Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Falling short of Champions league glory and the future of Manchester United

Congratulations to the Blaugrana for winning the 2009 Champions league. Barcelona outplayed my favorite Manchester United and this triumph will bring joy to the Catalan support. Barcelona played very well all year and I had predicted that they would probably win the UEFA Champions League when MAN U was struggling at the beginning of the year. It was meant to be. For Pep Guardiola to win a treble in his first year in charge is magnificent. Barcelona has a great future, but so does Manchester United. The Red Devils will be back and even stronger if they do a few things. The first one would be to replace Sir Alex Ferguson with me. :-)

I am very happy for Thierry Henry. I think it's a crime he's never been crowned the world's best player. He should have won in 2003 but it was given to Zinedine Zidane and in 2006 if Zidane had kept his cool in the World Cup final. Henry went to Barcelona to win the Champs league and today, he's a winner. He had a bad season last year but he found his scoring boots this season and it paid dividends for Barca. He's still a step slow and I've seen him miss too many good chances but he's still a world class player.

Lionel Messi was going to win this year's World Best and this triumph will pencil that in. He's been marvelous all year and deserves the accolades. I don't think the criticism of him disappearing in big games is warranted. Barcelona is a pretty predictable team, if you park the bus defensively and have the speed and skill to attack them, the job is half done. Lionel Messi is targeted in big games and when you have three people marking you, there's not much you can do. Manchester United played okay defensively but we gave the ball away too easily and couldn't string together many good attacking moves. And Messi scored a header! Who would have guessed?

MAN U ended up with the premier league, Carling Cup, and World Club Championship. That's a treble too. :-D It is painful that we'll be missing out on the FA Cup final, especially in the wake of this Champs league loss. We had never lost a major European final but I guess, there's always a first time. Fergie wasn't outcoached, he made every decision I would have taken, we just run into a very good team who didn't seem to suffer from the absence of two first-choice defenders. We have a very good team and with a few tweaks here and there, we'll be even better next season.

In defence, we need to hasten the progress of goalkeeper Ben Foster. Van Der Sar probably has one more excellent season in him. We should make Rafael the first choice right-back, convince Gary Neville to retire and find a way to give John O'Shea more games. Wes Brown will be back to be an insurance in central defence. We also have Fabio da Silva who should be able to contribute more next season. Our defence was super this season and though it let us down in Rome, we needn't change too many things.

Anderson needs to be able to shoot/score. How can we have a Brazilian who can't score goals? He's great in possession but he needs to give us more in attack. If he fails to do that, he shouldn't be Paul Scholes' long term replacement. I like Darren Fletcher better and that guy deserves more playing time. We also have Owen Hargreaves. The biggest issue with United's midfield is shooting. We need someone who can score from long-range and I am not talking about Ronaldo. Darron Gibson has shown promise and he must be encouraged. I hope next season would be Giggs and Scholesy's last. Before they leave, we need to find a midfielder who can cause problems with set-pieces. Hargreaves is great but Carrick should learn to do this too.

On the flanks, we need help. Rooney shined in the latter part of the season playing '11' but that is not his calling. Is Zoran Tosic going to become a star? Nani is too inconsistent, we hoped we'll start to blossom like C.Ronaldo did, but it's not happening. I believe we should buy a good left-footed winger. Frank Ribery comes to mind but he'll be too pricey. I will settle for Stewart Downing. He'll be great for us. Nani may have to leave, but Park Ji-Sung must stay. So far, it seems Ronaldo wants to stay. If he throws tantrums of wanting to leave, he should sell him to the highest bidder. The Red Devil army didn't die after David Beckham or Ruud Van Nistelrooy were sold, so why keep this ballerina? He's an exceptional player who's saved MAN U many a day, but he needs to dedicate himself to the cause, and prepare to defend.

Our attack was a pale shadow of what we had in the previous season. Many people blame Dimitar Berbatov and there's really no alternative. Berba slowed our attack and though he had many assists, with him in the game, we didn't create many chances. Fergie has done some bad business in his managerial years (Veron, Djemba Djemba, Kleberson) and Berba is one of them. I doubt we can sell him now so we are stuck. He needs to inject some pace and urgency into his game or prepare to play as a striker who has no business dropping into midfield to pick up balls. Carlos Tevez has served MAN U well but we must not pay a fortune to keep him. If we can't get him for less than 20 million pounds, we should let him go. Wayne Rooney had a very good year and if he is given more freedom next year, he will have an even better season. Danny Welbeck and Kiko Macheda should get more games to grow into dependable squad members.

Manchester United has won 22 trophies in the last 20 years. There have been times where we've not won any or not been good enough. Times like that may be coming soon. We must not pay for near-successes. MAN U must allow the young players like Da Silva twins, Eckersley, Jonny Evans, da Laet, Gibson, Possebon, Lee Martin, Welbeck, Macheda, etc to grow. We have some great youngsters on loan as well. Don't forget about Manucho (yay Angola), though I don't think he can produce much for the team eventually because of his age. We should adopt the Arsenal approach while keeping all our best players at reasonable prices. Who's going to replace Sir Alex and when? I'd love to do it. Every thing I said above makes sense, doesn't it? Good.

Glory, glory, Manchester United. Kiddology rules. We'll remain at the top for a long time. Success will be sustained.

PS: Can we find a way to get Michael Essien? I believe he is the answer to all our problems. It was very very sad to see Chelsea grab him in 2005.

10 African songs I think you should know about

I absolutely love African music and it is almost by coincidence. The day I promised to be a Pan-African and take interest in learning many things about different African countries, it started with the music. I haven't stopped since and I have collected a large database of songs from all over the continent, from kwaito to coupe decale, from genge to mbalax and from bongo flava to zouk. I am going to use this blog entry to talk about 10 African songs that I love and listen to consistently even though I don't know 100% what the lyrics are about (in no particular order). None of them are in English (obviously). None of them are from Ghana (syke). None of them are from Nigeria either (because chances are you've already heard about them). I hope you will check them out and listen to them. You may discover your next favorite song or artiste. Click the songs to find the lyrics, video, audio, etc.

High I go - Kabelo (Kwaito/gospel from South Africa)
The first Kwaito songs I heard were TKZee's Shibobo and Fiasco. Shibobo was a big song in South Africa composed in the midst of South Africa's participation in the France World Cup in 1998. Kabelo is one of the members of the now disbanded TKZ group and I was given some tracks on his 2006 Exodus album by a Swazi friend, including this one. I have never stopped listening to this song, it may be my 'favoritest' gospel song ever. South Africans can sang! This song is gospel but it should be played at every African party, the beat is just super. And those clicks! Mhhmm.

Teu grande amor - Ary (Kizomba from Angola)
I only discovered Kizomba last year after I looked more into Zouk music. I quickly found out Ary was one of the more popular Angolan musicians. Teu grande amor made an impression on me from the start. Zouk/Kizomba beats are the best. The music would be considered slow for many African parties but the folks here at Stanford have bought into the Zouk hype and it's a feature now. Imagine the last time we had a party and a policeman paid us a visit to talk about the noise level. Noise? No problem. Play some soothing Zouk music and no one will complain. I want to visit Angola. They have kizomba and the women are hot.

Chuki - Wyre (R&B from Kenya)
I heard about Wyre in 2004 when a Kenyan friend decided to satisfy my craving for Kenyan music with some CDs. The 'Necessary Noize' CD she gave me had the 'Bless my room' track which I really like. Chuki came along in 2007 and I can't stop listening to this song. It's really mellow and soothing. I've learnt to sing along.

Safari - Mokobe ft Viviane (Hip-hop from Mali)
I fell in love with this song because of the video. Some people remember Mokobe from his 113 days when he featured on a couple of huge Magic System hits (Un gaou a oran and Bouger bouger). His debut album featured more than 10 African music superstars. Safari is my favorite here because the video simply 'celebrates' Africa and what some of us abroad miss about it and it has the angelic voice of Senegal's Viviane.

Amor - Philippe Monteiro & Viviane (Zouk from Cape Verde/Senegal)
One of my Rwandan friends had been trying to latch me onto the Zouk craze for a long time. But one beautiful day in Ghana in January 2008, I was sold. The seller was a Burkinababe. :-) She didn't give me this particular song but the Zouk she gave me left me craving for me like a fat kid loves cake. I discovered this song 'googling' and it's become one of my favorites. Portuguese is such a romantic language *sigh*. And those Wolof lines by Viviane even outshine the Portuguese in the song. How can anything bother you after listening to this sheer joyous piece of music?

Sorriso - Lizha James (R&B? from Mozambique)
Lizha James came into my life in 2006 after she won a major Channel O Music Video award. She's one of the best musicians in Africa period. She does many styles and if she sang in English, she may be Africa's biggest. My Lizha choice is this slow ballad that is less than 3 minutes but it is 2 and a half minutes of pure bliss. I never listen to this song once or twice, has to be 3 times until I let it go. And I don't even know what she's singing about.

Nsanyuka nawe - Blu3 (R&B from Uganda)
My favorite genre is RnB in case you haven't figured it out. Blu3 aka 3 Black Ladies from Uganda is flat out Africa's Destiny's Child. They've toured the continent and they make pretty good music. They never made a video for this song but I like it more than their Swahili and English tracks. (I am still listening to Sorriso :-D) I love the beat for this song too.

Ferme les yeux imagine toi - Soprano ft Blacko (Hip hop from Comoros)
Comoros? Is that an African country? Yes. I have never met anyone from Comoros before but I love this song. The rap is exquisite and the singing is heavenly.

Amoulanga - Magic System (Zouglou? from Cote d'Ivoire)
Everyone makes a big deal about Premier gaou. I have come to detest that song, we need to dance to something new. Amoulanga is a Magic System as old as Premier Gaou (Africa's party anthem), but no one talks about it. If anyone knows what this song means, please share. When this song started getting radio airplay in Ghana in 2000, many thought it was a Ghanaian song. Too bad.

Birima - Youssou Ndour (Mbalax Afro-pop from Senegal)
My Swazi friend got me to love this song. I had always slept on Youssou Ndour until I heard this track. It has to be one of the best African songs ever. Youssou's voice is great but this song is very well composed. I have never really liked Mbalax but this Senegalese track is a favorite.

These are the first 10 songs that came to mind. If I remember one injustice that I missed, I will comment about it. I will like to give a shout-out to a number of songs. Lady Jaydee's Distance (Tanzania) teaches you how to say 'I love you' in 5 African languages (Kiswahili, Luganda, Zulu, Kinyarwanda, Lingala). Now how awesome is that! Jessy Matador's Decale gwada is one great Coupe Decale song while Muntuza (2Bob) by Malaika is a great South African jam. One other African party anthem is Awilo Longomba's Karolina. I am a sucker for songs about Africa and that includes Africa by Salif Keita. Can't complete this entry without a Kaysha mention, check out On est ensemble.

Long live African music.
Long live African unity.
Long live Africa

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gbaa (gaffe) of the year - Ecomini by John Evans Atta Mills

I couldn't resist this. Ghanaians, I am sorry. After praising Paul Kagame as an entrepreneur president and salivating over Jacob Zuma's dancing skills, this is what I have to say about Asomdwoe hene Professor John Evans Atta Mills.

John Atta Mills became the third consecutive Ghanaian presido called John on January 7, 2009 after edging Nana Akufo Addo in the slimmest of margins. Since then, there hasn't been much he has done to forecast what his presidency will do for Ghana in the next four years. If I have missed this, please let me know. But when many Ghanaians talk about him today, it's about his 'slip of the tongue' sayings when he delivered his first sessional address to parliament. I don't have the full speech yet but you can listen at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mit_SJPUCcU


http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=77167219973

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=151604695091

Some soundbites from the speech - "Our ecomony, our ecomini is resilient." "Madam Speaker, when you are proda, pronouncing". (Did you hear Madam Speaker say Order)
"madam Speaker, when you are pronouncing such figures in billions, and I want to remind you, but I didn't even know how to translate them to 'orpepepepeepeee'." Huh?

As if having the speech on Youtube and Facebook wasn't enough, some smart dude has produced an 'ecomini' ringtone. It's hilarious. Parts of the speech is remixed with Asem's Gimme blow. This 'ecomini' ringtone is taking the mantle held by King Ayisoba's I want to see you my father and Becca's You lied to me.

ecomini remix with Asem
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KluTZDxsPXg


Some lyrics: "But let me hasten to add, that you should not give cause for despair". Hem hem hem hem! "When you are pronouncing Ecomini". Hem hem hem hem. "But I didn't even know how to translate them to 'orpepepepeepeee'."

My good friend, Ato Kwamena Dadzie blogged about this ringtone. He has even put the ringtone up on his website for download. I hear 'orpepepeepeee' is the new word for cash? As if kawukudi, luuchi and dough were not enough.

In related news, some lecturer in Ghana has called the 'ecomini' ringtone an affront to the presidency. Why so serious me people?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Jacob Zuma - the dancing president

A lot of people are wary about South Africa under a Jacob Zuma presidency. If you have followed Zuma's life, you know he's been in the news for many wrong reasons. I haven't seen anyone mention his dancing exploits though, I guess that's not 'good news' enough. I know I praised Paul Kagame as an entrepreneur president but calling Zuma a dancing president is not a knock on him. It's a feather in his cap. Jacob Zuma is a man of the people.

I just discovered a video of his sharing the stage with South African artistes - dancing. The man can move! I wish I had a president who could dance like him. While President Professor Atta Mills is busily 'gbaaing' (tripping over words), Jacob Zuma is showing his youth. Lekker.

See the video here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AiKyHhqYLk


In fact, the guys sings as well. Watch him sing Umshini Wami below. Full name Awuleth' Umshini Wami, it means "Bring me my machine gun" and is a popular Zulu language "struggle song" used formerly by members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress during the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Most recently, the song is identified with the persona of Jacob Zuma, the current President of South Africa, and is often sung at rallies which involve him and his supporters, including the ANC Youth League. Info from Wikipedia. This song rendition spearheaded the ANC to electoral victory. You've got the dancing and singing Mzansi people. Is Zuma's nickname JZ? How appropriate?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hscwpS0s2wc


I've heard concerns Jacob Zuma may be the second coming of the new Robert Mugabe. The old Robert Mugabe was adored by the West, just do a little research. Zuma is a Zulu unlike his Xhosa friends in Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. I pray President Zuma uses his power to empower black South Africans more but in doing so, manages not to upset the other South Africans and other immigrants making a living in the new South Africa. We'll see. If he makes more enemies in trying to do the right thing, I hope he throws a party for them and challenges them to dance-offs. Amandla!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kasahorow & Fienipa - Creating a home for African languages on the web

Content in African languages is very dear to my heart. I love seeing websites in African languages. Tanzania is the leader in this category, there are many major Bongo websites that are in Kiswahili. These include blogs, news sites and entertainment sites too. My friends at Kasahorow.com have been a leader in enabling African languages on the web. They have been designing various greeting cards in African languages. You can send graduation cards to congratulate your graduating friends, as well as birthday and those for other milestones. Send one today by going to greetings.fienipa.com. Fienipa.com is a Cooperative provides technology services for its member businesses to run some of their operations on the Internet. Other than greetings, it has lyrics to African songs, African language dictionaries, information about African food and restaurants amongst others.

Julius Nyerere championed the use of Swahili as a national and official language and it has worked in uniting the country. For a long time, science subjects were taught in Swahili in Tanzanian schools. Could you imagine learning Chemistry in Kiswahili? Hydrogen peroxide? How do you say Polyvinyl chloride in Swahili? Someone who went to high school in Arusha knows. Excellent. The language debate has been a mainstay on GhanaConscious forums in the wake of the slow disappearance of our mother tongues. Some parents in Accra in these days encourage their children to only speak English at home. I am not making this up, I promise. I wanted to ask Jakaya Kikwete about the use of Swahili in the nation's economy but the people-choosing-folks-to-talk to the-Tanzanian-president did not choose me. Bummer.

I have already blogged about Paul Kagame. This guy gets it. He's also encouraging the use of Kinyarwanda in national dealings and the language is becoming very important. There are more Kinyarwanda websites than there are Twi, Yoruba and Igbo websites combined. Rwandans take their language very seriously. You can see the Fienipa greetings site making an effort in having a Akan (Twi) version of the site.

Kasahorow means many languages in Twi, a Ghanaian language. The website grew out of a Tsooboi project in the GhanaThink Foundation. It is now housing dictionaries for languages like Twi, Hausa, Yoruba (Nigeria), Lingala (DR Congo), Ewe, Kinyarwanda, etc. This is a great resource for people who want to learn African languages. It won't be long, we'll have our own African Babelfish. The Kasahorow folks have also been working on African language spell-checkers, keyboards, etc. Follow Kasahorow on Twitter. Think of it as documenting our African languages. A Kasahorow fellowship has just been instituted at Ashesi University. Patrick Awuah's people are as forward thinking as the folks at Kasahorow.

I can't get by without speaking in Twinglish myself but efforts like those at Fienipa and Kasahorow are key in keeping our African languages alive. Pidgin English is becoming very popular but it should not be at the expense of our mother tongues. Sometimes I claim I can even teach Pidgin English. I've taught Twi a number of times to willing learners at Stanford and that was no easy task. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was a learning experience for me. Once we lose our lingua franca, our culture might as well be gone.

The Fienipa marketplace also allows you to buy different African goods. Check it out and get a Swahili wall clock today! Do remember to send a graduation card to a friend at Fienipa Greetings. You may be able to speak the languages well, but can you read and write them? Watch adverts on Ghanaian television and you will see countless spelling mistakes. If we don't take care, some Chinese people will come and teach us our own languages. Every developed country in the world who has a national language other English takes that language seriously. Africa and Africans must do the same and act now before it is too late.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

African basketball players in the NBA - past, present and future

One day in 2001, I woke up and realised I was pretty tall. When I came to the NBA USA, people will look at me and ask if I played basketball. I guess tall black boys were supposed to be basketball players if they lived in Syracuse, New York. Like I was telling a high school friend earlier today, the 'gaso' the caterers fed us in Presec did me some good. Either that or I was meant to shoot a number of inches in my teenage years. Anyway, I've been a huge fan of the NBA since I started schooling in the US. I never played basketball growing up and haven't been able to pick it up since. I can't shoot, dribble or dunk. I can play some inspired Kobe-like defense for a couple of possessions but even that will be mistaken for Bruce Bowen scissorhands work. I have made a momentum-swinging shot in an intramural game though. Wink wink. "Not all of us can play bball". Not all of us can play bball. Some other Africans have proved they can though, and they made to the NBA. We'll look at a few of them in this post and wonder aloud why there haven't been more.

Most of the top African players in the history of the NBA have been big men. Hakeem 'The Dream' Olajuwon. Uncle Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo. Emeka Okafor. (Not the Timbuktu Chronicles guy but the-former-3.8-GPA-finished-college-in-3-years UConn Huskie). The first two are surefire hall of famers but we haven't had any great African guards. Angola is Africa's top basketball country and none of their players have made it to the NBA. Something has to be done. More Africans should take basketball more seriously. If we can do 'suuliyas' and 'nutmegs', we should be able to crossover our way into the basketball leagues.

I like to support the African players in the NBA. I loved the San Antonio Spurs a little bit more when they were starting Nazr Mohammed, who is a Ghanaian. You didn't know? Now you know. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who I met at a Ghanaian picnic in 2005, is the torchbearer for Ghana at the moment, trying to break into the Toronto Raptors squad. He'll have a GH crowd following him to Raptors' games in the T-Dot. And British ones too. Whatever happened to all the great Ghanaian ballers? When I got interested in the NBA, I started looking for all the Presec ballers I'd seen play in Accra. C'mon GH, we can do this. Where's that guy in the Coca-Cola Brrrr commercial? Is he playing basketball in Turkeminstan? (yes, it is a country)

Sudan's Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls is probably the best African player now. If he stays consistent and the Bulls have an excellent record, he could be an All-star. England may claim him but he's Sudanese through and through. He's a pretty good small forward. When Kobe-to-Chicago trade rumours were at its height, Kobe claimed he will not play for the Bulls if Deng was traded for him. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I hope Luol Deng summons some heavenly powers and becomes Chicago's next Michael Jordan. Luol, yes, you can. Manute Bol is on record as the NBA's tallest player ever, listed at 7-7. He is more known for the people who dunked on him. Yawa. But Thank God for Yao Ming. If you didn't know, there are a bunch of Ghanaians called 'Yao'.

There are a bunch of Nigerians in the NBA too. Emeka Okafor was the second overall draft pick after a great college career but he has been outshone by Dwight Howard and his buddy Ben Gordon. His stats have been okay but he never matured into the All-Star we hoped he would be. He should be able to be the Charlotte Bobcats best player. Kelenna Azubuike may be the pick here, he's a small forward for the Golden State Warriors and has had some 30 point games. I though Ime Udoka was the next Bruce Bowen when he landed in San Antonio, but he has been inconsistent. There's also Ike Diogu who may be with the Indiana Pacers. Who remembers Michael Olowokandi? Can you believe he was the first overall draft pick? Shyous.

Senegal is probably the best African basketball country after Angola. Desagana Diop was a top 8 draft pick and he's played great defense everywhere he's played. He can't shoot a free-throw to save his life though. He's now with the Charlotte Bobcats. Must be really nice to hang with Emeka Okafor and Michael Jordan. Mohammed Sene and Pape Sow are just there for the numbers. Well done, Senegal. Many African players are great defenders. Maybe it's the same reason why there are a bunch of world-class African defensive midfielders today? Thabo Sefolosha (who claims Switzerland) from South Africa is playing good defense for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Didier Ilunga-Mbenga aka DJ Mbenga is a bench warmer for the Los Angeles Lakers. He'll probably wave towels all the way to an NBA championship ring this year. That will be one more than his countryman Mutombo has. Dikembe Mutombo had been finger-wagging in the NBA for several years before he got injured this postseason (playing for the Houston Rockets) and retired. What a terrible way to go out. He's known as one of the best teammates in the history of the NBA. He was a four-time defensive player of the year. He may have an interesting voice but he's well-respected in all circles. He's built a world class hospital in DR Congo and is celebrated for his humanitarian efforts.

Hakeem Olajuwon is the best African player ever. To think he didn't even take up basketball until he came to the US. He's a two-time NBA champ and Finals MVP (1994 and 1995) for the Houston Rockets. He's the all-time leading shot-blocker in the NBA and considered one of the top 5 centers ever. He was an offensive juggernaut as well, with an array of moves in different classes. He could jiver on the court. :-P His game was beautiful to watch. He has left a void that has never really been filled. Hasheem Thabeet will be the first Tanzanian (or East African for that matter) to play in the NBA. My good friend knows him so maybe I'll hook up an interview with him soon. He was a dominant defensive player (uh huh) for UConn and figures to be that in the NBA too. I hope he learns a couple of moves to boost his offense. How about an African Rookie of the year and future All-star? We can do it. I mean, we are black too. Go figure.

I want to see more African ballers in the NBA. Angola must begin to represent us well in the Olympics too. Some of their guys should get into the NBA. The Kelennas and Olowokandis should play for Naija. Kai, even Barack Obama is better than many African ballers. I know there are many prospects out there. I implore them to work hard and make us proud. Some of that African electronics should work. If you know of any prospects, let us know and if I forgot some players, do remind us as well. Of to watch highlights of the playoffs because I love this game.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Discussing Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid - the way forward

I was checking my favorite news feed source yesterday - Africagoodnews.com. Yes, the name is self-explanatory. They try to aggregate good news about Africa. One story which struck me was that 5 Africans had been named in Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of the Year 2009. I was not surprised to see President Paul Kagame in there, I just blogged about him a few days ago. The other name that struck me was Dambisa Moyo's. I thought to myself, this lady is doing it big. Her 'Dead Aid' book is probably the most important book written by an African in the last few years, and no, it is not a novel. Dambisa and Paul are joined by William Kentridge,(South African artist), Hadizatou Mani (Niger), Barbara Hogan (South Africa's current health minister). Congrats to all these individuals and may they spur us all on to become as influential. I want to dwell on Dambisa Moyo, her Dead Aid book and the chatter it has generated at the water coolers in the blogosphere.

I first heard about Dambisa's book through her sister through a Facebook message. What a small world huh? Yes, networking does that for you. She was asking us to support her, publicize it etc. I didn't follow her lead. Later on, people started to tweet about it, a friend was suggesting a story about the book be added to the Stanford Journal of African Studies (SAUTI) Entertainment briefs section, and Dambisa's Facebook page was gaining fans. Just last weekend, while the AU's Ambassdor to the United States, Amina Ali, was giving the closing keynote at the Stanford African Business Forum (SABF) on the subject of foreign investment (and aid), she received two consecutive questions mentioning Dambisa's Dead Aid. The second was from me. Full circle. Just today, I started following her on Twitter; found her through Timbuktu Chronicles' Emeka Okafor.

Dambisa Moyo is Harvard and Oxford educated. 'Dead Aid' talks about how that foreign aid is the fundamental cause of poverty and therefore eliminating aid is critical to spur growth in ailing African states. She argues for the emergence of a solid middle class as well as strong economic growth. The alternative to her is the free market system and job creation. To quote her, "aid does not create jobs". Watch an interview with CNN where she expands on her theories and other videos at her channel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHKa4qiIegM


Why am I not surprised she was asked about China in the CNN interview? What is this crush the Western media has on Sino-Africa relations? Do they think Chinese media are discussing the West's relations with Africa? While Africa is belittled and downcast in the Western media, the Chinese media has great things to say about us. They understand Africa is the new frontier and are pursuing their interests there. But how would we know? Who follows Xinhua News? Africa needs to be smart about this and we need to be smarter about the aid, investment, etc being thrown at us. Dambisa Moyo hopes our leaders would realize that we can fight our own fight.

I agree with Dambisa Moyo. Foreign aid is not the answer to Africa's problems and I increasingly feel it is stifling our progress and ability to be self-sufficient. Aid must be replaced with trade to say the least and African countries must seek to find better ways to get helping hands from the West. The answer is wealth and job creation. We need to increase the purchasing power of our citizens and give them the tools to earn money in this global village. We shouldn't be settling for second. Whoever wants us to be second doesn't have our best interests. Like she argues, our governments must be made more accountable to their citizens and make judicious money of the tax payers' money.

She claims in 1970, 10% of Africans lived in poverty but now more like 70% are living in poverty. Quite unbelievable if you asked me. She is not happy that the people leading the 'help Africa' charge are people like Bono and Bob Geldoff. Look at the way Africa is portrayed in the media. When we do get the publicity to entice 'aid' and 'charity', it's out of pity. That will not get us anywhere we want to be, soon. Dambisa Moyo has a 5 year plan to rid Africa of 'aid', which she concedes is a little aggressive. Her point is clear, Africa has to get off the porch of waiting for manna from colder lands. We should push for more trade (as opposed to aid) and start to look at what we can offer the world, in terms of value-added products. I personally believe we must raise more local direct investment. Let's find a way to keep the revenue generated in Africa in Africa.

Yesterday, I came across a story on TED about Professor George Ayittey sharing his ideas on Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid. He's been pushing ideas like hers and is famous for his rallying call to Africa's "Cheetah generation" to take back to the continent. Check out the story here. Africans need to be empowered. What happens when the girl is sponsored through school with charity funds and reaches an appreciable level of education? Would she have a job lined up for her? Job creation people, I can't say it enough. Job and wealth creation. We've seen poverty alleviation programs in the spirit of aid since time immemorial. It's time to change and teach our people how to fish, not give them fish or have them be spectators while we enjoy fishing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Leti Games - building computer games in Africa

I don't remember when exactly I got my first computer game. I was young and it was a Nintendo. It was the thing to have as a young boy. After school (from about class 4/4th grade till about the end of JSS/middle school), setting up shop in front of the TV playing Mario, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat was the 'joie de vivre'. The funniest part was how we'll simulate jumping if the game character was jumping; kicking, screaming, punching, you name it. Around the same time, when most of us youngsters were looking out for the thrills of puberty,focusing on passing exams, getting the newest gadgets and attending all the birthday parties, Eyram Akofa Tawia was busy learning computer programming. Visual Basic to be precise. This is 1997 and 1998 in a pre-internet cafe Ghana. There's only one way this story could end. Today, Eyram (or Wuzu as his close friends know him), has started his own computer game company called Leti Games with backing capital.

Wuzu meant the "Great One". Eyram knew he was going to be great before some of us even knew greatness existed. Once he mastered Visual Basic (and then Q-Basic), he began to program. By the time we had returned home on vacation to Kumasi from our various secondary school bases, Eyram was programming human characters. One of our friends, Godfred Twum-Barimah, who was an excellent artist, sketched comics. Wuzu understood the idea of partnerships even then and collaborated with him, to sketch comics and create virtual characters. Making cartoons ala He-Man and Captain Planet is cool, but making computer games is much much cooler. The Sword of Sygos was born. The game was developed in Qbasic which remained his 'language' for a very long time. Though the game was never sold, his close friends enjoyed it. Did anyone say something about Made-in-Ghana being bad? We 14 year-old KNUST JSS kids did not care. Wuzu and his crew later joined hands to write other games also just for fun based on other releases of their comics (zee powers, street warriors).

Eyram got interested in programming because of his love for video games and consequently he wondered how they were actually built. To quote him, "So, I once saw a cousin of mine write some funny statements in a blue screen on the pc, tapped some few keys and asked me to enter my name. suddenly the computer printed what I entered in yellow and I was amazed by it. So I asked the question "Can I write a game with his?" and he answered YES. That was my 1st intro to programming! So I got interested."

After graduating from Mawuli School, Eyram returned home to Kumasi and enrolled in the Computer Science program at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Eyram, together with his friend Francis Dittoh entered GhanaThink's Invitational Programming Contest dubbed 1.GTPC.06 with their final year project - A 3D Computer Game called The Sword of Sygos. :-) The competition was open to graduating seniors of Ghanaian tertiary institutions to design and develop their senior projects for the Ghanaian market which would not be prototypes for their departments only. The duo, whose project was supervised by Dr. J.B. Hayfron-Acquah received a cash prize of $300. The game was implemented using the Microsoft® Visual Basic® .NET programming language and utilized the Truevision3D engine.

Eyram continued programming throughout his time at Tech. Working with childhood friends Justin Dakorah and Kofi Opuni-Asiama, they formed BlackSoft Developers. Some of their programs and products included Black DJ (a DJ mixing software), another radio management software, as well as Tsatsu (an educational program). The BlackSoft Crew partnered with the folks at Cynkro Interactive and yours truly to build a computer game for the recent African Cup of Nations in Ghana ala FIFA 08, etc. I admired the work they all put into this, even though the project fell short due to lack of financial support in and around Ghana.

Eyram ended up taking a teaching fellow position at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in East Legon, Accra. A bunch of their students attended the inaugural BarCamp Ghana in December 2008 at the Kofi Annan ICT center. MEST is doing a great job and with some more support, can begin to rival Ashesi University. At MEST, he was able to grow both technically and business wise. After his time at MEST, Eyram earned seed funding to start Leti Games, an African computer game company. He is partnering with Kenya's Wesley Kirinya, another computer game maker.

According to Eyram, "Leti simply means moon/star in EWE. This shows how the star or moon takes over at night but dies during the day. There are a lot of game companies out there shining during the day. at night, they are all asleep and we take over." Eyram has a great sense of humour and you can find him joking most of the time. But he is as focused as they come. The focus of the start-up is to start a true recognised successful African Game company. He says: "This we believe will place Africa on the globe and also contribute to game development in the world. currently, Africa is hardly considered for anything game development and this really hurts
some of us. We believe Leti games can change this perception and through that, we can be able to introduce game development degree courses into our universities. And also, make money :):) $$$$$$! We intend grow the company to become a major player in Africa in the next 5 years!"

There are many more Ghanaians like Eyram in their mid-twenties turning heads and building businesses that will lead the African charge in the future. I've spent some time trying to find them and will be featuring some of these charges on my blog.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Patrick Awuah, founder of Ashesi University and educating a new generation of African leaders

When my friend sent me an email asking if I wanted to attend a lunch with Patrick Awuah, I was ecstatic. I had met Patrick before, at the Harvard Business School African Business Conference in 2005 but being able to get this face-to-face time over a free meal was too good to pass up. Patrick Awuah is my hero. I tried to tell him when I saw him but I don't know if he understood the gravity of my statement. Patrick is the kind of person most of us must aspire to; an individual whose heart is set on Africa's development, has taken, continues to take steps to realise the African dream. What has Patrick done to deserve my awe? He started the Ashesi University, a model university in Accra which is setting the pace for educating the next generation of African leaders, entrepreneurs, etc.

Achimota alum (Akora) Patrick Awuah left the shores of Ghana in the 80's to pursue his undergraduate education at Swarthmore College. He loved the experience there so much that he broadcasts what he learnt and admired to everyone who will hear. He continued on to Microsoft, where he worked for many years. He completed an MBA at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. He used his connections and network built from these institutions to raise funds and resources to build a university in Ghana which he modelled after Swarthmore's liberal arts education. Ashesi (which means beginning in Twi) opened in late 2001 and has proceeded to graduate brilliant, entrepreneurial, hardworking students who are the cream of the crop and making waves in the various sectors they've entered.

At lunch, Patrick talked about how he once felt he wasn't going to return to Ghana to do anything. He had left Ghana in harsh times, fresh from the 1983 famine and a military government. One day, one of his bosses at Microsoft solicited funds for charity directed to some place in Africa and our man was touched. His mind was set on Africa again and after a series of conversations with people about the continent and its development, it struck him: what Africa really needs are smart educated, problem solving leaders. His dream was a Swarthmore type institution in Africa and through the hardwork of the team he assembled, Ashesi was born in 2001. Have you had your Eureka moment? Start building your team then.

I have met many Ashesi students and it's clear they are different from many other university students schooling in Africa. Some of them started business right out of school. Patrick told us the story of how one of the top students ended up working for an Orphanage near Accra after graduation. She became a full-time employee and is instilling some of the Ashesi tenets and principles she received in these kids. Ashesi students have gone on to win many awards and are impressing in the various firms that hired them. Though Ashesi still only has about 400 students in total, they are in high demand. He talked about how some of the Ashesi students started some community service at the Buduburam Refugee Camp that housed Liberians in Ghana. Even though the camp has been closed, the students are taking measures to continue their service in Liberia. They are taking on the personality of their president, Patrick Awuah.

Patrick was on an education panel when I met him at the HBS ABC. He understands the problems facing the university system in Ghana at the moment and is working to correct them through his institution. He has the chance to get it right from the start. Ashesi costs more than Legon and Tech (KNUST) but it provides financial aid for students who can't afford it. We don't have tax returns to judge financial need in Ghana but the Ashesi administration goes through the pains to award the aid appropriately. Most of the staff are female and the male-to-female student ratio is getting close to 50-50. He talked about the importance of small classes and satellite campuses. Ashesi's success has paved the way for more private universities in Ghana and Patrick disclosed that some people are interested in building similar 'Ashesis' all over Africa.

Patrick has received many plaudits for his work on Ashesi. His TED Talks video is famous and continues to generate a lot of buzz. Watch it here.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-KfKxCaDVA


Join me in celebrating a true African leader. If you get the chance to visit Ghana, visit the Ashesi campus near Labone. You can check out their website here

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Paul Kagame, the Entrepreneur President

This year is the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Personally, I didn't know much about the genocide until the Hotel Rwanda movie came out. I was amazed by the courage and bravery of Paul Rusesabagina and learnt some more about the events surrounding the events of 1994. A couple of years ago, I wrote a poem commemorating the anniversary which you can read here. Recently, I have fallen in love with the work Paul Kagame is doing in Rwanda but also more importantly, the work Rwandans are putting in to support him. A few months ago, Obama was all the buzz, but now he's in DC doing his thing while I pay more attention to Paul Kagame. Uganda's Sunna sang about Obama as an African hero, but Paul Kagame is ours, and is a leader we must begin to celebrate.

Paul Kagame was in MIT as an the first African leader to deliver MIT's prestiguous Compton lecture. Not George Bush's best friend J. A. Kuffour, or Thabo Mbeki, or Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, but a former guerilla warlord/leader. What has Kagame done to deserve this? He is placing Rwanda as the destination for Africa's IT development and "building a country on the basis of ideas" as MIT's president Susan Hockfield put it. He argued Africa needed to train and retain knowledge specialists - which he described as the "single most challenging task facing Africa". He called for more links and collaboration between MIT and Rwanda.

Watch the video of Paul Kagame's lecture.
http://techtv.mit.edu/videos/51


I heard Paul Kagame sought out Rwandan students at MIT. I know one of such students and that must have been great for him. Imagine your president came to your arena and sought you out. This is the kind of leader Africa needs but guess what, we have him. How couldn't love someone called the 'Entrepreneur President'? Kagame's call for more MIT-Rwanda links have been heeded, and this year, Rwanda is one of the beneficiaries of MIT's Africa Information Technology Initiative (AITI) for 2009. Partnering with Google, AITI will sponsor MIT students to travel to Kenya and Rwanda, to teach summer courses in computer science (university level). I took part in this program 5 years ago when it was implemented in Ghana, as well as Kenya and Ethiopia. These countries were chosen because their students were attending MIT. Rwanda doesn't have the numbers but it has the growing reputation and goodwill.

In early April, Rwandan students all over the US organized events to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the genocide. I attended the one at Stanford and I couldn't be any prouder of the Rwandan battalion. There was a panel which preceded some performances. A few of the students talked about the experiences during the genocide and how it shaped their lives. It was hard to listen to them and even harder for them to share their stories given what they went through. They are now in Stanford 'running things' and giving a great account of themselves.

Paul Kagame recently received an honorary degree from Florida State University. One of my lifetime goals is get to an honorary degree myself even if coup d'etat perpetrators have been awarded some. People keep talking about how well Rwanda is doing, how the mobile phone revolution is spearheading development there, amongst other things. One thing I admire greatly about Rwanda is their use of Kinyarwanda, the tribal language. Google around and you'll see countless websites in Kinyarwanda. The localization effort is big in the country and Kinyarwanda is one of the languages most advanced in Fienipa's goal to house African languages on the web. See http://rwanda.fienipa.com/

Anyone who is conversant with African development will push for greater leadership participation and visibility for women. Like someone said to me recently, in Africa, men have the authority but women have the power and make all the decisions. Paul Kagame and his Rwandan leadership understand that, and we have about 56.3% of all Rwandan parliamentarians being women. The young ladies are also leading the charge. Stephanie Nyombayire, a Swarthmore College alum, was recently chosen as a Glamour Magazine hero. She and six friends formed the Genocide Intervention Network in 2004, which raised $1.5 million to support peacekeeping troops. The group is also spending $250,000 on armed escorts for women who risk being raped when they leave refugee camps to gather firewood. She embarked on a college speaking tour.

I am sure Paul Kagame has his detractors and he's done a few wrongs here and there. He's still called a dictator to some extent. But what haven't African leaders been called? Even Kwame Nkrumah had his critics who refused to acknowledge the good work he did. I am only praying for more leaders in the shape of Paul Kagame and hoping our leaders take a page out of his book to empower their own countries.

PS: Where are the young and upcoming Rwandan Pauls? Dedicated to all my Rwandan friends.

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