05
Jul
10

New Oil Disaster in the West Coast of Africa…

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

How would the world respond, if a similar disaster would happen in Africa ?

One of my readers asked me for my opinion about the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. I certainly have one and I will put it in the context of the core of my blog, which is Africa.

Those of you who surf the internet to find the latest news on the catastrophe in the Gulf, will read headlines about organizations, interest groups and companies that directly or indirectly are affected by the spill of the oil.

Lawsuits, claims, outrage, concerns for the environment expressed in various ways but all sharing a total disapproval of the incident.
Not enough preventive measures, not (fast) enough actions to contain the devastating effects, criticism on the government for not putting in place proper oversight to prevent these horror stories and the list goes on.

One thing seems to be clear:  Everybody is revolted and for once everybody agrees that this is just too much to accept.

Well I am not sure about that….

Does everybody really agree that enough is enough ? History teaches us nothing ! If you surf a bit over the history of environmental disasters you will see a growing list of shocking events. So if we are really that concerned, I fail to understand why we need that many disasters for us to turn the tides and address the risks that are facing us or worse the horrors that are taking place and not just in the Gulf of Mexico !

If in almost over-regulated places such as the USA or Europe oil companies can get away with dangerous practices that expose the world to risk and ultimately to disasters like the one we are witnessing again today, I put serious doubt to the real intentions of those in power, those who are responsible for oversight and those who actually run hazardous practices. Warnings of scientists time and again go into deaf ears. Those who defend shareholder values or need voters to get re-elected turn blind eyes to risks that are well-known. Today it is an oil spill, yesterday it was toxic waste that was dumped in Ivory Coast since it was cheaper for the company then to treat the waste in a professional and environmental friendly way. What is it we are waiting for before we really wake up and put the money where our mouth is ?

So I repeat the question, what if this were to happen in Africa ? How would the world react in that case ?

For the last fifty years the world accepts that oil is spilling daily in the Niger Delta in Nigeria where the total amount of barrels of oil that have so far polluted the region is a multiple of some of the reported incidents.

The Gulf spill is  making daily headlines in newspapers, broadcast around the world by all the major news cable networks and an increasing number of internet discussion is taking place where everybody is expressing their concerns.

Why have we not had headlines for fifty years on the tragedy of the Niger Delta.

We do get news on the “Rebels” that are making the region “unsafe”. Should the focus not first be on the oil companies that are running practices that are “unsafe” ?

We get more then enough blaming and finger pointing. Regardless who is right or who is wrong, would the Niger Delta not be better off with joint actions to clean the place and insist that the oil companies increase their measures to reduce the risk of spills ? I think it would take the arguments away for the rebels to continue their aggression. Instead we always seem to be more willing to deal with the symptoms as opposed to deal with the root causes of the problems.

I did not say that I agree with armed aggression since it has never resolved any problem in the world. It demonstrates inability for dialogue but when people are ignored for over five decades we should not be that surprised that some are losing their patience.

So if fifty odd years is not enough to make people realize that every day more damage is added to the region I am not very optimistic that proper efforts are soon to be expected, while the news and public opinion will continue to find targets to blame…

With new oil fields being discovered more risk is introduced.

One of the recent discoveries in Ghana will soon place this country on the list of oil-producing countries, where up until today no expertise on oil exploration exists, let alone deep sea oil exploration, which adds a level of technical complexity to the venture. One can only hope that the Ghanaian Government is preparing itself to deal with the oil companies and with the temptation that comes along with the outlook on short term revenues and will put a stick in the ground if any proposed exploration method cannot sufficiently manage associated risks.

Given the long list of disasters,  people in the developed countries have learned how to prosecute, how to protest in an organized fashion. Not that it has prevented disasters to happen, as we unfortunately have seen but at least after long and costly lawsuits some of the victims of these disasters were compensated financially. Who is today concerned with the fishermen in the Niger Delta that have lost their jobs because there is no fish left in the Delta region, just to mention one immediately affected group of people ?

What do you think the chances are for nations  around the shores of Africa as they are being placed out of business or as their fauna and flora are being destroyed ? How would people find ways to prosecute against the polluters ? What legal framework would assist the victims ? Today organized civil and peaceful protests are not forthcoming in many of the countries in Africa where there are plenty of reasons, mainly because people lack the means. Instead armed rebels are trying to draw attention and only gain resentment from the world that of course cannot accept the terms under the threat of gunpoint.

As long as we treat this critical situation as just another sad story coming from Africa like the ones on famine , disease or war and leave it to be handled by some organizations as another charity case, ignoring the fact that in most of the developing countries there are no financial buffers to absorb the billions of dollars that some of the recovery projects cost, I keep thinking of how Mahatma Ghandi once answered a reporter  asking him “how he felt about the developed world”  ? to which he replied that he felt “it was an interesting concept” !

Africa already has its fair share of dealing with the consequences of irresponsible business practices from the rest of the world. Climate change is another example where Africa is just a victim since the global warming is not the result of economic activity in Africa but outside Africa, while the effects of the Global Warming are felt very much in Africa adding to conditions that are difficult enough.

Nobody is compensating the farmers today in Africa for the harsher conditions they face and with agriculture being the sector most affected by global warming, a sector that counts for at least 75% of Africa’s economic output, it leaves a lot to think about.

So how would the world respond to a similar disaster like the one of the Gulf of Mexico ? So far it is unrealistic to assume there will be an appropriate response and therefore I think it is all the more important that African oil producing countries just increase their demands of safe exploration without any compromise from companies that receive the concessions!

© Desi Lopez Fafié

25
Apr
10

325 million voters for the Presidential Elections of 2010 to 2034

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle

Did you know that as of 2009 Africa has an estimated 987 Million people of which 401 Million are between 0 and 14 years.
Nigeria has the largest population of the African countries with an estimated total population of 149 Million people. The population growth rate is 1.9 %.
This means that in 9 months as many Nigerians will be born as the total population of Namibia, that in 12 months the total populations of Mauritania or Liberia have been reproduced and that in two years the total population of Libya is added to the Nigerian population.

There are 325 Million children ranging from age 4 to 24. These 325 Million children represent the future decision makers of the continent both in private and public sector.
Out of these 325 Million children and youngsters 54 new presidents will come into power every so often in the years to come.

Illiteracy rates are still as high as almost 45% average of the population. Estimates indicate that about 100 Million children drop out of school at some point for various reasons not always because the children want to drop out. Sometimes the eldest son of a family has to take over from a father that turns ill or dies, in order to support the family. Sadly this happens often with children that only have a few years ahead to finish college or high school and as a result all the effort that the family has put in place to get the eldest this far is lost and the chances for the family to finally break out and move up the ladders of society are gone. No social security net is there to protect the hard earned money that was set aside by the family to provide children with education for a better future.

Many people who are involved in development efforts around the world have come to a conclusion that the most important thing is to create jobs. Today nobody would argue in Europe that unemployment is one of the biggest threats to its economy. Spain with unemployment rates reaching 20% is currently looked upon as the biggest burden of the EU.

Most countries in the developing world would love to reach unemployment rates of “only 20%”.

Junior Achievement (JA) is an organization that support almost 10 million children around the world with education programs that teach them entrepreneurship and financial literacy. One of the most successful programs is The company program that teaches students how to set up a company, find investors, decide on product and marketing strategies, organizational set-up etc. Students that attend this program have demonstrated higher success rates when starting up a company and therefore JA is very hopeful that through this program many out-of-school youth will get a second chance to find a way to reach economic independence and means to support a family.

In countries where jobs are not available people turn to trade. If this trade is anchored in an enterprise that has been given proper thought, the drive, the passion and the will to succeed of many young Africans will open one way to a successful and sustainable future.

The fiber optic cable connection has been completed in East Africa and therefore accessibility is improving but even though Seacom has agreed with some of the country operators to provide special rates for educational purposes some of the operators prefer to increase their margins then to pass on the lower costs of connectivity to their children. Affordability therefore remains a challenge and despite all efforts that are made to bridge the digital divide it will require in-country decisions to fix this once and for all.

Given that the internet does reach an increasing amount of youngsters (even if slowed down by some of the above described factors) it is only a matter of time before more and more people will demand to be connected, to be given a chance to enjoy good education and to be given a chance to build their future and start sharing the wealth creation.

While good governance is still hard to find in most places in developing nations and often one of the most significant barriers to economic development if not the only one, we don’t have to wait for elections and for new presidents to come to power or start country models from scratch.

Since computers and internet are still luxury for most of the 325 million children in Africa, we need to find clever and creative ways to utilize the existing infrastructures that are there.
Many volunteers are standby waiting for an opportunity to reach out to these children but cannot afford on their own to cater for entire infrastructures.
Many schools do not have the means to pay for a monthly internet bill, since the budgets simply are not there.

The private sector can start today to play a role and to invest in its own future. Infrastructures are not accommodating and most often this is due to a lack of organization and management. Skilled labor is hard to find. So by investing in education companies are investing in their own future employees and in future decision makers that will see the benefits of enabling infrastructures.

Many companies pay for their internet connections on a fixed price basis. Much of this internet power is not used after working hours. This wasted internet power could be put to good use to the likes of JA volunteers who are ready to teach children around the world using video conferencing, instant messenger or other new technologies that today have become the common tools of teenagers that go to schools in the west.

The internet is opening doors to the diaspora to get involved, to train youngsters remotely and to share experiences with those back home, using Skype and other open source technologies that are available to anyone that has access to the internet.

Youngsters in Africa will soon join the development communities using open source technologies for non-mission critical applications and or sell their applications via iTunes to be used by the millions of iPhone users around the world. Made in Africa is just a few internet sessions away.

The same way art of printing books ended the monopoly of the clergy a few centuries ago, the internet will penetrate the developing nations and will break down illiteracy. Once societies will reach critical masses of literacy, people will start asking how come their country is not adopting certain policies that other developing nations have embraced a few decades ago when coming out of independence, like the Asian Tigers, who at the time were economically behind some of the African nations.
Nations will start to demand that current governance models will have to be replaced by more adequate ones and therefore we need to educate the potential voters of to be elected presidents today.

Given that we live in exponential times the good news is that penetration of new technologies is on a bullet train without brakes on its way to the developing world and no governmental stop sign can slow the train down anymore…..

© Desi Lopez Fafié

21
Dec
09

Best Airfares and latest Airplane configurations on flights to Africa…

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

Africa’s consumer market exceeds 900 Million people, the fastest growing market in the world.
For the purpose of this article  I will join those who often talk about Africa as if it was one country. Africa is not just a fast growing market it is also the 10th largest world market. According to the world bank the 2006 Africa Gross National Income was 978.3 B $, just after Canada at 9th position and before India, Brazil, Korea, Russian Federation, and Mexico who had the 11th until 15th position.

This being said I consider the 54 countries to be very diverse.  I recommend you have a look at http://www.gapminder.org/ where Professor Hans Rosling  provides the statistical facts in an exiting way that will make you understand the importance to look at African countries rather then to look at it as one Country.

The informal economy on average in Africa according to Friedrich Schneider accounts for 42 % of GNP in a survey of 1999/2000 where the US accounted for 9%, the UK 13%, Canada 15%, Sweden 20% and Greece 29% by comparison.
If we look at Africa  using the typical statistical data that is available to be factual, or if we want to go by the average notion on Africa based on the media, even in a worse case scenario the opportunities in reality are much better than what one expects.

The limited amount of suppliers that this growing amount of consumers can chose from however allow the vendors to provide very poor service, to dump dangerous products on the market, to overcharge customers for services and products and not to respect warranties or guarantees.The consumers have no proper legal framework that protect them from these practices to claim their rights. Governments do not proactively protect their citizens either from dangerous or poor quality products and services
France and the UK know this all too well and continue to protect their old vested interests stemming from the old colonial days and this translates into situations where the average African consumers have to take it or leave it with hardly any functional or affordable system in place to protect them.
Deutsche Telecom wanted to buy Sonatel in Burkina Faso, The French Minister of ICT told his German colleague to stay out of his territory and the deal was called off.  Vivendi took over with Maroc Telecom as the fronting company. Today the service has badly deteriorated and one can complain about the service but to no avail. New subscribers are accepted daily while insufficient investments are made in the total infrastructure causing very unstable networks.

New players like China have discovered the African market as well and do not meet many obstacles selling low cost and poor quality products including pharmaceuticals with Chinese descriptions leaving consumers at the mercy of the retailers guidance instead of being protected by health care regulations as is the case in most places in the world.

A few more examples across industries:

If you buy an airline return ticket with British Airways in Africa to the UK it will on average be more expensive than buying the same return ticket in the UK in countries where BA face little competition. The same is true for Air France or KLM.  While the flights to some of the destinations to Africa are shorter in miles and travel time the rates are higher than flights to the USA for instance that are longer in distance and time.  All the mentioned airline carriers in this example use the best airline configurations to the destinations where they face stiff competition and they continue to use their oldest configurations to places like Accra, Ouagadougou, Bamako where they almost still maintain a monopoly.
Each of these airline companies do face competition on destinations like Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg and therefore you will get a flat bed configuration flying BA to Lagos in business class, but not to Accra while the rates are almost the same. On flights to Lagos the mentioned carriers have US inbound passengers that work in the energy sector who have lots of alternatives to chose from once arriving at London, Paris or Amsterdam before continuing their destination to Lagos.
But what if you fly to Paris starting your journey in Ouagadougou, you have been a loyal frequent flyer of Air France and you want to use your air miles to upgrade your ticket or you want to sit in a business class lounge at the airport of Dakar using your club 2000 card ?
Well you can’t. Sorry sir on this route these perks are not available.  I was recently rejected even in transit at the airport in Paris to sit in the airport lounge coming from Ouagadougou. If you read the terms and conditions Air France clearly state that your club 2000 card gives you world wide club access regardless of the class you travel in and you have the right to invite a fellow passenger. Air France does not mention “except for the following African destinations”.
When you complain, you get letters explaining how terribly sorry the company is and they hope to soon welcome you on board of their flights again because they know that you have few or no alternative.
Emirates Airlines are expanding their network of destinations across the continent but frequent flyers of Emirates will notice that the cash and miles service does not include destinations like Ghana even if they have a daily direct flight between Dubai and Accra. How come ?

What about ordering through Amazon.com if you live in Africa where bookstores are not a commodity and the population is young and eager for knowledge ?
Well you can order books, but in todays technology driven world where youngsters increasingly look for multi media alternatives, unfortunately you cannot order any multi media nor software, nor any electronics that are on offer at Amazon.com.  The excuse in this case is the fear for piracy, but this is taking a short cut in my opinion. Today’s technology offer enough solutions to counter piracy if only one is willing to invest. Apparently 450 million youngsters is not a big enough market opportunity for Amazon to at least explore some alternatives.

What if you want to transfer money to relatives ?
Up until some years ago Western Union was the only viable solution for the large diaspora community to transfer money to and from Africa. The costs associated to the transfers exceeded even the highest fees one would pay using bank transfers anywhere around the world.  When Moneygram started to operate in Africa fees came down overall, but with only two service providers the fees are still disproportional if you consider the purchasing power of the majority of the beneficiaries and the main reason for these money transfers. Most of the transfers are made to support families in their most basic needs. The banking sector in Africa is still mainly focusing on corporate banking and the continent has the lowest bank account penetration rates in the world. Western Union and Moneygram can therefore charge any fees they like without too much risk of losing customers.  While central banks do control foreign exchange and limit currency outflows from some of the African countries, they don’t seem to feel a need to protect their population from being overcharged.
A few banks do have retail branches and for a handful of their client base they offer premium services, meaning that these clients have access to air conditioned areas to do their banking transactions, while the majority of the clients have to queue in long lines in the heat often moving from one counter to the next to queue again to conclude very outdated manual procedures to make a money draft.

What if you buy a computer or a cell phone while traveling overseas from world renowned vendors like HP or Nokia, just to name a few, and you use it in Africa?
Although the vendors when selling you the items claim that they offer world wide guarantees and warranties the reality check comes once your equipment fails on you back home in Africa.
Even when the vendor has a local distributor, the world wide agreements are not always respected and consumers either have to travel back with their equipment and have it repaired where the items were purchased or pay for the repair. Either way they lose.
Africans use places like Dubai and  China extensively to buy items that they cannot find in their home countries. On arrival the consumers often are charged high duties.
Guarantees and warranties very often are not respected in Africa and if you read the small letters you will see that some vendors exclude Subsaharan Africa all together.
The price does not reflect this exclusion and again considering purchasing power of average African consumers, they end up paying a premium for non-warranted items.

If you buy a Toyota in Ghana and export the car to say neighboring Burkina Faso, warranties will no longer apply and spare parts have to be imported at surcharges from the country where you bought the car because the local Toyota dealer will not keep parts in stock for different care types. Most car makers sell different versions of types of vehicles in different countries.

Pharmaceutical scams of trials using African human beings to test new drugs have been headline news items in many newspapers and cable new stations over the years.
Today anybody can buy drugs over the counter that would normally require a prescription. Drugs that are imported from China with only Chinese descriptions that nobody in Africa can read and that no health care institution has approved since  controls are either not in place or not enforced are sold even through small Chinese retail outlets exposing vast amounts of people to medical side effects in a place where medical care is unaffordable for the majority of the population in any event.

In Africa consumers have not yet found ways to organize themselves. Most governments are happy to see investors come and apart from tax and duties there are not too many regulations that have to be respected. But in the end the consumers who pay for the government services indirectly via their taxes have rights that need to be protected.
Hopefully we will see a private initiative take off soon somewhere that will set the example for others to follow protecting consumers interests…

© Desi Lopez Fafié

28
Oct
09

A weekend in 2002 on top of Mount Cameroon

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The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

After a carbohydrate meal I went to bed and tried not to think about the next morning so that I could get as much sleep as possible. Another week of work completed but I was not looking at another usual weekend. Last time I went to bed on a Friday night at 8 pm goes back to my childhood. The room at the lodge in the village at the foot of Mount Cameroon was humid and warm.
The AC was noisy but after a while the room chilled down. I came totally unprepared and was not sure if I could deal with the physical strain I was about to endure the next two days.
I thought about how I had gotten myself into this and how the hike would be and I finally managed to fall asleep.

We were stretching our lazy muscles in the early morning sun outside in the garden of the lodge for a good 30 minutes and at 5.30 am we started our hike. Soon we left the paved roads of Buea and entered a path that marked the start of a climb that would go on for the rest of the day. My guide was a cheerful sporty guy who did not have one gram of fat on his body, only solid muscles. While he wasn’t a body builder, he was strong like a horse. He explained how he often climbed the mountain as we made our first attempts up. We started a conversation about the surroundings and the local customs of the people of West Cameroon the region where people speak English instead of French as they do in the rest of the country.

Trees of the tropical rain forest gave us comfortable shadow to protect us from the immediate impact of the burning sun, the humidity was intense and I was trying to find a pace that allowed me to keep my breath. After a good hour’s walk up the steep and winding path I had found my rhythm and began to feel more at ease to respond to the questions of my guide who wanted to know everything about Europe. Like many people in Africa he had a glorified image of the place similar to the way many people in Europe have an underrated view of Africa.
The rain forest was just an amazing place and as we were getting deeper into it I was fascinated by the way the sunbeams colored the place one moment while thick branches of trees provided deep dark shadows the next moment. We were walking under an enormous umbrella where the sun managed to shine through only from time to time.

We were making slow but steady progress up and at around 10 am we reached the first camp on the trail.

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Mount Cameroon’s summit has two peaks one at 4070 and one at 4095  meters above sea level and the trail we used had two camps. Like Kilimanjaro, Mount Cameroon is a volcano, the most active on the West coast of Africa and the climb does not require any specific climbing techniques like one would need to climb some of the mountains in say the Alps. I recommend however to come prepared because the climb is a steep and long walk in humid terrain and warm temperatures.

As we all gathered together to have a rest, I decided not to sit down, but to stay on my feet. I walked around the camp’s grounds and had chats with some of my fellow climbers.
A friend of mine, chairman of a sports club, was responsible for organizing the climb and in total we were about 25 people. We decided not to stop too long to benefit from the relative cool temperatures of the morning and before long we were on our way to the second camp.

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About a good hour after we left the first camp, the tropical rain forest gradually changed into a savanna landscape, and another two hours later were walking under clouds this time, that gave us some protection against the sun. The terrain became rougher and I needed to pay close attention where I placed my feet, in order not to slip and make a nasty fall. Short plants with sharp spines were all over the place and you could easily hurt yourself if you were not careful.

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We reached the second camp around 3 in the afternoon. All this time we had been living off chocolate bars and water and as we reached the second camp ground a nice smell of food was coming our way. Porters had reached the camp earlier and had started to prepare food for the group. We sat together and were joking about the hardships making it this far up while we were waiting for the food to be served. After the meal, I went straight to sleep to regain energy for the final climb to the summit.

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There was a small hut that consisted of four walls with a tin roof, a small door and the entire place was divided into two layers by wooden planks. I decided to put my sleeping sack on top of the planks and fitted myself between two of my friends and fell asleep almost instantly. When I woke up I saw that the place had filled up and underneath us people were still sleeping and snoring.

At 3 am we prepared ourselves for the final part of the climb and with torches we started our walk in an otherwise pitch dark space. Clouds were between the stars and us and since it was half moon the light was very dim. We were at about 3300 meters altitude and the outside temperature was down to about 18 degrees Celsius. Although initially I felt cold, soon I started to sweat again like I had done the entire previous day because of the strain this final part of the climb was putting on me. Walking rough terrain required my attention but trying to walk this terrain in the dark with only a very small light coming from my torch added another challenge to it. Every step required concentration and by now I started to feel the effects of the altitude and increasingly I realized that I had come totally unprepared.
My guide had not shown any sign of fatigue and was walking calmly and steady as if he was strolling in a park. He kept telling me that we were almost there. He started to tell me this at the beginning of the hike and kept on telling me the same thing to encourage me to keep going.

Although the last stage of the climb only took us up another 900 meters, I felt it was worse than the entire first two stages, until just before 6 am the sun came up and I could see more clearly where to place my feet. We reached the summit by 7 am and I had difficulty not to through up. I was clearly suffering from the altitude and from the fact that I had not trained at all in preparation to the climb. After drinking some water I sat down this time to enjoy a magnificent view that was unfolding itself all around me. Slowly I started to regain my breath and to forget my fatigue and I was taken by the way the sun placed a golden layer over this top of the world. We were lucky that there was not too much wind. My guide came and sat next to me and for about 20 minutes we just stared in the distance without really talking much. The morning silence was so loud that we did not want to break it afraid to spoil the serene and peaceful scene.

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After a good final look we decided to start the descent and after two hours we joined some of the fellow climbers who had decided to stay at the second camp. Now we walked with bended knees downhill using a walking stick to keep our balance. After hours of walking this way my thighs were getting more and more painful. It was 6 in the evening when we reached the village again and on return to the lodge I took a shower that I still remember years later.

Once cleaned up, I got myself a good massage before getting ready to celebrate with the rest of the group. Africa would not be Africa without music and dance. While food was served people from the village came to share the moment of fulfillment with us and with my complete soar legs I pulled myself together to join the dancing crowd. Not sure where the energy came from but for a few moments I forgot about my soar legs.

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At 9 pm my friend told me that the car was ready to take me back to the airport. On arrival in Paris the next morning at 6 am, I was checked twice since I was carrying rucksacks, climbing boots while at the same time I was carrying a suit bag and brief case. I did not have the energy to argue much which probably was better anyway. I made it just in time to catch a flight to Montpellier in the south of France, where I had to host a Nigerian customer delegation that wanted to visit our competency center.

The customer asked me if I was feeling alright since I made funny faces when walking. I told the customer that I had overdone the morning exercises a bit. Nobody would have believed my story and I just wanted to get through the day and to my bed as soon as possible. It took me another good week before I managed to walk normally again.

If you go hiking mountains please take your time to prepare and take your time to hike so that you can adjust to altitude effects. If you want an out of body experience that you will remember for as long as you live just get on a plane and get off somewhere near a mountain and start hiking!

© Desi Lopez Fafié

08
Sep
09

We don’t want money, we need Skills!

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

“We don’t want money, we need skills” was a comment of some of the attendees during the Ghana Competitiveness Forum that was held in Accra in August 2009.

Following the visit of President Barack Obama to Ghana the Business Council on International Understanding organized the forum. A delegation of Members of the House of Representatives of the United States and participants from the public and private sector met over a round table discussion to seek solutions to make Ghana more competitive and attractive to foreign investors.

Not only has Ghana transitioned peacefully to a new government after its recent elections but today you will find that the private sector is taking a leading position as well to drive the economy forward. A new generation of business men and women are now limited by available skills more than by venture capital or other financial impediments.

With the discovery of oil in Ghana an entire new set of skills are required and some international companies operating in Ghana have already started to train people to get ready to embark on deep sea oil exploration.

If you drive around Accra you will also see a lot of activity in the construction sector. New hotels and office buildings are under construction and houses in the residential areas are being built to accommodate the increased demand.

Tema, one of the ports of Ghana receives cargo that finds its final destination in some of its neighboring and land locked countries such as Burkina Faso for instance.

Most of this economic activity also requires information. Here lies in itself another great opportunity for improvements on productivity and efficiencies to become more competitive using today’s information technology.
Border formalities for the most part rely on paper based systems and delay a swift passage. Trucks lose a lot of time during this process. This is just an example of course to illustrate the vast amount of opportunity that exists and at the same time the challenge we face to get enough skilled labor to fulfill the demand.

Golden times for training institutes, vocational education centers, universities and business schools.
Golden times for the Diaspora as well who would like to return to their country and exploit the opportunities benefiting from the acquired international experience.

Training however is only part of what a country like Ghana needs. Some of those who are driving business in Ghana are either locally trained staff or staff trained overseas but in both cases these business leaders have enjoyed international exposure that has provided them experience to deal with complex business situations. These leaders can run businesses up to international standards. They have the capacity to compete internationally. If companies are certified to international standards they will find it easier to export their products and services. Skills and standards are key to achieving sustainable growth in today’s global business.

One of the requests to the members of the House of Representatives was to support an exchange program that will allow for talented Ghanaians to work for a period of time on overseas projects and to receive skilled labor from the US in this case, to work and transfer skills in Ghana so that both business leaders and companies become more competitive.

Of course there are areas where foreign direct investment and loans are still required to assist the development efforts that Ghana is undertaking and where the public interest is better served by a public sector owned solution rather than a private sector one.

When the business community starts asking for skills rather than for money as a first priority it means that its leaders clearly see the opportunity. The opportunity has probably been there for a long time, but today the country is enjoying the fact that democracy and private initiative have both evolved and met each other ready to execute.

Things are changing in Ghana and in Africa and for the better.

© Desi Lopez Fafié

23
Jul
09

African Cuisine for the die hards…

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

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Do you like spicy food?
Do you plan to go to Nairobi ?

I recommend Handhi’s to you. It means “clay pot” in one of the Indian languages and the restaurant serves a number of dishes using these clay pots. The variety and quality of the food is superb and among the Indian restaurants in Africa that I know I rank it within the top 5.

Those of you who chose to sit inside the restaurant instead of at their terrace, can see the cookes at work through a hugh glass wall that separates the kitchen from the main restaurant dining area.

In East Africa it is mostly the Indian cuisine that offer some very spicy dishes.  The African dishes in this part of the continent are generally mildly spiced. In West and Central Africa however the African dishes can be extremely spicy.

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Poulet Yassa

In Senegal you can order Poulet Yassa, stuffed chicken with lemon and onions served with rice and you have a choice to have some yellow chillies on the side and mix these with the food.

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Africans enjoy their food most when sharing a dish with their family or friends.

Pepper sou[

In Nigeria,  Pepper Soup can be made of any kind of fish or meat depending on your preference.  If you are a Non African Adult with strong taste buts you may try it, but I recommend you take a very small sip first to see how you respond before going for the big spoons.

Pepper Soup

These are just a few examples since spicy food is very common in the West- and Central African cuisine.

Those of you who are not used to chillies should start carefully.  It is an acquired taste that you develop over time and gradually you can deal with larger quantities of chillies or use stronger varieties of chillies.
The Naga Jolokia and the Red Savina Habanero are the strongest versions and contain the highest levels of capsaicin 800.000 – 1000.000 and  350.000 – 570.000 respectively. The Naga Jolokia originates from North Eastern India and holds the Guinness World record. Compare this to white pepper that has 500 units of capsaicin or green tabasco sauce that has about 600 to 800 units.
The Scoville scale measures the heat levels in food by measuring the amount of capsaicin present.

chillies

One of my colleagues from Europe asked me if she could have a sip of my crab soup I was having at a restaurant in Dubai that had made some special orders on our request. Four of us were living in or originated from Africa while we had  two Europeans with us that evening ,my colleague being one.
We had ordered two separate bowls of crab soup, one hot one not. I warned my colleague and told her that this was seriously hot. She insisted.
The next 10 minutes or so all the waitresses were running back and forth to calm the effect of the chillies.
When she recovered somewhat and regained her ability to speak she started to call me names and asked me how someone could enjoy something like that ? We felt sorry for her but at the same time we could not stop laughing either. When she ran to catch her flight she was smiling again.

If you like spicy food I advice you to learn the traditional name of chilly for each country you visit. If you go to a local restaurant as
a Mzungu (white man)  and ask for very spicy food, you may otherwise not get what you ask for. Since not every European or American that visits Africa can handle the intensity of some of the dishes, waiters are careful and will bring you a very mild version of what you requested.
In Nigeria I asked for red chillies and got sweet red peppers instead. So I asked the waiter the name of red chillies in Yoruba. Now I got my “atta rodo”, as they call it and  every time I visit a restaurant in Nigeria and ask for fresh chopped atta rodo I am in business.

An Indian friend of mine once advised me to have some raw onion on the side whenever you are not sure of the food you are about to have. This simple addition will keep you out of trouble in most cases. I realized the effect of it when on another occasion I had dinner with four of my colleagues in a nice restaurant in Ghana. We all ordered shrimps and lobster, the specialty of the house. I was the only one who ordered a salad on the side with some raw onion because I happen to like salads not so much because I questioned the restaurant or its food.  Our host, a Ghanaian did not approve of my addition to this dish, since he felt you should not mix the taste of the fresh seafood with anything else.
The next day all four of my colleagues, including our Ghanaian host were not feeling well and had to run to the bathroom a few times for a couple of days. I was very happy to have ordered my salad on the side and remembered the advise of my Indian friend.
Since then I have made it a habit to order some raw onion every time I doubt the quality of the food.
If you think about it, the Dutch dip their raw herring in chopped raw onion. If you order a steak tartare the cook will propose raw onion as one of the spices to mix the meat with.
I don’t have the scientific proof to back my story but in all the years of my travels all over the world I have hardly ever had food problems and I am grateful for the advice of my Indian friend.

Back at Handhi’s one evening we had ordered more food than we could finish and before we left one of the guests asked the waiter to wrap the food.  I was a bit surprised since all of us were very satisfied and unable to finish but I was soon to learn another lesson of the African way of live.
We walked out of the restaurant and the guest who was carrying the bags with wrapped food saw a poor person walking by.
Without even thinking twice he gave some of the bags to this person.  Before we reached the car he had distributed the remaining bags to a few other poor people that we came across.

Have you ever considered asking to wrap the food to give it to a total stranger in the street on your way home?
I admit I had never done so before but I suggest you try this and I am sure you will enjoy the  experience…

© Desi Lopez Fafié

16
Jun
09

Money Talks In Africa Like Anywhere Else!

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle.

handshake

If you consider doing business in Africa you have to ask yourselves the question:

Do we really want to do business in Africa?

If the answer is yes, you should approach the opportunity just like you would approach any investment decision anywhere else on the planet and prepare yourselves accordingly.
A cost-benefit analysis can give you a go or no-go, based on what you feel is an acceptable level of return on the investment you are willing to make, considering possible alternatives.

Recent studies have identified that some projects in Africa yield up to four times the returns these projects would yield in Europe and twice as much as they would yield in Asia.
exploring oil fields

When the opportunity is there and the understood risk is high, the measures that should be put in place to manage the associated risk, should be properly defined.
The initial cost of identifying exploitable oil fields are significant but the returns of the production side of the business are hugh as well, if the studies turn out correct.
Needless to say what the impact can be of mistakes….

woman analyzing

Some companies make half-hearted decisions when it comes to running their operations in Africa and may end up getting disappointed after a while because they are caught by surprise on various fronts from productivity and efficiencies to facing infrastructural issues nobody had even thought of as potential challenges.

A recent CNBC broadcast titled “Dollars and Danger” had the intention to portray Africa as the final investment frontier.
The first 3 minutes of the program give an example of a Chinese project in Libya where China is accused to export their labor problems to Africa running more Africans into unemployment.
I think it is well understood by now that the US and China are both competing for African energy resources and one can read this between the lines here again.

Not to mention that the US is slowly losing its first trading position with Africa and of course this is not something that the US is happy with.

Most people in the US still believe that the investment and official donor assistance their country provide to Africa are among the highest in the world.  Facts have proven the contrary.

The next 4 minutes discuss the risks and dangers of doing business in Africa, where one could end up believing that you cannot walk the streets of Africa without at least one bodyguard because of the way that one conflict zone, limited to a small region of one country, is blown up to a level as if this is the standard across the continent. The reality is that the number of wars and conflicts at this point in African history are lower than ever before and lower than in Asia for instance.

I am not sure how many potential investors made it all the way to the end of the program. If there still were people watching I wonder how many of those ended up seriously considering Africa as an investment opportunity.

It is sad that this has become the standard of portraying a continent that has never been given a fair chance for as long as the developed world has been interacting with it.

I will share some of the considerations I made, with you,  when I started to work in Africa that have helped me  to exceed my expectations.

Africa is big

The first thing one need to realize is that Africa is a continent that consists of 54 countries and I am showing you a picture that will help you understand the size of the continent to put things in perspective.

You can read more on this topic in my post of http://dfafie.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/balance-the-view-and-opinion-on-africa/
Arabic, English, French, Portuguese and Spanish are the imported languages depending on what part of Africa you are at, apart from the thousands of local languages that are spoken by the African people.

Unless the nature of your business is linked to available natural resources, you need to decide on a location or multiple ones where you want to operate from.

Here you will have to strike a balance between business opportunities and cost of operation given that the level of available infrastructure differ from one country to another.

nairobi airport

If the nature of your business requires mobility for instance you have a limited number of airports that will allow you to reasonably connect across a region. You may not have the business volume in the country from where you operate but you have the convenience of a workable infrastructure. The safest bet therefore in this case, is to consider offices to play a regional function rather than a local one, right from the start. You can read more on this topic in my earlier post: Africa is big and flights are short in supply at  http://dfafie.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/africa-is-big-and-flights-are-in-short-supply/

students

Companies that require skilled labor will have to make a decision to bring in the skills from overseas or to invest in local staff or a combination of these. When skills are a determining factor you also need to consider where you want to train your staff, on-site or overseas.
If you have to sent staff overseas for training you may face challenges obtaining visas for your staff based on where staff originate from unfortunately.  This is one of the so many imposed barriers to Africa’s development by the developed world, but one that should not be underestimated. Sometimes visa requests are rejected without even a plausible reason.
A more local consideration is that it can be more difficult in some African countries to obtain work- and residency permits for neighboring nationals because the hosting country wants to protect employment for their local citizens.

See my post on visa related issues at  http://dfafie.wordpress.com/2009/05/

African partners

Some companies work with or via local partners. My recommendation is to look for business partners on equal footing so that the partners can organize themselves similar to meet each other’s expectations in terms of investments, organizational structures and quantitative and qualitative standards.
If you are new to a region, working with a local partner can help you to get the local know how faster incorporated into your company.

The good news for Africa is that more nations have started to invest in Africa. While historically the Europeans were the main overseas players, today US, Chinese and Middle Eastern companies are present and compete for the business opportunities.

I see different approaches to doing business from some of the companies depending on where they originate from.
Knowledge transfer is a common practice for US based companies for instance, where the Chinese companies bring in most, if not all the work force from China thus providing less long-term benefits to the local population.

Not all companies will work with local staff at all levels of the organization and some even have different levels of employee standards for staff that come from overseas versus local staff.
This creates all sorts of human resource problems in the long run. This is not a specific problem in doing business in Africa.
There are plenty examples of companies applying duality everywhere in the world.
The average age of Africa’s population ranks very young and with proper training, skills can be developed. While doing business, we have a great opportunity to invest in Africa’s future at the same time. If there is one way we can make a difference in assisting the development process from within the private sector, it definitely is in the area of capacity building.

The size of a company will determine to some extend the possible investments that can be made. It is the initial cost of exploration that will represent more of a challenge to smaller companies than it will to larger ones. Given the many additional factors companies have to consider when doing business in Africa, it is a conditio sine qua non to have a chance for success. If your company does not have the means to do proper due diligence, you may be better off exploring easier terrain.

There are some conditions that we have to accept for the time being since in most cases companies can do little or nothing about these.
Some countries still have state owned utility companies that hold a monopoly position providing poor service while overcharging the consumer, to mention just one.

Similarly there are government owned cooperations for some of the natural resource related economic activities, that impose price and conditions to the producers. Cotton and cacao are good examples where the farmers work very much under cooperation’s set rules. Since these cooperations are most of the time the only one in its kind in the country, providing fertilizers, pesticides and some other basics to the farmers who have no access to capital,  it is difficult to change the conditions for some of these primary producers. Even with micro financing support, the farmers would still be stuck with price cartels once they want to sell their crop.

It is difficult to break this model as long as these monopolies exist.
If you are part of such a chain the basic conditions will be very much set for you when you approach your suppliers.

If you work regionally and you have to transport goods by trucks, crossing borders requires a skill all by itself, to ensure that your cargo does not lose time dealing with the formalities.
Specially perishable goods require close attention and working with solid partners will proof useful in most cases.

The public opinion on Africa is based on what the media cares to show and more often than not this is a very negative single sided reflection of the reality.
When there is a conflict in one part of one country the news headlines will state that there is a problem in Africa and thus the issue gets amplified by a factor of 54!

body guard

In all the years that I have lived and worked in Africa I have always applied a simple rule. If you are in Rome do as the Romans do!  So if you are in an unfamiliar place, you should pay attention to good advice from your local staff or local partner and you should not go experiment on your own. I have never used bodyguards nor any security personnel and I have worked in over 34 countries in Africa for years and I am enjoying my work and my life. I have come to terms  with the fact that sometimes there are power cuts, water cuts and other inconveniences but the flip side is that if you do, you can enjoy a very hospitable environment where nobody ever complains even if they have all the reason to do so at times.

man in rain

If you are in London, people will complain about the rain or the sun. It is either too wet or too hot but it is never going to be fine..

man smiling

You run into any person anywhere in the streets of Africa and you ask them how they are and they will tell you , I am fine and will do so with a sincere smile.

Of course there are issues. It would be naive to think that there wouldn’t be any issues across 54 countries. More so if we realize that there are so many issues with the rest of the world.
Somehow we have become myopic and we only manage to see what does not work in Africa, while we are stuck up to our eyebrows with issues in the developed world.
Did Africa create the economic crisis most of the western countries are currently struggling with just to pick on a recent one ? When these problems, that the western world created itself,  happen,  overnight billions of dollars can be found to fix the problems and everybody turns back to autopilot.

Those of us who are successfully working in Africa often ask ourselves the question how come “those back home” fail to see what it is that we see…

I have come to the conclusion that often the problems come from a pre-conditioned mindset that forgot to do due diligence before taking up the new challenge, irrespective of the location of the activity.

For you to proof me wrong!

© Desi Lopez Fafié





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