Monday, February 28, 2011

Attending a Lighthouse chapel in America (Oakland) #Ghana

This Sunday, I attended yet another Ghanaian church in the Bay Area. Yeap, you guessed right, it's in Oakland too. I had already been to the Church of Pentecost here, twice. A friend invited me to the new Lighthouse Chapel International branch that they had started in September. Her persistence paid off as I attended this weekend. Like I learnt in Ghana last Christmas, there is a Lighthouse chapel in every corner. Seriously. I hope this blog entry helps us all figure out why.

There are 1200 Lighthouse Chapel International (LCI) branches worldwide in 52 nations. Talk about spreading far and wide. It started in Ghana 21 yrs through a medical student called Dag Heward Mills who is now the presiding bishop. Sorry, but I can't help but think of churches as businesses/enterprises/start-ups these days. Dag Heward Mills is every bit an entrepreneur churning out new entrepreneurs every year. There has been the question of should churches pay taxes? I think so, if they don't, they should be made to contribute appropriately in nation building; in education, health, etc. Looking at the senior secondary school system in Ghana, I think religious bodies investing in education is the most appropriate. Just look at Presec, Opoku Ware, St.Louis, Central University, etc.

The new Oakland branch is one of the 59 Lighthouse chapel branches in the USA. There are 6 LCIs in the New York City area alone. There are 9 in Maryland (of course). Others are in Worcester, Virginia, Atlanta, Houston, Sacramento, etc. Pastor Joel Obuobisa didn't mention one in "Columbus Ohio" but I'll be surprised if there weren't any there. Pastor Joel has been in the US for a long while and has helped build the LCI branches in New York, Worcester, Maryland and Chicago. If you called him an entrepreneur just now, I heard it. He moved to California with his family recently and is heading the new Oakland branch with a Kenyan pastor. Yea, the Ghanaian church has some Kenyan pastors. Africa Unite!

Unlike the Church of Pentecost, we didn't sing any Twi or Ghanaian language gospel songs. I wasn't complaining because I was really loving it. I knew most of the songs though which is interesting to me. It's good to know certain songs cut across denominations. Yup, unity in the house of God. Like all new churches (erm, except a few), it was small but it was not a disadvantage at all. Like I discussed with someone in the congregation later, it allowed for a communal feeling, a classroom setting, attention to detail teaching and personal development in a church. It was lovely. Even the kids in the church were actively involved.

I met a friend from Boston I hadn't seen since she moved to the Bay Area. She was shockprised to see me. I also saw another friend I know from Oakland who I didn't know attended the church. He was like the only guy in the church. "Hmmm, mmarima, ɛyɛ a, monko asɔre wae. Daabi, menkaasɛ monko pɛ mmaa o, mese, monko asɔre wae!" I'm speaking to my Ghanaian peoples, ask a Ghanaian who speaks Twi to translate for you. When I went to the Church of Pentecost, I had thought the ladies who went to parties were not the same who went to church. Well, that theory has been debunked since but the best women are really those who are going to church. Best believe. :-)

I loved the sermon too. Pastor Joel shared from Matthew 4:1-4 before the sermon, talking about fighting temptations. "It is written, 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God'." The sermon was about Daniel's Principles of Prayer. The pastor started us off with Daniel 6:10. During the sermon, I could not help but think about well-versed and awesome of a public speaker Pastor Joel was. There was no 'ermming' or 'like liking' in his delivery. It helps to be doing this for years, but I really admired how he delivered with his well-thought out message. I will leave you with these principles of prayer.

Prayer is very important. No one is ever too busy, too blessed, or too successful to pray. Prayer is the power of our source and protection. Prayer is important in acquiring and sustaining the blessings of God. For prayer to be effective, it must be habitual. Prayer must continue both in troubled times and in times of peace. Every nation needs lots of prayer and prayerful leaders. It is important to pray for long periods of time. It is important to enter your closet for effective prayer. Everyone must develop the ability and the formulae for praying four times a day.


I definitely hope to attend again. But it's close to an hour's drive for me from home and I attend other church services nearer to me. But if you are near Oakland and you are looking for a good church, I highly recommend the Lighthouse Chapel International branch.


A story of an African bash/party in the Bay Area

It's an understatement for me to say that I had been looking forward to the "I am African" bash that happened in the Bay Area this Saturday. Friends of mine had invited me more than 4 months prior and messages hit my Facebook inbox every now and then. I was so giddy for this African party like I was in Las Gidi. Las Gidi is appropriate because the party was being thrown by mostly Nigerians and mostly Nigerians would be attending. Well, Ayooluwaato Eze would be there live and square too. Even for $20. Hey, most parties cost that, nothing new here. Besides, I wanted to be amongst my African people. Win-win situation. All my reservations about how African parties/clubs, etc were organized were thrown out the window. And then they resurfaced during that moment when we were leaving it. Let's recount. Tori o!

Firstly, this was going to be some bash. Tickets were sold online at http://iamafricanbash.eventbrite.com. Now, did you see that some tickets were being sold at $200? Yes, VIP Bottle Service tickets. Well, I don't drink or need alcohol to have a jolly good time so thank God and more blessings to my pocket. Besides, why the heck will I pay $200 to party? Not in any lifetime. If I am that important, someone else should pay. We arrived at the party and the bouncer asked if we had VIP tickets. I gave him a nice smirk. We saw the folks going through the VIP line, most of them some smartly dressed ladies who wore dresses the price of that ticket. I will bet my last kobo they were attending the party for free and their $200 went towards the dresses they were wearing. If I am wrong, deny it right here. The guys in the line? Oh, they wanted to make it rain. Not like rain rain, because water get enemy for this party. I mean, like "rain money".

Like many Africans, I like to be fashionably late to social events. I don't know why. I had been warned that it would cost me more than $20 if I arrived on Sunday instead of Saturday. Besides, if I was 'late', I was going to have some of my connects ensure me and my friends paid just $20. Yes, I have connections, erm, no, I mean 'network'. So we enter the club, barely before 12 midnight. Illusions. I know this joint. In fact, the last party this same crew threw for Naija's 50th birthday was here. One area where folks could sit and hang-out away from the blazing music was blocked off. So I thought, "Hmm, where is the VIP section? let me see if I am missing out". If that whole area was no-go, then where's the VIP exclusivity? Oh, the VIP section must be on the stage. Ah, see boys and girls living life to the fullest! Back to this point in a moment.

So I go around looking for my friends who are attending the Bash and scoping the keles. I keep on wondering to myself if all these ladies are really over 21. But then again, who cares, the more the merrier. I wondered where all these women were from since I hadn't seen a lot of them before. Nice marketing by Eche and crew. Folks came from as far as Tracy to party. I've already spoken about the dresses right? I was impressed with the African-type attires on display, major props to all the ladies and gents who were rocking them. Wear those on Friday too, aight? I am not going to bother talking about the dances I had, because, really, do you want to hear about them and you think I want to share that information? See me in chambers.

The music. Folks who know me know I am a music man. Not Kojo Antwi the maestro, but an African music man. It beats me like an angry Nigerian mother to wonder why African parties don't play next to exclusive African music. Is that not what is setting them apart? No, I didn't come to listen to 'return of the mark' even if I would be macking tonight. I certainly didn't come to listen to 'my way' if I had 'my way'. The DJ played Oleku, MI's Number one, and erm.... I forget. If Mr. Endowed was played, then I truly missed out. If I have to come and ask you to play African music at an African party, then you the DJ is doing something wrong. Unless, you are not from Africa, then you the organizer is doing something wrong. Because, I will really come and ask you. Watch out for me.

The best part of the night was when this drunk dude approached me, telling me about how he is spiritual and we should all help each other. "Let me buy you a drink", he said. Helping each other for rizzle. I really wanted to leave him to go and dance but the guy was looking around to make sure I was still standing there. Thank God it was dark so he couldn't see me having a good laugh. I don't even know what he bought me but it sure did taste good. $20-$7 makes a lucky 13 of a night for me. Oooooooshe!

The Facebook event said the bash will end at 3am while the Eventbrite said 2am. Since I know Illusions, I knew better to figure out it would be 2am, but I hoped for a 3am close. Well, around 1:55am, some jagajaga started and folks were scatter scatter. A fight broke out in the VIP section; erm, wait, these guys paid how much again? What? The bottle service was bad? They served ogogoro and palm wine instead of 'margaritas' and 'adios'. Well, it was 'adios' to the partygoers as the party poopers pooped all over our happiness. As if that wasn't enough, another fight broke out and then another, this time on the dancefloor with the $20 ticket holders. Let me guess. Some guy tried to mack/sweet-talk/dance with some girl, the girl wouldn't budge and the guy flipped, the girl flopped and used her pepper spray on him or her bestest boyfriend came to her defence. Yeap, if you were at the party and you were choking like me, you would go with the pepper spray story. Unless the police came to disperse the fighters and the rest of us with 'teargas'. Sooo not party 101. Turns out none of these fighters were arrested but one soul decided to take a swing at a law enforcer and was taken for a ride in a police car. That's all the police would tell me. Of course, I am a citizen journalist. When people are going home, I am looking for stories. :-) And so you have the story.

The party was thrown by ROYAL ENTERTAINMENT. Look them up. Tell them to come read this. Major props to them for holding down the fort and organizing these bashes. Then again, the October party disappointed me and many folks I knew who had attended so I should have known better. But that won't stop me from attending them. I support African activities and want to see better. African parties must really be better. Or I will enter the party promotion business just to show everyone how it is done. Test me.

Ghana-made @MESTGhana startups grow in stature

Last week, my good friend Edward Tagoe was in the Bay Area attending the Launch conference along with other Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) graduates. I was looking for opportunities to meet him since he was going to be even busier than me and he was in San Francisco. He sent me an itinerary and I picked the perfect opportunity, The Africa Network (TAN) February 2011 Event: Showcasing Africa Software Entrepreneurs. Edward's Nandi Mobile, alongside Retail Tower and Streemio would be presenting about their business to members of the Bay Area African community and other interested folks at the Plug and Play tech center in Sunnyvale, California. I enjoyed the event and little did I know it was one highlight of a week that would end up with Nandi Mobile's Gripeline winning best business at the Launch conference.

Attending the TAN event gave me the chance to learn more about these start-ups. A lot of this info is being reproduced from my tweets. Samuel Owusu Darko took the stage first, talking about Streemio. -made @ is bringing mobile music streaming to the African continent. It is also looking to learn more about streaming services, and collaborate with other companies etc.

Edward Tagoe @ went next, talking abt -made @- supporting & engaging customers through sms. enables companies to receive complaints, etc & respond. These sms are aggregated and analysed for companies. is looking to be connected to more partners, and has scored a major client in Ghana (mobile telecommunications company). Tigo cash (mobile money) is being rolled out on a pilot basis, and -made @ will be with them every step of the way. !

-made is enabling online retailers to effectively market their inventory across channels. It is a great value-added service for individuals or entities looking to sell products online. After hearing the story of how Retail Tower was born, I tweeted; "Stories of ghanaian entrepreneurs will make awesome movies. No, not social network controversy style. Aspiration. Innovation. Inspiration."

Late last year, MEST provided start-up capital for 7 Ghana-made businesses, including Nandi Mobile, Retail Tower and Streemio.
  • Leti Games : Offers a selection of single- and multi-player online role-playing games, primarily for the smartphone market. Blogged about Eyram Akofa Tawia's Leti Games here and here
  • Tutamee : An online video company, providing TutaFlix, which streams high quality educational films
  • Esanoya : Assists SMEs in making operations smoother with Slix.tr, a real-time enterprise micro-sharing platform which centralizes companies’ people and data
  • Arto Connect: Provides Dealeezy, a location-based mobile service, enabling consumers to discover targeted deals from local merchants
There is more to come from all these start-ups as they get ready to launch and become fixtures in Ghana and beyond. They are proving Ghanaians can make world-class products that can serve people in Ghana and elsewhere. They are giving us more vim to support made-in-Ghana goods. Kudos to the Meltwater Group for investing in Ghana and its young people, the fruits are being borne and the best is yet to come.
!


Ghana-made @Nandimobile's #Gripeline wins best business at Launch Conference

News broke Friday of NandiMobile, a Ghana-made start-up from the MEST Incubator winning a“Best Business” award at the LAUNCH conference in San Francisco. I was so excited about this, especially from my friends Edward Tagoe Twitter: @ttaaggooee, Anne Amuzu and Kwame Pocho. Edward had told me he was coming for a conference in San Francisco earlier this month, turns out it was a conference aligned with a competition of almost 100 Silicon Valley start-ups! For a Ghanaian-made product to win this international award in the Bay Area of all places, it is a monumental achievement. Mind you, this is not Ghanaians living the US or Ghanaian-Americans, these are Ghanaians who've been schooled in Ghana, worked and learnt in Ghana and built their products/software in Ghana. Like Jorn Lyseggen (CEO of the Meltwater Group) said, "software can be made ANYWHERE!" Congrats to @Nandimobile group.

I have already blogged about the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST). It's a school set up by the Meltwater Group to train software entrepreneurs (for 2 years). Read about the start-ups that have come out of MEST so far. Aside producing capable software entrepreneurs, they have been supporting Barcamp Ghana from the get-go.

Nandimobile won the award for their product Gripeline. From their website,
Gripeline is a customer support service that allows customers of companies to send feedback, comments and questions to companies using their mobile devices. It also provides an avenue for representatives from the companies to respond from an online computer interface in real time with an answer or response. The messages can be sent by end-users via SMS or WAP channels. These messages are aggregated and delivered to the companies’ online accounts which can then be accessed by customer service personnel(s) in charge. The panel enables the company to monitor, analyze and respond to the messages.


See Nandimobile's pitch


Watch the Awards ceremony


The LAUNCH conference is a platform for new start-ups to showcase their products and services to an ‘early adopters’ community. The conference also provides opportunities for already launched companies to showcase new products. This year, from the 23rd – 24th of February 2011, the conference hosted close to 100 start-ups from around the world, showcasing their ideas and products at the San Francisco Design Center.I was nervous myself and felt my heart beat a little faster when they walked on stage, but throughout their presentation they both showed a lot of confidence and made all of us proud!

Congrats to Nandimobile and the whole MEST team!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Have you heard Didier Awadi's tributes to Pan-African African leaders and revolutionaries?

I've heard a lot of Senegal's DJ Awadi and how he is talked about a lot when it comes to African hip-hop. We've seen a lot of conscious and meaningful hip hop come out of Senegal and Awadi's Positive Black Soul deserves a lot of the credit. Awadi's recent album, Presidents d'Afrique (African presidents) was released in 2010, the same year many African nations celebrated their golden jubilees of independence. Awadi took us back to the 60's and told us those messages of unity, positivity, leadership and revolution still ring true today. So, I had to let you know all about the album :-)

African rap legend, Didier Awadi, is one of the most highly respected African musicians. He spent four years of research, reading, collecting and interviews preparing his most recent album, Presidents d'Afrique. He featured many African rappers and musicians on the album, making a transcendent and monumental African rap album.

L'Esclave opens the album and features a speech from the Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara. Thomas was a Burkinabe revolutionary, Pan-Africanist theorist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. He is commonly referred to as "Africa's Che Guevara". On 'Dans Mon Reve', he features Martin Luther King's famous 'I have a dream speech'. It also featured Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" speech. Watch the video and sing along at this Museke.com link.

Comme Nasser features a speech from Egypt's Gamel Abdul Nasser which recently saw one of the greatest civilian revolutions as thousands of people demonstrating in Tahrir Square forced longtime dictator, Hosni Mubarak, to resign. I doubt Didier Awadi saw this one coming. Amandla celebrates beloved South African leader Nelson Mandela and has a chorus of zulu singers with Skwatta Kamp involved.

Awadi also featured a Thomas Sankara speech on Woye. The video was also directed by Lionel Mandeix. Check out the music video at this Museke.com link. Some of the lyrics are "We don't wanna suffer anymore; we just wanna eat some more". On 'The Roots', he features M1 Dead Prez & Bouba Kirikou as well as some soundbites from Malcolm X. "You can't hate Africa and not hate yourself". The video was directed by Lionel Mandeix / A.Wone. Watch the music video at this Museke.com link.

Freedom features the words of Aimé Césaire, an African-Martinican Francophone poet, author and politician. The song features French musicians like Gertrude Senin, Sweety and Tiwony Thaiss. 50 years on, Didier Awadi brings back the message of Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah on the track 'We must unite'. He also mentioned in an interview with RFI

In his speeches about the pan-African ideal, Nkrumah spelt out his ideas very clearly. A united Africa is, technically speaking, perfectly possible. It’s not a Utopia! An African Union, modelled on the EU, would mean our continent would have a single voice on the world stage and we could impose our own prices!

Uhuru samples a Jomo Kenyatta speech and features Kenyan rapper Maji Maji. Babani Koné, Noumoucounda Cissoko and the rappers Tata Pound from Mali feature on 'On a Plus Le Choix' that samples Modibo Keita, the first Malian president. Oser inventer l’avenir samples Thomas Sankara yet again while Awadi features Noumoucounda Cissoko on vocals.

Une seule origine is a track dedicated to Senegal's own Cheikh Anta Diop with Keyti and Naby contributing on the track. Didier Awadi then turns on the Sugu Mister 2, Afande Selle, K-Lynn from Tanzania to join him on the 'We are also praying' track which features Julius Nyerere. Sugu Mister 2 recently became the first ever African rapper to win a position of power, becoming the the member of parliament for downtown Mbeya (Mjini). Check out his Hold on track.

Ensemble samples the legendary Patrice Lumumba from the Democratic Republic Congo with contributing musicians as Kexus Legal, Fredy, Massamba, and Thaiss. Samora featured a speech from Samora Machel, former president of Mozambique. Here, Awadi features Mozambican musicians Deny O. G., Chiquite, and Xixe. La Patrie Ou La Mort is a great collabo by Smockey from Burkina Faso and Awadi. It is a tribute to Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara. This track also sampled a speech from Thomas. Check the song out here.

Watch a video where they pay tribute to him

Non, the Guinea inspired song which refers to the Sékou Touré’s famous refusal to General de Gaulle in 1958, is rich with balafons and Mandinka guitar and Guinean musician Phaduba. From Guinea-Bissau, Balloberos, Daniel Gomes, Paul Oliviera, joined Didier to sample Amilcar Cabral's speech on the song, 'Cabral'. Awadi pays tribute to another Senegalese leader Leopold Sedar Senghor on Ce qui nous lie alongside Yandé Codou Sène. He picks the wisdom of famous philosopher Franz Fanon on Racisme. He closes out the album with 'Le silence des gens bien' with a tribute to Norbert Zongo. He was the was the publisher and editor of the Burkina Faso newspaper l'Indépendant. He was assassinated after his newspaper began investigating the murder of a driver who had worked for the brother of President Blaise Compaoré.

Now, this is meaningful music that will go really far and should become as legendary as the men profiled in it. The wait was worth the while. I hail Didier Awadi for his brilliance and hope that history will remember him favourably as a revolutionary and legendary as well.

Additional info from MondoMix and RFI. Read an interview with RFI France about the album

Now, am sure this will make you say VIM!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Velkom the Vim Views & Versions!

While I was in Ghana over the Christmas break, I thought of my blog. I had missed blogging. I was browsing mostly on my HTC Aria phone powered by Android using Vodafone's mobile internet. Power to you, Vodafone. My laptop decided not to turn on once I got to Ghana so I was computerless. I couldn't get to use my brother or sister's pcs, because they were on it a lot. It didn't really occur to me to blog using my phone. Too much to type. That brought up another idea. Who said blogs should be 6 paragraphs? No one. If someone did, I'm not buying it. Blogging should be fun. Why so serious? Anyway, Why so serious was the title of my blog when I started it. It was chosen because this blog would be a place for me to speak my mind, promote people and projects, air out opinions, publicize things, etc. And I was going to do it my way, in a witty and funny way cos there is no reason why we can't talk about serious things in an 'unserious' way. But, this Christmas, while in Ghana, surrounded by the people I love the most, another thought clouded my mind. The thought was a word. The thought was with the word. The word was/is/will forever be "Vim".

Where from "Vim" anyway? This has been my favorite word since maybe March 2010. It became popular with me when Nana Boroo's Aha yɛ dɛ song started growing on me. Nana Boroo is another of the Tema rappers who are clouding the spotlight in Ghana today. Aha ye de was his debut single, and it featured S. K. Blinks, a Togolese singer, who gave the song a Coupe Decale flavour. The result was a song that was part-hiplife, part-coupe decale, and one bound to be a hit all over West Africa. I loved the song from the start and I still do. It's going to go down as one of my favorites ever. Ever. Best believe that. In the song, he sings. Click for video

Aha yɛdɛ o, aha yɛdɛ o, beebia awu!
Aha yɛdɛ o, aha nyɛ butubutu ei o, beebia awu!
....
Ka sɛ vim, vim, afei momma me vim


The Aha ye de translation is as follows - "Here is nice, here is nice, everywhere else is dead." "Here is nice, here is not chaotic, everywhere else is dead". You could debate whether beebia is 'everywhere or everywhere else' but the point is - This place where we are right now, is the best place to be. Period. The vim translation is as follows - "Say vim, vim, now, give me vim". Firstly, this place is the place to be and I want you to give me more vim. Now, what is Vim? No, it is not Dettol or Omo. Vim is "lively or energetic spirit; enthusiasm; vitality". Vim is also "strength, force, power, energy". How can you not like this song and then the word?

The stars aligned and it turned out 2010 was also a World Cup year. The first one in Africa, to be held in South Africa. The Mzansi Mundial. 6 African teams, including the glorious and golden Black Stars of Ghana. "Aha ye de" was the top song in Ghana last summer and rightly so, it became the rallying song for Ghana's national football team. I sang "Aha ye de" all the time. When I had to sing the vim part, I pump my fists. If I didn't do it, I pumped my fists in my heart. In my mind. In my body. In my soul. And the Black Stars did not disappoint. They rode the 'vim' all the way to the quarter-finals, a place an African team hadn't been since 1990 (Cameroun's Indomitable Lions). They became the hope of Africa, just the way Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah always dreamt of it. They became BaGhana BaGhana, the sole remaining representative of Africa United. They gave birth to new African shining stars; Asamoah Gyan, Kevin Prince-Boateng and the man I call the 'embodiment of vim' - Andre Dede Ayew. Just watch him play and you'll understand.

"Vim" became the rallying rage. The calling card to action. The enthusiastic encouragement. The forceful fire. The Tsooboi thesaurus. The enduring energizer. The vital vigor. The passionate power. Yes, we get the point. If someone needed encouragement, the word was vim. The someone did something well, we greeted him/her with vim. Goodbye was replaced with vim. Let's go do this made way for vim. Yes we can was weeded out for vim. The sign of approval was now vim. In fact, the real word was "more vim". 1+1=1. So that is why "vim" has become my favorite word. You will hear me say it, write it, type it, do it, forever. Even when the word 'vim' is out of place (I am thinking of how that might even happen), I will bring vim there.

So the new name for my blog is "The Vim Views & Versions". Anything that makes me say "vim" would go up on my blog if I am interested enough to make it happen. This is African. Why so serious? Not so much, it's borrowed from the Dark Knight. There are a lot of dark knights in Africa, but they are driven by vim. The Black Stars' shine in the Mzansi Mundial was the epitome. That was African excellence. We have many Black Stars off the field being excellent in many ways. This blog is a dedication to all the Africans and fans and lovers of Africa who make us say "Vim". There are varying views of how vim can be interpreted and various versions of visualizing vim. The MIghTy African is going to host as many as he can like he always has. Now, give me vim.

#VIM!

Yes, VIM is carrying Africa too

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Watching, guiding and aiding Takoradi's growth

Ghanaians have been giddy about the oil discovery on the Western shores of Ghana. Some are looking to work in the potential oil industry, while others are looking to do business around it. Some of the job expectations are unrealistic, people say. Some are skeptical how much money Ghana will really raise from the oil production and whether we might misuse it. The Western Region's traditional leaders want at least 10% of all oil revenue and many Ghanaians don't like that idea. One thing many Ghanaians agree on is the fact that places like Sekondi and Takoradi are not going to be the same. They are about to be transformed. If you read the news or have asked Takoradi residents, Takoradi is transforming. We should watch, guide and tailor this transformation in the absolute best interest of Ghana's development.

It's tough to talk about Takoradi and not mention Sekondi. They are the Twin-cities. When we were planning the first Barcamp in the Western Region, we battled with naming it Barcamp Twin-city, Barcamp Sekondi, Barcamp Takoradi, etc. We ended up with Barcamp Takoradi. But seriously, other than the two football teams from Sekondi, Eleven Wise and Hasaacas, Takoradi enjoys more prominence in the Ghanaian landscape. People who live there will tell you. Sekondi has the stadium? Well, I just told you two Ghanaian football teams are based there. Takoradi has much more. But this post is not to compare the cities, or towns if you may. I will talk about 'Sekunde' next time. This is Taadi's time :-)


View Larger Map

I've been to Takoradi twice. The first time I was there, my family and I visited some relatives. I saw the famous Takoradi Market Circle, reminiscent of the big markets in Kumasi. It looked like Kumasi, but less. Understandably, it's the third city in Ghana, after Accra and Kumasi. The second time was to visit relatives again but this is recent, and I remember much more. Like many other towns in Ghana, it has a couple of major roads which are aligned by the major buildings and city points. These roads are very long and there aren't many alternatives to get to various locations. We did go to Sekondi to see the new stadium that had been constructed for the 2008 African Cup of Nations. This was welcome news. I wonder how it's affected Sekondi's bustling lifestyle since. This was after the tourney so no I didn't see any Ivorians there. We briefly passed by the harbour. I didn't go see the many big houses in Takoradi where it is claimed house the scenes for many Ghanaian movies today.

A recent news story mentions that The Western Regional Coordinating council has announced a number of measures being initiated to maximize the benefits of Ghana’s oil and contain the influx of persons and the pressure that would be on infrastructure in the region, mainly Takoradi of course. Read the story for more. I will like to know what new infrastructure we'll see in these areas. How much of it is the burden of firms like Tullow?

From speaking to some relatives and friends who live in Takoradi and know the place well, rent rates and housing prices are going up and skyrocketing. It could reach the same land ownership rates in Accra. Apparently, some room owners have started increasing the rent to exorbitant prices or are asking the tenants to move because they can charge 'the new people moving to work in Takoradi' much higher rates and that they can pay. Yes, many international companies are starting to make their marks in Takoradi, especially those involved in the oil industry. Count among them Tullow Oil, and Baker Hughes. They are obviously bringing their expatriate employees who have more buying power and other professionals trained at Tech (KNUST) and Legon or folks who've been living in Accra. This is what folks will call 'gentrification' in other parts of the world. It's troubling for local residents. Where are they going to go? The new houses and apartments that will be built (thanks to the booming real estate business) will be out of the price range. I haven't heard the government talking about low-cost housing in these areas. Private sector? Hehe, they want to make money.

The current population in the region - 2,325,597 - is a lot but it's a safe guess to say more than half of that number is in Sekondi-Takoradi. We've seen a lot of big mining companies operate in Tarkwa and other areas, but we haven't seen the development there. Of course, they provide some amenities for their employees and their families but these areas are the anti-Johnannesburg. Learn how Johannesburg became what it is today. Johannesburg's growth into the top centre of commerce in Africa was due to the gold mining industry in the nearby areas. Takoradi can and should become a similar case. It already houses the Effia Nkwanta hospital, biggest in the region, and it is going to become overstretched, necessitating the need for a bigger health facility. There are plans for a new ultra modern regional hospital, possibly to be sited in the Shama district.

Chief Director of the Council, Mr David Yaro, remarked: “Education, water, our road network need to be expanded because the volume of traffic is going to increase, sanitation, crime - putting pressure on existing facilities. So all these are areas, politically, we are looking at, so the police are being equipped, the navy is being resourced to [protect Ghana’s marine].”


It seems the Western Regional Council, the Shama Ahanta East Metropolitan Assembly and co understand the potential growth and are taking steps to meet it with the necessary plans and policies. I don't think the onus should fall on them alone. Ghana must want to see Takoradi do well. Accra is choked with too much expectation. We need to divvy the wealth and grow other parts of Ghana. This is a perfect opportunity to develop a metropolis that would not be bedevilled with the problems Accra is facing.

It's why we organized Barcamp Takoradi to help residents there understand what special place Takoradi can hold on Ghana's landscape. I wasn't able to attend but hope to go there soon. The theme was "Leading & Entreprising in an Oil & Technology Fuelled Economy". Also, to check out the Takoradi Technical Institute and its Fabrication Lab. A Fab Lab is a small-scale workshop with an array of flexible computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make "almost anything". Little things like this can drive innovation and development in Takoradi. We can't be sleeping on these things.

For the development of any town/city, watching the development of the human resources and the local education are extremely important. I hear of a lot of training programs in and around Takoradi, with people being promised access to new jobs. Some are actually using this promise to pull some sakawa and 419 on unsuspecting individuals. Either way, I hope that the many graduates coming out of the Takoradi Polytechnic and neighbouring educational institutions will find their bearings in the burgeoning local economy. It is extremely important, because these are the folks who will make sure the local development is sustainable. This is also where the small businesses in Takoradi should take advantage of these opportunities to increase their portfolios and find capital to grow.

I hope the many international or big local companies that will be gaining footholds in the twin-cities invest in infrastructure - such as education and health. The local, regional councils and state will take care of the rest with the oil money. It's the way it should work. Let's get this right. We've had Obuasi, Akwatia, Tarkwa, Aboso. Let's make Takoradi 'krabɛhwɛ', a place that will attract people from far and near because of its success story. Erm, and Sekondi too :-)

PS: You should also check out Ghana Oil Watch, a good resource for news surrounding the Oil find, and related news. They are on Twitter and Facebook. I wish there were some kind of Takoradi watch sites too. We'll be watching anyway.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Learning more about the African Leadership Academy at #SAF2011

While at the Stanford Africa Forum two weekends ago, I asked a question during the education panel. The recipients were to be Chris Bradford, the COO of the African Leadership Academy (ALA) and Zimbabwe's Lennon Chimbumu Adams, one of the first graduates from the ALA. The ALA is a residential secondary institution located on the outskirts of Johannesburg, a two-year program that prepares students for university. You can learn all about ALA on its wikipedia page. I was thinking about a recent new story I heard about Ghana's Ashesi University, where it was reported that out of 90 total graduates last May, 14 percent went on to graduate school abroad. Still, a majority of Ashesi’s graduates stays in Ghana. On the Ashesi website, it also stresses the latter point, saying 95% choose to stay in Africa. Hence, I wanted to know what the total number of graduates from ALA's first ever class, how many graduates were staying in Africa, what universities were they going to or what they were doing.

I had been tweeting the forum but once Lennon and Chris started answering, I wasn't going to be able to type fast enough to tweet the responses. I was particularly interested in this, that's why I asked the question in the first place. Lennon stated: "His ALA classmates started a conference on educating people about entrepreneurship, borrowing an ALA curriculum. Tried googling for some information but couldn't find any. Will update later. Lennon also mentioned that there have been several conferences organized by various ALA students. He stated that some of his mates went to the University of Cape Town (UCT), but most came to the USA for college because that's where the financing is. "There's a better chance of getting high level education".

Chris talked about the graduating class in detail. He mentioned that there were 86 graduates who had come from all over Africa and beyond. He mentioned that community service is a graduation requirement. Basically, if you don't start something, you ain't graduating. Awesome idea. African schools, follow suit. Chris then mentioned that getting a full scholarship to Stanford is cheaper than going to Makerere University in Uganda. Best believe that. I know this from experience. A full-ride to a reputable US college is basically free education. Even if you attend Tech, you might end up having to pay more out of pocket. It's debatable but this case can be argued. There's a little catch about ALA though. Scholarship money given to students is a forgiveable loan. Chris stressed that the ALA was a global institution focused on the African continent. The aim is for 50% to stay in Africa and connect with other young leaders in Africa.

65 out of the 86 graduates came to the US for college. Lennon Chimbumu Adams and Nina Papachristou came to Stanford, and many others were accepted into Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, MIT, Yale University, amongst others. I'm sure you know of the famous William Kamkwamba, the Malawian boy who harnessed the wind. I once asked Fred Swaniker, the ALA founder, where William was going to go for college and if he wasn't coming to Stanford. He told me, William went to Dartmouth and they laid the red carpet for him. So he ended up going to Dartmouth. I blogged about William once, check it out.

Chris mentioned that 5 students from South Africa were accepted into Yale. 4 of them were from ALA, one was an orphan and one was Nigerian. I'm not sure why he needed to mention one was a Nigerian, but your guess is as good as mine. :-) ALA is already the best high school in South Africa. :-) I don't know what it is about South Africans, but during my time schooling in the US, I have realised South Africans hardly ever attend college in the US. So it's no surprise, that 4 out of 5 Mzansi-high schooled students in Yale's class of 2014 are from ALA, an academy whose students are from all over the continent. My South African friend once told me South Africans do not like to travel, they love being in South Africa. Local is lekker, eh?

I'm not sure how many of the 21 students that are left went to university in Europe, etc and how many stayed in Africa. Chris mentioned one of ALA's goals is to create awesome scholarship opportunities in South Africa. We do know some of them went to the University of Cape Town. But this is where this got really interesting. Chris started talking about the 6 ALA graduates who are not or did not enrol in university. What are they doing? Surely, they would have attended Ghana's Ashesi University, Kenya's Strathmore University, Egypt's American University of Cairo, and South Africa's Witwatersrand if they wanted. Let's find out what they are doing.

Chris spoke about three of them. Julius Shirima from Tanzania started an office in Tanzania and adorns it with his ALA graduation certificate. He has taken a year off and founded "Darecha" which is an entrepreneurship contest for students, and now does consulting work for entrepreneurs in Dar Es Salaam. "Twende!". Eddy Oketch, a graduate from Kenya, now runs the WIFI peace initiative in Nairobi, Kenya. It works with youth from across the country to bridge tribal rifts. "Juu!" Now, this guy is the most impressive - Joseph Munyambanza. Joseph works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He runs a school in his village inspiring older students to teach younger ones and is involved in fundraising to build education facilities. He's also involved in a program which supports abused women and is working to increase publicity around abuse and encourage women to speak out. The village is partly a refugee cam and he provides resources to them, delivering social services. "On y vas!" The differentiation here is that, they are the real doers.

I don't know what the other 3 are doing and I didn't bother to ask Chris Bradford because this is good enough to report. The ALA is doing an excellent job and is truly building and grooming leaders for Africa. We need more schools like this one, following the tenets on which the ALA is built - "vDeveloping the next generation of African leaders". Learn more about the ALA here and support their efforts. To everyone involved in the ALA, I say "More vim!".

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tweeting & Reporting from the Stanford Africa Forum themed #Enterepreneurship and #Development

Two weekends ago, I was at the Stanford Africa Forum. If you were there and you saw a young man wearing an African shirt, unlike the many others who were wearing suits and their cousin-type attires, that would be me. The fairer one. The theme for the event was "Entrepreneurship and Development: Doing Business in a Frontier Market". It was organized by Stanford students, including some from the Graduate School of Business (GSB). I must congratulate the team for putting up a great event. I wasn't going to miss this event for anything. It's what I do. I live for events like these. I documented a lot of what happened at SAF through.... tweets. Yes, I am loving my HTC Aria powered by Android. Let me tell you what I took away from SAF as per the tweets.

First of, I am not a big fan of keynote speeches. I won't lie, I wasn't too interested in who the keynote for SAF was, so I skipped his speech totally. You can find his name at the Stanford African Business Forum website. I arrived at Stanford's Graduate School of Business premises right in time for the first set of panels. I chose to go to the energy panel. The panelists were Sameer Hajee of nuru light, Andrew Klein, Ndubuisi Kejeh & Ade Dosunmu. Ade was a co-founder of the Africa Business Club at the GSB. Google them. Without much further ado, let's get into the tweets. The hashtag was #saf2011, you can find them if Twitter is still keeping them online. I'm not here to break down the Tweets and discuss what was said, am here to give you soundbites. So, as we say in Ghana, "allow".

From the energy panel, here are a few interesting points I caught: "The Energy sector in Africa should take lessons from the Telecoms sector by way of cheaper costs of implementing technology, innovation, etc." "Are #energy companies in #Africa sabotaging new, sustainable, green energy companies trying to enter #African market?" "Government must ensure there's knowledge transfer to the public, & reduction of initial/ start-up costs." "There are a lot of little alternative green #energy start-ups in #Africa. What are the big ones? Are there any big green energy companies worldwide?" Meanwhile, Peter Chadri @pchadri was attending the Social Enterprise panel and tweeted this "In #Africa, we need infrastructure but investors rarely make money off it. They make money off associated business".

I didn't meet many new people at lunch, though I met a few people I knew about/of for the first time. Normally, I'll pay as much attention to networking and talking to attendees as much as listening in on panels. Also run into someone I met at 2010's SABF but who I never kept in touch with. Before I could get her email address (yes, it's a she), we had to disperse for the next panels. I chose to go to the Education panel, because there is always an Investment panel every year. Blah. Education, that's where it's at. Besides, two African Leadership Academy (ALA) folks were on the panel. :-)

At the education panel, one of the panelists asked who was the poorest country in the world in the 1950s. I didn't know the answer but I thought - 1950s, Africa, poor nation, 2010. Eureka! Must be talking about South Korea and Singapore and the famous tale about how they have progressed into developed countries leaving Africa's nations behind. I guessed South Korea and I was right. @Pchadri, who studied International Relations, had a great response to that. "South Korea had the chaebol, Singapore had a dictator. Africans are to emulate these countries but avoid their means?" Democrazy. Talking about Democrazy, see what is happening in Egypt? Some civil coup d'etat like that hehe. Or wait, Revolution rather.

Zimbabwe's Lennon Chimbumu Adams, an ALA graduate,talked about his experience there while Chris Bradford, the COO of ALA talked about building leaders and entrepreneurs through ALA. The other panelists were Fasil Amdetsion and Boris Bulayev with the panel being moderated by Stanford professor Joel Samoff. Turns out Lennon was a programmer before going to ALA. He made use of his skills there. That's when it dawned on me that the youngest guy on the panel was going to dominate it, and rightly so. Chris shared a lot of insight. "You can create an environment in which #entrepreneurship can be learned. The entrepreneur needs to be passionate too". "You have to understand the context in which you are operating. That's why African studies is taught at ALA." Boris stressed that before one can be successful at entrepreneurship, there has to be personal development. Fasil told an Ethiopian story and people ended up laughing. Good stuff. We should laugh small. Who said forums must be tense? :-)

For the next 15 minutes or so during the panel, I stopped tweeting and starting writing. I had asked the ALA crew a question and the answers were too good and detailed for me to tweet them. I can't type fast enough.A separate ALA blog entry is here. One interesting thing that came up during the panel was the idea of the 'white man's burden'. A lot of the panelists at SAF2011 were white and not from Africa. Are white men and women tasked or the default people with bringing investment/change in Africa? Chris Bradford answered the white man's burden question by talking about an ALA grad who leads a refugee camp in DRC. I love this Chris guy. Way to dodge the question and tell us something we really need to hear. But on this subject, What about the African Diaspora? Are Africans not into volunteering?

Next up, I went to the mobile technology panel. An issue was raised, "Why can't people selling crafts, etc in Africa get to participate in e-commerce? This is a case for mobile money." @pchadri tweeted: "Frontlinesms is doing a lot of great things. Nahim Nahmud from FrontlineSMS:Medic was on the panel. Menekse Gencer talked about Mpayconnect and mentioned that the presentation is on slideshare.net. You can view it here.

@pchadri Peter tweeted "African banks lend on assets not income, small biz cannot borrow. Can mobile money extend such services to those?" to which I responded "Mobile money should enable wealth creation and not poverty alleviation." It's around this time that Mbuhua Njihia (founder of Mobile Monday in Kenya) started talking. He's worked on various startups including Symbiotic and mentioned that it's een challenging trying to get money and to grow his business. I loved how Mbugua Njihia talked from experience and told stories rather than doing a PowerPoint presentation. The attendees were loving it too. He quipped "Angel investors? That's a dream. $30k doesn't get me 2 full page ads in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper." The audience bursts into laughter. @pchadri tweeted "Kenyan storytelling at its best". I responded "Love him. He's like a more educated, tech focused Churchill. Lol"

Mbuhua advised "We don't need blanket solutions for African problems. Explore 1 opportunity at a time. You don't need to serve everybody; The only way you will get the mwananchi -common man- to use the technology/platform is to show them the value". Mbuhua talked about a little glitch - "Mobile operators may ask for exclusivity, but if the volumes are there, it makes sense for mobile entrepreneurs". Also, the service must be compelling and should bring volume or a partnership with the network/operator, in order for it to be successful (via @pchadri). Menekse also mentioned that another case for mobile money was to serve the informal sector and the unbanked.

The surprising bit was that only @JisasLema, @Pchadri and me tweeted about the Stanford Africa Forum. Were we not in the Silicon Valley? I thought this was tweet heaven. I have an answer. The real social media folks in the Bay Area were not present at SAF2011. Why? I am not about to discuss that here. The attendes at SAF 2011 were awesome, a mix of students, professionals, investors, some entrepreneurs, etc. A friend, @nnewihe declared - "Fola Laoye is my hero" Fola is the CEO of Hygeia limited in Nigeria. Google it. @nnewihe also tweeted: "The Stanford Africa forum was amazing. There are ways for us youth to get involved in transforming healthcare". @jisAsLema tweeted: "Best day ever! Stanford Africa Conference was a huge success. Thank you for coming". I agree with them. Make sure you attend next year or better still, find your way to the next African-themed conference near you. #VIM!

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