been a very positive and rewarding experience but it’s important to know when it’s enough and when you can go back home feeling accomplished.

What has the experience been since you moved back to Ghana (socially & culturally) and in your work/business activities?

Socially, it was initially challenging as I had lost touch with friends who live in Ghana as my closest friends didn’t live there. After about half a year it became stable, I now find myself with a lot of non-Ghanaian friends or repat Ghanaian friends.

What is your advice for others who want to move back to Ghana?

Start reaching out to the people in Ghana early enough.. Also, get in touch with Hired Capital..:)

What are your hopes for the future of Ghana? How do you think we can achieve them?

We can achieve our hopes by being bold enough to participate in what matters to you – be it business, philanthropy or politics. Do something! Also, selecting the right leaders…Although you only have one vote, exercise it when you can.

What business opportunities or (opportunities to have an impact) do you see in Ghana?

There are many opportunities – anytime something isn’t available or something isn’t done right, it’s an opportunity. It’s what tickles your fancy. The only thing is that you can’t sit back and think about the opportunities, because there are at least a dozen more people with the same ideas – it’s about who will execute it.

If you were President of Ghana give us a list of Top 5 things you will do.

I’d take care of the basic necessities of life. They are so basic that it’s ridiculous not to have them.

Why did you move back to Ghana?

I wanted to go home!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Mother's Okro Soup

Yes, my mother's okro soup is the best in the whole wide world. Just look at it!

There's a proverb that says "The child who has never travelled away from home is the one who says his mother's soup in the best".

I haven't travelled everywhere but I have travelled a lot of places and my mom's okro soup beats them all.

Any challenger?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Joke: Customer Service at Samsung in Accra

The other day my dad and I went shopping for a new air conditioning system. We drove down Ring Road between the Kanda Bypass and Circle trying to choose between LG and Samsung. We finally went with Samsung. The sales personnel told us to choose anytime the next day for the installation crew to stop by the house to install the AC, so we chose 10 am the next day. To be sure they’ll show up I had my cousin call them from 8am on the day of the installation appointment and practically all day long past the 10am appointment. They never showed up. So the day after they promised to show up my cousin called them again starting around 8am. They tried to get out of their commitment by giving all kinds of excuses – you didn’t give us your phone number (I gave them 3 different phone numbers). So I got on the phone myself:

Ring, ring, ring ring…..

Samsung guy: Hello

Me: Yes, I bought an air conditioner yesterday and you promised to come and install it and I’m still waiting.

Samsung guy: But I just talked to you

Me: No you talked to my cousin

Samsung guy: You didn’t request installation, and you didn’t provide us a number

Me: That’s not true, I can come to your office right now look the sales girls in the eye and ask them if I provided them a number.

Samsung guy: Well, the number you provided to us was wrong.

Me: No I provided 3 different numbers, and all of them are correct.

Me: Well, I need you to tell me what time the installation crew will be here.

Samsung guy: We are not sure, maybe next week. You need to request the installation.

Me: Look let me speak to your boss
(phone passes to someone seamlessly without warning)

Me: Boss, I need to know when TODAY you can come and install my AC or I’ll return the AC to your office and go to LG instead.

Samsung Boss: Calm down, I’m trying to be fair to you and you’re not (being) understanding.

Me: Listen, I don’t care. If you don’t come within the next couple of hours I will return the AC. We’ve had LG air-conditioners in our house for 16 years and with regular maintenance they worked fine. I don’t need to beg you guys. I’ll return your AC and go back to LG.
(Phone passes seamlessly back to someone unannounced)

Samsung guy: Herr, do you know who we sell to? Do you know what companies order for us? Go ahead and return the AC.

Me: I beg you, tell your boss to give you a lesson in economics. I am nobody but money from a rich person or company and money from a poor person is all money.

Needless to say they called my mom and said I was insulting everybody in the office and the installation crew showed up within 30 minutes of my call. The average worker in Ghana just doesn’t understand business. It’s very very sad. Everybody is waiting to make money without working for it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Institutionalizing our Cultures

I had an interesting discussion with a Nigerian (Yoruba) friend the other day about the intrinsic differences in the way different tribes and ethnic groups relate to each other in Nigeria versus Ghana. Let me make it clear that I believe there’s tribalism everywhere. Even among people of the same tribe there iseven sub-tribe tribalism. Needless to say human beings will always try to find a reason to be different or see themselves as better than another set of human beings.
My conversation with my Nigerian friend went something like this:

Me: I read an interview the other day where Wole Soyinka (the Nobel Prize winning Author and advocate for democracy and the voice of the people in Nigeria) said he considers himself a Yoruba Man first before a Nigerian. That‘s very interesting! Considering he is such a prominent figure in Nigeria. You won’t hear that from a prominent Ghanaian of similar importance to the country.

Nigerian Friend: Well, I can understand where he is coming from.

Me: Well, until that mindset changes I really don’t see this country moving forward. Because seems to me that Nigerian Nationalism is just non-existent.

Nigerian Friend: Well, he’s a man of another generation but I really don’t see Nigeria having an Ibo President. He will probably let the Ibo people declare an independent Biafra state.

Me: Really?

Nigerian Friend: Yeah! And besides I just think we are different people. Yoruba culture is very different. We respect our elders. No matter where you see an older person you have to bow. Ibo people just don’t have the same hierarchy and respect for their elders.

Me: Wait a minute! So are you going to condense the whole Yoruba culture to the way you choose to show respect for your elders? Are you telling me Ibo people don’t respect their elders as much as Yoruba people do? I think you are mistaking the form and fashion of the culture for the substance of the culture.

Nigerian Friend: No, it’s like you’re asking me to basically take the Christ out of my Christianity.

This conversation got me thinking about our cultures in Ghana (and Nigeria and Africa in general). How can we institutionalize our cultures beyond the pomp and pageantry, and the symbolism of years-gone-by? Should we be concerned that our kids know how to wear Kente Cloth from Bonwire and Agbozume or that they respect their elders and read and are proud to speak our languages?

Chicago is said to be a city of neighborhoods, we have the Ukrainians, Polish, Italians, Greeks, and Chinese in their own neighborhoods. These ethnic groups have gradually over the years built schools and institutions where their kids learn their native languages at an early age. I have met people who were born and bred in Chicago of Polish parents who have never stepped foot in Poland but speak fluent Polish. Chicago is also home to a huge Ghanaian community that dates back to the early 1960s (and maybe earlier) but we have no institutions whatsoever.

I am amazed when prominent and very wealthy Africans beat their chest and say I’m a proud Yoruba, Ashanti, Ibo, Ewe etc with significant bank accounts around the world when their children cannot speak their own language.

For example, why is the Ashantehene (with all due respect) driving around the city of Kumasi in a Bentley (nice car!) when the only University in the Ashanti Kingdom is the one Nkrumah built? How about sponsor some Ghanaian historians to write volumes of books on the History of the Ashanti Kingdom and its people instead of the books written by foreigners we still study today? How about sponsor some historians to write the History and Evolution of Highlife Music so our kids can read and be proud of their forefathers? Why are the only castles in Ghana still slave castles the Portuguese built in the 14th century? Have you seen Versaille, Taj Mahal, and Buckingham Palace? It’s not too late.

What are we doing to preserve and institutionalize our cultures?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In Support of Shadow Governments

America’s democracy and economy are fully mature so it makes sense that they to take detours into personalities, racial/tribal divisions, abortion and homosexuality as issues upon which voters decide the future leaders of the country. We in Ghana don’t have that luxury. However, our politics and the hot plate issues of the days increasingly appeal to the base elements of our culture and society and the fringe element of the two major political parties at the expense of substantive issues that affect the welfare of Ghanaians.

As an avid listener of Ghanaian online radio (shout out to Adom FM’s Abieku Santana, Joy FM and Citi FM’s Shamima Muslim!), I am growing impatient with the kind of issues that make news and are discussed daily by political pundits and national media outlets. Here’s a sampling of recent news headlines that have caught the attention of most of the national media over the last month alone:

1. There are Homosexuals in Ghana’s Parliament – Derrick Adjei – Ghanaweb September 13, 2010
2. NPP-UK, Ireland are illiterates - Boakye Gyan- Myjoyonline
3. J J must be arrested - Francess Essiam - Ghanaweb September 22, 2010
4. Kufuor Is A Pathological Liar –Rawlings - Ghanaweb September 20, 2010
5. Nana Addo is no drug dealer – Myjoyonline
6. Nana Addo was too short, his entourage reeked of alcohol – Myjoyonline
7. Only mad people speak 'tongues' - Tony Aidoo – Myjoyonline

Fellow blogger Abena “the Rambling Procastinator” Serwaa has also raised the issues of the preponderance of ridiculousness in Ghanaian political discourse.

In light of all these recent happenings, I was elated when the CPP came up with the concept of the shadow government this week. Here’s the news item:

The Convention People's Party (CPP) yesterday made a resounding statement of its united front and readiness to govern the country, if given the opportunity, with the announcement of a 15-member shadow cabinet....The shadow cabinet will hold weekly activities, including press conferences, issuing of statements that will focus on each sector of the government, explaining the basis of CPP's vision and its proposals on credible, achievable, cost-effective and human-centered alternatives for the way forward…He said the party would not hesitate to deal ruthlessly with anyone who had not been accredited to speak on its behalf and attempted to do that in any part of the country.”

True to their word the CPP went out the next day and executed on this concept with the Dr. Paa Kwesi Ndoum questioning the NDC government on the relevance of the “Better Ghana” agenda .

Where is the largest opposition party NPP on this issue? Why don’t they have a shadow government? All major political parties in opposition should be required to have a shadow government so the national media don’t defer to out-of-touch ex-Presidents or “foot soldiers” (who incite violence) for the party’s official position on key issues affecting the future of the country.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Exodus Project - Ms. Angie Speaks

  1. How long were you in the US?
    10 years
  2. What was your experience in the US?
    Good - overall--went to college - grad school and worked for almost 5 years :)
  3. How has your experience in the West shaped your perspective?
    It has made me more "execution oriented", more of a "go-getter" and a tad "individualistic" lol...hence the need to get back to my roots lol
  4. What has the experience been since you moved back to Ghana (socially & culturally)
    I am fortunate in many ways in that i have a handful of friends who have moved back as well....we enjoy visiting the numerous places that are opening up around town...it is all a learning experience for me since I didn't really know Accra that much before I left to go to college.....and you best believe there are quite a handful of places in Accra that are interestingly very a la mode lol....it is all a matter of your pocket so you pick accordingly...and in your work/business activities? Again, I have been very fortunate, I work in a very international environment....besides doing work that I personally find very fulfilling now, nothing much has changed for me....work is intense lol
  5. What is your advice for others who want to move back to Ghana?
    Come with little expectations and experience home for what it simply is ....home :)
  6. What are your hopes for the future of Ghana?
    That we will become the determinants of our own fate.....a nation that is focused on developing itself internally and not according to external pressures :)
  7. How do you think we can achieve them?
    We need an effective visionary leader......someone with the political will to make the tough decisions that reprioritization demands :)
  8. What business opportunities or (opportunities to have an impact) do you see in Ghana?
    Business opportunities abound all over.....especially in the hospitality business....apparently all the hotel rooms are usually all booked...given that these rooms are overpriced and customer service leaves much to be desired ...someone could make a killing with some investment...if that is your calling in life.
  9. If you were President of Ghana give us a list of Top 5 things you will do.
    · Introduce policies to instill some law and order.....ie, punctuality at all events, discipline on the roads by drivers and pedestrians, no littering
    · Ask all ministries, departments and agencies to publish a list of staff areas with deficits......these will be sent to schools especially tertiary ones to ensure that students are acquiring relevant skills for positions that will be hiring when they graduate
    · Provide funding plus monitoring plus political will in decision making to these priority sectors -- education, health and agric --- leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that these sectors are actually functioning at their optimum effectiveness and are producing the desired nation building results.
    · Ensure that the transportation issue is addressed....roads, public transportation, railway system
    · Introduce some national recreational activity.....all work and no play makes jack a dull boy....it is good for the human psyche to belong :)
  10. If you had to consider moving back again will you do it?
    An absolutely yes.....no second thoughts here...thank God for grace :)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ayew for President (I mean Captain)

Much has been written about the gallant effort of Ghana Black Stars at the FIFA World Cup.

While his father (Abedi Pele) is still the best individual player Ghana has ever produced, most Ghanaians admire the on-field leadership and effort Andre Ayew brings to the Black Stars.

It’s the kind of “we’re all in this together” leadership that is lacking in government and most Ghanaian enterprises. For that alone, Andre Ayew and the spirit he brings to the team gets my vote for next Captain of the Black Stars. May all see and learn.

Dare I say that Abedi Pele’s greatest contribution to Ghana Football is his son?

PS: My vote for the “Most Powerful Man in the World (June & July 2010)” is….Jerome & Kevin-Prince Boateng’s father. They are half brothers. What are the chances that a man will have kids with two different women and both kids will play in the quarterfinals of the World Cup? Anybody?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Can anything good come from Ghana?

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied – John 1:46

As individual citizens we have proven ourselves as a people of incredible talent, brains, and tenacity all around the world. It is fair to say there is a successful Ghanaian in almost every field of endeavor from Sports to Space Travel and from Archeology to Zoology. In that sense, a lot of good has come from Ghana.

I have always wondered if there are any non-government-run Ghanaian institutions, businesses, churches, events, or organizations that meet these 5 simple criteria:

  1. Was started or created by a Ghanaian(s) anywhere in the world.
  2. Is at least 10 years old
  3. Is currently run by Ghanaians
  4. Is structured enough to outlive or change hands from its current leader(s) and be managed by other people.
  5. Has been successful outside Ghana

There is little doubt in my mind that our INABILITY to build institutions and structures to harness the wealth of human and natural resources we have is the primary reason we are still a poor country.

In the next few weeks I will profile a few institutions that meet the criteria. Do you know any that meet the criteria?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Great message, Wrong Messenger, Wrong audience: My thoughts on Dr. Kofi Sam’s Model for Ghanaian Self- Sufficiency

Dr. Kofi Sam graduated from secondary school in the 1950s (his classmate was Kofi Annan of the UN). He is an engineer who was trained in the UK and now has a compelling Ghanaian vision. He ran Steel Works in Ghana back in the day, and held the Housing ministry in Jerry Rawlings’ military government in the 1980s.

Below are highlight of the points he outlined in this interview(listen to audio):

  1. There’s a second wave of AIDS in Ghana called the Acquired Import Dependency Syndrome (AIDS). We import almost everything we use.

  2. Whatever the master in England does, we copy it. Our buildings should have big open windows. That’s how the imperialists, the white men, built their bungalows. We knocked them down and replaced them with glass houses, sealed glass.

  3. We only wear what we make (African attire) on Fridays — Friday wear! That’s a problem.

  4. There is a tunnel called ‘Western education.’ We enter it and learn how to forget. We go to Accra and forget about the village.

  5. The African intellectual is like a bee who has forgotten how to make honey.

  6. The governmental system in Ghana only caters to Western-educated people, even though they’re less than 15% of the population. From the president right down to the teacher, they get paid at the end of every month. No villager gets paid for anything. They get up in the morning, they go to their farms, and they produce their cassava or yam or plantain. Nobody guarantees them a market. Nobody gives them loans. All the taxes raised in the country are for Western-educated people.

  7. The aid from World Bank and Oxfam is in SUVs, restaurants, and swimming pools in Accra but the villagers can’t get a loan to buy a tractor, or cutlasses but somebody is collecting aid on their behalf.

  8. Even some of my very rich relatives won’t contribute to what I’m doing (developing the lives of people in the village).

My thoughts:
I like Dr. Kofi Sam’s enthusiasm and drive, and his vision for Ghana. I agree with most of his points. Unfortunately, I believe he’s the wrong messenger and he is preaching to the wrong congregation.

Take aid for example. We all know by now that the aid to Ghana never makes it to the masses in the villages. The US knows this and the government officials in Ghana who receive these funds know it as well. Statistics show that most foreign aid to Ghana from the US never leaves the US anyway. It is spent to make a huge portion of “American aid worker” lives more comfortable. As a result we can all agree aid won’t get us to the point of self-sufficiency. No American is sitting in Washington DC losing sleep over how to make Ghana as good as or better than the USA. It’s no surprise that aid money never makes it to place like Aburanza – it was meant to be in the SUVs, restaurants and swimming pools just like Dr. Kofi Sam mentioned.

What Dr. Kofi Sam needs to do is gather a group of rich Ghanaians in Accra and show them why it’s important for the farmer in Aburanza to have a cutlass and access to a tractor. He needs to go to the government officials in Accra who get rich by stealing foreign aid and show them the tangible economic value of investing the stolen money into businesses in places like Aburanza to make an even greater profit. He needs to convince the rich and the educated elite to visit their villages not only to attend a funeral but to invest in businesses that employ people and make a profit. He needs to tell the elite that it is not patriotic to say “everything in my house is imported from Italy or the US” while we have is quality made-in-Ghana furniture.

The right messenger will be a rich Ghanaian who is investing his own money in places like Aburanza and making an impact of the lives of the villagers and also making a profit. The right audience will be his colleagues who have the means to replicate that model around the country and the government officials who need to be told to help or stay out of the way.

No country has ever developed without the active involvement and investment of its citizens.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Africa Developed iPhone Game?

It's perhaps the first Africa developed iPhone game by Ghana's Eyram Tawia:

Credit: www.solvingafrica.org

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Guest Blogger SS Quist - Kosmos Energy Apologizes to the Ghanaian government: So what?

In the last few weeks, I have noticed an upsurge in Ghanaian news reports about the discussions between the Ghanaian government and Kosmos Energy. About a week ago, the Ghanaian media reported that Kosmos had apologized to the Ghanaian government. The reason for the apology is unclear as neither Kosmos nor the Ghanaian government has disclosed why or for what Kosmos apologized. While it would be useful to know what Kosmos apologized for, I believe a more important inquiry is: what are the government’s plans for the revenue generated from the oil?

Speaking at a forum on 25 March 2010 in Takoradi, Mr Emmanuel Armah-Kofi Buah, Deputy Minister of Energy, said there would be transparency in the management of oil revenue. While transparency is a must, I would suggest that the Ghanaian public see something tangible in addition to transparency. That “something” is a framework wherein oil revenues go towards: (1) socio-economic infrastructure across the nation and (2) an investment fund that will generate much-needed capital for Ghana, a portion of which would be distributed directly into the hands of the people of Ghana. I will assume that the government does not need a lecture on what socio-economic infrastructure is needed in Ghana. It should be evident by now. As such, the focus of this opinion piece will be on the second point and why those are essential steps for Ghana.

In recent times, Ghana has been lauded as the beacon of democracy and economic achievement in Africa. According to various sources, Ghana has twice the per capita income of the poorer countries in West Africa. Even so, Ghana remains unacceptably dependent on international assistance, investment, remittances by the Ghanaian Diaspora, and unfavourable trade terms set forth by developed countries. Significantly, about 28% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day, most of which are Ghanaian women in the northern region of Ghana. According to the World Bank, Ghana's per capita income has barely doubled in the last 45 years.

By way of background information, in 2007, significant oil deposits were discovered off the coast of southwestern Ghana. The first discovery was made by British-based oil explorer Tullow Oil PLC in the Deepwater Tano block. A second discovery has been made in the West Cape Three Points license area. Jubilee Field is made up of the Deepwater Tano and West Cape Three Points license areas. Tullow owns a 50% stake of the Deepwater Tano license and also holds a 23% stake in the West Cape Three Points license area. Kosmos has a stake of almost 31% in one license area and 18% in the other, giving it about a 30% stake in the entire Jubilee venture. Other partners are Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corporation as well as the Ghana government operating through the Ghana National Petroleum Company “(GNPC”). According to reports, GNPC only has a 13.8% stake in Jubilee.

With more than 1.8 billion barrels of light crude oil, Jubilee is reported to be one of the largest oil discoveries in recent years and has the kind of crude oil that is most demanded by global markets. Today, crude oil is selling at over US$80.00 per barrel. Assuming the price of crude oil remains the same, Jubilee could potentially earn over US$140 billion before its stocks are depleted. It is no wonder the foreign oil companies are salivating at the prospect of getting their hands on Ghana’s oil. Oil exploration is ongoing and Jubilee’s oil stocks are expected to increase. What does all this mean for Ghana? How much of the oil revenue will Ghana actually see? I will let you the readers draw your own conclusions.

In October 2009, ExxonMobil and Kosmos entered a deal in which Exxon agreed to buy Kosmos’ stake in the Jubilee oil field for US$4 billion. This deal is reported to have been blocked by the Ghanaian government who is investigating alleged corruption by Kosmos. Interestingly, a U.S. newspaper, the Washington Times, reported last week that the Ghanaian government and Kosmos are “bitterly fighting over who ultimately will control [Jubilee] field”. Already, the Ghanaian government is being vilified for attempting to protect the interests of Ghanaians. Washington Times claims that President Atta-Mills’ government “has targeted foreign companies that invested heavily in Ghana under the prior administration” and that “Ghana's recent actions toward foreign investors is ‘very worrisome’”. The Times describes “the Kosmos case as ‘the most egregious,’ but not the only one.” Mind you, there is nothing being reported about Kosmos’ apology to the Ghanaian government. It is an interesting and telling turn of events. Barely a year ago, the western media highly praised Ghana as a rising star for our peaceful, albeit hotly contested, democratic elections in December 2008. The pro-Ghana fever was further heightened when U.S. President Barack Obama visited the country in July 2009.

By the way, the Washington Times was founded to “combat communism” and is known for its conservative right-wing position on social and political issues. There have been claims that it is one of the media mouthpieces of the Republican Party with constant distortions of the truth to satisfy its right-wing agenda. That should tell you something. Regardless of these reports and attempts to prejudice the American public against Ghana, I encourage the Mills Administration to continue to fight to protect Ghana’s interests in this case. Moreover, and returning to the issue at hand, the government should also consider ways in which any oil revenue can benefit Ghana for years to come. Vincent McNabb said “hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.” The experiences of Nigeria and other African nations such as Sierra Leone should remind us that as a people we can continue to hope for economic growth but we should not blindly assume that all shall be well.

Take Nigeria, for example. It is the world’s 12th largest producer of petroleum and the 8th largest exporter. It has the 10th largest proven oil reserves and classified as the second largest economy in Africa. Oil makes up 40% of Nigeria’s earnings. One would expect that Nigeria would have a low poverty rating. On the contrary, and according to Rural Poverty Portal, “despite Nigeria’s plentiful agricultural resources and oil wealth, poverty is widespread in the country and has increased since the late 1990s. Over 70 per cent of Nigerians are now classified as poor, and 35 per cent of them live in absolute poverty.” Going back to my earlier point, more than hope is needed to make sure that Ghana does not end up in the same boat as Nigeria.

Ghana needs to take all the necessary precautions and ensure that the proper and essential structures are in place to see this dream of a developed Ghanaian economy come to fruition. This means not having corrupt government officials and politicians who want to put what is rightfully owned by the people of Ghana into their own coffers. It means having a government with enough of a sense of responsibility to develop mechanisms that will ensure that the proceeds (or at least a portion thereof) from the oil would go back to the people – not government officials, the people of Ghana. More than that, it means the people of Ghana should not sit idly by and watch as their birth rights are sold to the highest foreign bidder or squandered by corrupt government officials. We need to call our government to task and hold them accountable for use of our oil revenue. We need to DEMAND that we do, in fact, see part of the proceeds from the oil revenues. By all means, the revenue should go back into socio-economic infrastructure and public services such as roads, hospitals, schools, technology, etc. However, I would proffer that Ghana’s oil revenue needs to be managed in such a way that proceeds are assured for hundreds of years to come. Specifically, a large percentage of the oil revenue should go into an investment fund that will generate additional revenues, e.g. through earned interest or investment profits. In addition, some of the cash proceeds should also go directly into the hands of long-suffering hard-working Ghanaians.

While researching this piece, I discovered that Norway and the U.S. state of Alaska had implemented a structure akin to the mechanism I am calling for. Norway is the seventh largest oil exporter and third largest gas exporter in the world even though it is not a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In 1995, the Norwegian government established a wealth fund known as the “Government Pension Fund – Global”. The Pension Fund is funded by oil revenues and includes taxes, dividends, sales revenues, and licensing fees. The Norwegian government controls its oil revenue through a combination of stakes in major operators in the oil fields. It has about 62% ownership in Statoil and runs the fully state-owned Petoro; Petoro has twice the market value of Statoil.

Also, the Norwegian government controls exploration licensing and production of fields. The Fund invests in developed financial markets outside the country. Currently, their budgetary rule is to spend no more than 4% of the fund each year, which is assumed to be the normal yield from the fund. Norway’s approach to its oil revenues has garnered significant financial benefits for the country as a whole. By January 2006, Norway’s Pension Fund controlled assets valued at US$200 billion. By June 2007, the Fund became the largest fund in Europe, with assets of about US$300 billion (equivalent to over US$62,000 per capita). The Fund’s savings equal the Norwegian GDP and by April 2007 was the largest capital reserve per capita of any nation.

Projections suggest that the Norwegian Pension Fund will soon become the largest capital fund in the world. Currently it is the second-largest state-owned sovereign wealth fund after the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. Conservative estimates suggest that the Pension Fund may reach US$800–900 billion by 2017. As of November 2009, the size of the Pension Fund was approximately US$455 billion and has control over approximately 1.25% of all listed shares in Europe and more than 1% of the publicly traded shares in the world. The Norwegian Central Bank has investment offices in London, New York, and Shanghai. New government guidelines (implemented in 2007) allow the Pension Fund to invest up to 60% of its capital in shares while the remaining 40% may be placed in bonds and real-estate.

Similarly, Alaska’s state government established the Alaska Permanent Fund in 1976 to manage a surplus in state petroleum revenues from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Since its initial principal sum of US$734,000, the fund has grown to US$40 billion as a result of oil royalties and capital investment programs. Every year, the state legislature takes out 8% from the earnings, puts 3% back into the principal for inflation proofing and the remaining 5% are distributed to all qualifying Alaskans. Since 1982, dividends from the Fund’s annual growth have been paid to eligible Alaskans. The portion of the dividends received by Alaskans range from US$331.29 in 1984 to US$3,269.00 in 2008 and included a one-time US$1200 “Resource Rebate”. I wonder if the Washington Times would argue against having the Alaska Permanent Fund. Ironically, Alaska has historically been a republican-leaning state yet they have deemed it necessary to protect the rights of Alaskans just as the Ghanaian government is working to protect the rights of Ghanaians.

In any event, some might argue that administration of the fund disbursement scheme that I am calling for will be too much of a challenge for the Ghanaian government. In response, I would suggest that Ghana’s National Identification System (NIS) is the perfect starting point. NIS was established to help the government’s national development planning. One of the goals of NIS is to boost the delivery of social services such as health, retirement benefits, social administration, and credit facilities by providing population census data. So, for instance, NIS could be used to facilitate payment tracking systems by providing the government with data on those qualified to receive the Fund’s proceeds. Depending on advancements offered by financial institutions, payments can then be made to the qualified individuals via check, direct deposit, or electronic fund transfers. Also, payment centres can be established for individuals who may not have bank accounts. Obviously, internal control mechanisms need to be built in to avoid fraudulent activity, embezzlement, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds, double payment, and the like. In sum, there is no doubt that we will encounter some challenges in designing and implementing a Fund similar to that of Norway and Alaska. However, creative thinking and in-depth analysis will help us find solutions to any problem.

The challenges notwithstanding, proper management of our oil revenues will have countless long term benefits for Ghana just as it has had, and continues to have, for Norway and Alaska. If a portion of Ghana’s oil revenue is placed in an interest-bearing account or in some form of capital investment program as has been set up in Norway, dividends inured can be used to build and maintain important infrastructure. Like the Alaska Fund, I would encourage the government to disburse a portion of the dividends to Ghanaians. 28% of our population live on about a dollar a day. This means that with a population of 24 million, 6.72 million Ghanaians live in the most abject poverty earning US$456.25 a year. This statistic does not even include the additional millions of Ghanaians who may be teetering just above the poverty line. Imagine how much life would improve for these Ghanaians if they were assured an additional US$300? How much more if they got an additional US$3,000 a year? Not to mention the fact that this money will be pumped back into the economy generating businesses, jobs, etc.

Interestingly, last year, Norway sent a government delegation to Ghana to advise the Ghanaian government of how to deal with its oil resources. The offer came after Kofi Annan, fearful that Ghana could succumb to the “oil curse”, asked the Norwegian government to share its experiences with the Ghanaian government. There are claims that Ghana could develop a fund for its oil revenues similar to Norway's Pension Fund. However, I have not seen any reports in the news expounding on the government’s plans to set up such a fund and would ask that, to the extent those claims are true, those plans be made public. The Ghanaian public has a right to know what plans are in the works for Ghana’s oil resources. Furthermore, I urge the government to seriously consider examples of both the Norwegian Pension Fund and Alaska Permanent Fund. (Emphasis added). In my humble opinion, a hybrid of the two mechanisms could be very beneficial to Ghana and its citizens.

In closing, I would like to say that Ghana’s oil is a gift from God that we could continue to benefit from for an eternity, but it MUST be managed properly. The responsibility of how the proceeds from this bounty are managed does not fall solely on the shoulders of the government. It is the collective responsibility of both government and the people of Ghana to ensure that this valuable resource is managed properly. As such, I call on the people of Ghana not to be silent or ignore this very important issue. We, the people, must hold the government accountable. We must demand that the government tell us what plans they have for managing the oil revenues. We must insist on long-term plans that will benefit our children, our children’s children, to wit, our future generations. We must require a management scheme that has built-in checks and balances. There must be accountability and transparency and above all neutrality and fairness in the management and disbursement of the oil proceeds. There must be swift action against ANY individual who attempts to misappropriate the funds. There must be zero tolerance for corruption by government officials and anyone appointed to manage the oil revenue. The time for action is now, not when the oil starts to flow and the dollar signs begin to distract us and the government from doing what needs to be done. We have been blessed with a beautiful gift. We all must make sure it is not squandered.

Credit: SS Quist The author is in-house counsel for an international non-profit organization. This piece represents the author’s opinions and not that of the author’s employer or anyone associated with the author.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joshua Clottey: Questions and Lessons for a nation

In light of the Joshua Clottey “non-fight” with Manny Pacquiao I have a few questions and concerns that are begging for answers:

Questions and concerns:
1. Joshua Clottey’s Ghanaian lead trainer Godwin Dzanie Kotey could not secure a visa to travel to the United States in what would arguably be the “fight of his life”. What is the role of the Sports Ministry, the National Sports Council, and the Ghana Boxing Authority in helping the trainer secure a US visa? Why weren’t they successful? Would a trainer in his corner actually speaking his native language (Ga) have helped Joshua Clottey actually…ah…fight?

2. According to myjoyonline news; "Clottey blames defeat on Banku and Okro stew" - Given Ghana’s long history on the world boxing stage (Ghana being, arguably, the best boxing nation on the African continent on the professional level) shouldn’t our boxers have nutritionist or at least know what kind of food to eat before “the fight of your life”? I wouldn’t even Banku and Okra soup before playing tennis, basketball or ride my bike in my neighborhood because it’s such heavy food. Why should a former boxing champion like Joshua Clottey eat Banku and Okro Stew before a major fight?

3. According to an AP news article I read, “Clottey who like many of the country’s top boxers have endlessly criticized the GBA for a lack of support, confessed that he goes into the fight against Pacquiao feeling like he is fighting for Ghana for the very first time”.

For a country of approximately 20 million people Ghana has made a name for itself in the world of boxing – Azumah Nelson, Ike Quartey, etc. Most of the boxing greats come from Accra, specifically the Bukom, Chorkor, Osu areas of Accra.

What would it cost to have a boxing ring on every corner in Bukom.

What would it cost to build 2 extra large gyms with several training equipment (locally made) in the Chorkor area?

What would it cost to give every boy in Bukom a free pair of boxing gloves if they chose to pursue boxing either as a hobby or with the hope of making it as a professional boxer some day.

Had Joshua Clottey fought and won the Welterweight title the economic impact of his winning on the average Ghanaian’s standard of living would have been greater than Ghana’s entire parliament.

How about we don’t give each parliamentarian a $50,000 "car loan" next year. (are these still loans if they don't and are not required to pay them back?) . Instead build some facilities to produce more Joshua Clotteys and Azumah Nelsons.

How about reduce the "car loans" to $20,000 instead? Can I get an Amen?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Are you NPP, NDC or Ghanaian?

Yes I am Ghanaian and I am advocating ruthless patriotism. Country First! Long Live Ghana! National Interest! God bless our homeland Ghana!

In my not-so-humble opinion the only reason anyone will join or associate themselves with any of these two political parties is that they are either benefiting directly from the association or they are mildly tribalistic and subscribe to or share the tribal undertones that define these political parties. Then there’s the “I hate (Rawlings/ Kuffour/Mills/Akuffo Addo)” crowd. If that describes you, I understand your situation.

Otherwise, I believe every fair minded citizen, who cares about the future of Ghana, should strive for objectivity in judging the actions of our leaders with a bias towards the long term interest of the country.

In Western society politics is generally ideologically divided into Right Wing and Left Wing. In Ghana, NPP claims to be the right wing free market party whereas the NDC claims to be the left wing socialist democrat party. As for the CPP/Nkrumahist ideology the least said the better.
Nkrumahism was a good idea in the 50’s but that ship has sailed – even communist China is a pseudo capitalism state. None of these parties really practice any of their supposed ideologies because there’s hardly a market economy in Ghana let alone a free market economy. On the other hand we are too poor to be socialists – in a true socialist economy the state owns and control assets and we hardly own anything anymore.

Our current station in life as a country demands that more of our citizens are fiercely pro-Ghana and nothing more. Of course we all have to vote for a political party during elections but we can’t let these political divides cloud our judgment of what is good for Ghana.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Great Ice Cream in Osu - Arlecchino

I'm not sure when this place opened but a friend told me about it when I was in Ghana 2 weeks ago. It's located on Oxford Street in Osu after Papaye! I had scoops of pistaccio and coffee -mmmm yummy, yummy in my tummy! LOL. Check it out.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Exodus Project

In the last few months a number of my friends have moved back home to Ghana from Europe and the US. This has been called a “brain gain” in certain circles but you had to believe there was a “brain drain” to start with. I’ve never really bought into the whole idea of the “brain drain”. Sure, there are exceptions. Consider the case of Ghanaian medical doctors where statistics show that 5 years after medical school 85% of our medical doctors leave Ghana or the other statistics that show there are more Ghanaian tax-payer trained doctors in New York alone than in all of Ghana. These are not people you can replace with ordinary people on the streets.

Have you ever wondered why only African countries have a “brain drain” problem? Me too! I believe some development economist woke up one day and decided that “these Africans are so poor because all their smart people have left the continent”. Just think about this scenario, assuming New York City and California (America’s best and brightest) ceased to exist. Long before the dust settles another Wall Street will rise in Omaha, Nebraska, another Silicon Valley will rise in the mountains of Butte, Montana and Hazlehurst, Georgia will the new Hollywood. So don’t tell me nothin’ about no “brain drain”. We are poor because we haven’t figured out progressive ways to run our lives. But I digressJ!

In the past people moved back to Ghana for seemingly altruistic reasons to “help Ghana develop”. They will make history by helping make Ghana the Sweden of sub-Saharan Africa. Instead, they end up in government positions and get rich overnight.

Needless to say, the tides are turning and I am excited about this exodus of young Ghanaians from the US and Europe back to Ghana. For the first time in our lifetime the almost-depression-recession has made Europe and the US seem less of a sure and stable place to make a living. Tangible recovery in the economic situation in the west is not visible for another 5-10 years. For all these people and many more who are packing their bags as we speak, moving back to Ghana has become an attractive option. Quality of life in Ghana is unparalleled, add the prospects of making decent money working in the private sector, starting a business, or manning the family fortunes. There’s true upside in Ghana.

In the next few months I’ll profile some of these people under “The Exodus Project” title. Watch out for it!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Post-Racial America has Ghana in it

First it was Barack Obama, now it's Ruby & Sam. Somehow, this post-racial America (like most things great and progressive) had to have Ghana in it :)

Ruby Amanfu was born in Ghana and moved to Nashville with her family when she was 3. Sam Brooker grew up in Green Bay, Wisc., and answered Music City’s siren call after finishing college. They each spent years pursuing promising solo careers (Amanfu had a hit single, “Sugah,” on the U.K. pop charts in 2003) before becoming an official duo in 2005

Their music was featured in the movie "The Secret Life of Bees" starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Hudson.

They've been interviewed by several news organizations. Check out their interview on NPR.

Check out their official website http://www.samandrubymusic.com/
Photo from: The Tennessean

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Blue Kiosk" Economics

According to US Small Business Administration approximately 80% of all US businesses are small businesses. It goes without saying that the largest economy in the world (although it’s wobbly right now) is driven largely by the small ice cream shops, the mom and pop retail stores, the little Chinese restaurants, the soul food restaurants, and the small start-ups in Silicon Valley etc.

It is safe to assume that the Ghanaian equivalent of a small business is your typical “Blue Kiosk” or “Trader”. They buy and sell. In most neighborhoods the Blue Kiosk sells Milo, Milk, groundnuts, Akpeteshie etc.

Have you noticed that most small businesses in Ghana think in terms of Revenue and not Profit Margins? Let me explain:

Assume a Blue Kiosk owners buys “Ideal Milk” from a wholesaler for 2.00 GHC each. She sells it at a retail price of 2.20 GHC. I am convinced that the typical Blue Kiosk owner in Ghana thinks she just made 2.20 GHC all her personal expenses for the week will be paid for with this money.

In fact she only made 0.20 GHC (20 Pesewas). It’s even less than 0.20 GHC when you consider the time value of money i.e. the time between buying from the wholesaler and when she finally sells the product. If Blue Kiosk Owner is to live on 1.00 GHC per day she has to sell 5 tins of “Ideal Milk” everyday. To make 2.20 GHC she has to sell 11 tins of “Ideal Milk”.

Unfortunately, not only blue kiosk owners think like this. It runs through our culture. It’s also the building contract who gets a contract and the first thing he buys is a Mercedes Benz. If he really considered his financial obligation i.e. kids school fees, electricity and water bills, 30% bank interest rates, living expenses etc Mr. Contractor will quickly realize that not only can he not afford a Mercedes Benz he can’t afford a car at all. Have you ever wondered what kind of profit margins the street vendors make? Me too. Why are they still there on the streets when there are so many other business opportunities that have better profit margins? The answer is simple. When they sell an apple they can see cash in hand.

I look forward to the day when a University of Ghana Business School graduate with a Bsc. Admin (first class) will start a “Blue Kiosk”. Expand to 5 Blue Kiosks take over a whole neighborhood and hopefully become Ghana’s home grown Sam Walton (Wal-Mart) instead of sitting around waiting for an opportunity to work in the bank as a teller. That will be the beginning of a new day in Ghana.

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.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hypocrisy, The French, Omar Bongo, and Ghana's Neighbors

For a longtime now, I've had issues with the French and their continued manipulation of their former colonies in sub-saharan Africa. Personally, I believe that as colonial masters the French were (and still are) the worst at pillaging their colonies without developing much in terms of human capital and institutions. Then sometime last month I read the following article on BBC News website after it was clear Omar Bongo was pratically on his death bed:

"French authorities are to investigate the assets of the Gabonese President Omar Bongo, who is accused of misappropriating millions of dollars meant for public services...."

"....It is alleged that the volume of real estate owned by Mr Bongo's family in France could not have been purchased with official salaries alone."

"....In 2007 a police investigation into real estate owned by the president and his family in France disclosed 33 properties in Paris and Nice worth an estimated $190 million. And back in 1999, an investigation by the American senate into the private practices of Citibank estimated that the Gabonese president held $130 million in the bank's personal accounts. "

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

Here's the money quote:

"...In a book on the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the investigative journalist Pierre Pean reveals a number of business deals between Mr Kouchner's private consultancy in the early 2000s and the Gabonese government."

Is it possible for a Black African to own (by conservative estimates) $190 Million worth of Real Estate in France without the knowledge and consent of the French government? Just Real Estate! Not boats and bank accounts etc. Just Real Estate.

Gabon has a population of about 1.5 million people. Imagine what $320 millon ($190 million + $130 million) could have done for the lives of ordinary Gabonese.


As Ghana becomes the "Sweden" of the sub-region I worry that the continuing political situation in our neighboring countries (Togo, Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast) will negatively impact our progress. We all saw what happened in Ivory Coast after Houphouët-Boigny. Thanks to French support, Ivory Coast sat under a "pretend" democracy for many years under Houphouët-Boigny. For all intents and purposes Togo is currently the private property of the Gnassingbé Eyadéma family.