Archive for December, 2008


Nigeria Yesterday or Tomorrow


In the winter of 2005 I was asked by the Business Council on International Understanding ( )
to participate at a Nigerian investment promotion mission to the USA.

The Mission was organized under the auspices of Mustafa Bello, Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) and was headed by the former Honorable Federal Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.


Ministers and thought leaders from Nigeria presented reform plans and programs that were being implemented to make investing in Nigeria attractive.

I represented an American company that had decided to invest in Nigeria and my role was to explain to potential American investors how these reform programs were conducive to doing business in Nigeria.
So at the end of a session I was asked to explain what worked and how these reforms were making a difference for our company’s ability to operate in Nigeria.

The Delegation started in Washington and moved on to New York to complete a very busy program that ran for a full week.
It was freezing cold in New York but the pace of the meetings kept everybody warm.
All sessions of the program were well attended by both potential investors as well as representatives from the Nigerian Diaspora living in the USA.

The audience also got a chance to ask questions after each session of course and here
I noticed that at times some members from the Nigerian Diaspora seemed to misunderstand the purpose of the mission.

Interested investors were asking questions regarding the Future of Nigeria and how the programs that were presented to the investors would work,where members of the Nigerian Diaspora were criticizing the previous Nigerian governments and asked the members of the delegation how they felt about errors made by the previous governments.
Some questions were even outdated because the questioner had been out of touch with his country for too long and was holding on to an old image. Some of the investors in the audience obviously got confused.

It has been said many times that one should forget the mistake and remember the lesson learned.
The Nigerian delegation at the time clearly demonstrated that they had learned from the past and were in the middle of a reform process yielding short- and midterm results and had set off for a better future.

The banking sector had merged 80 banks down to 25 as part of a new Central Bank regulatory measure imposed by the new government.
The insurance sector was going through a similar process.
Telecommunication licenses were made available and the market was opening up providing consumers with choices they had not had before.

Of course a lot is still work in progress and requires ongoing investments.

So while the delegates of the mission were showing clear pictures of the way ahead some of the members of the diaspora were still pointing the investors where Nigeria had been.

Most of the news we receive from Nigeria via the public networks focuses on problems not so much on changes that are taking place for the better.

Since both pictures need to be understood I suggest that the public networks continue to do what they do very well.
Expecting the commercial media to start showing the positives would be unrealistic anyways I think.

That leaves me with a suggestion to the members of the diaspora:

Try to support your countrymen who decided to stay in or return to their country and who are trying to make a difference to achieve a better future.
You have a tremendous opportunity at hand. You understand the culture and the people of the country you decided to leave and you have learned new ways of doing things and gained experience during your stay overseas in your new countries of residence.

With today’s new technology you can share your knowledge and know-how using video conferencing with those back home for instance.

Many of these technologies are even free of charge like in the case of Skype where you can chat, speak to someone using the internet instead of a telephone and even see your family and friends via your computer screens.

Imagine a Nigerian teacher living and working in New York or London, teaching children in Ibadan or Abuja the same lessons using a free of charge Skype connection that brings the teacher via the school computer to the classroom.

Local skills are most needed and will add most to the creation of wealth in Africa.

You have a choice to either talk about yesterday or say something constructive towards tomorrow…

© Desi Lopez Fafié



Some years ago I attended a conference on sustainable growth and development using IT and I was impressed by a grass root project with an immediate impact.
Students from the University of Dakar had developed a text message service that provides Senegalese fishermen information about the locations of the fish, the price
of the various fish on the market and the latest meteorologic information. For 5000 CFA per month (about 10 US $) the fishermen could subscribe
to this text message service and as a result their productivity and efficiency increased significantly.

Today fishermen go out and make informed decisions on what fish to catch and where to find them and they
know when it is time to go back if the weather is getting too rough. All of this for 10 US $ per month.

Will it be Red Snapper, Barracuda or Thioph ?

The students that worked on this project of course gained a wonderful experience by applying todays technology showing immediate returns.
What better motivation can you provide a student to carry on investing time and effort in his or her study and not become a drop out by showing
him or her their capabilities to add value to their communities.

The University has a wonderful reference story to tell students who consider to sign up.

The consumers are better served and in the long run will pay a price without mark ups of middle men.

This is a very simple example demonstrating how ICT impacts day to day life and adds value to all layers of a(n) (developing) economy that
leap frogs when it uses state of the art technology, that is accessible and affordable at the same time.

All that is needed is creativity and understanding of what is locally needed and considered a priority and the opportunities to create wealth using
todays new technologies can change the face of African economies. Some low cost projects can make the difference to get people out of a poverty trap.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


Africa is Big and flights are in short supply

You may have wondered why I have put this picture on my main Blog page?

I am sure that those of you who work for foreign companies in Africa have to respond to questions from Head Quarters explaining why you would like to have an office in Cape town while you already have one in Johannesburg, or one in Ghana and another one in Kenya.

Not many people realize that it takes almost two hours to fly from Johannesburg to Cape Town on a commercial flight to travel 1600 kilometers.
Yes we are still in the same country.

If you take a closer look at a map you will see that the real size of Africa does not correspond to the size you would find Africa to be on a world globe. In a two dimensional mercator projection the error of the third dimension had to be placed somewhere and most maps favored the economic powers of the Western Hemisphere at the expense of the African continent. As a result the picture is distorted on most maps that you can find.

If you compare both pictures you can see immediately what I mean.

Size is one, airline networks is another aspect to consider.
If you want to fly across language zones you will have to connect in most of the cases via one of the main hubs like Accra, Abidjan, Dakar, Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg.
If you want to fly from Bamako to Banjul, you must make a stop in Dakar. Again if you look at the map you will see that Banjul and Dakar are 155 kilometers apart.
If you want to fly from Bamako to Lagos one option is to make a stop in Abidjan and connect the next day to Lagos, but that option is not available every day of the week.

The third issue is that some airlines still hold almost monopoly positions. You will find out once you pay for your airline fairs trying to connect from countries like Burkina Faso or Togo to France.

The last point I want to draw your attention to is linked to the previous and has to do with the service levels.
International airlines that operate between Africa and France and the UK realize all too well the position they maintain and you can tell this from the seats for instance you will find on their aircrafts. A flight to Lagos will have the latest seats available to their passengers. Lagos is operated by many international airlines so they cannot sent an outdated airplane since this will result in losing passengers.
The same airline sends its oldest airplanes with outdated and often malfunctioning service components like inflight entertainment systems to places like Accra, Abidjan and Dakar.
No competition, Outrages prices,No service, the NON airlines so to speak.

Now the good news:

South African Airlines has just opened a direct Service from Johannesburg to New York to “further support trade between the two continents” as Stephen Hayes from the Corporate Council on Africa mentioned recently.

Hopefully some of you who work in the airline industry see the opportunity here. Maybe the model of low cost carriers as we see them in Europe and the United States is one to explore.
Specially flights between Anglophone and Francophone countries will be very helpful to passengers who today lose a lot of time waiting in between flights or flying amazing routes to get from A to B.

Apart from a fragmented airline network there is not much competition from railways or road transport systems while most countries in Africa realize the need for regional trade.
In other words the demand is there, where is the supply?
A fantastic opportunity.

Using the above picture has helped me to answer a lot of questions I received from my company in this regard. I would like to thank W.Bediako Lamousé-Smith and Joseph School for making the issue so clear for everybody to understand.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


Baobab and Acacia

Two very characteristic trees that decorate the African continent are the Baobab tree, which looks almost like a tree that was planted upside down showing its roots up in the air and the Acacia tree with its umbrella shape.

Unlike most trees the Baobab tree does not have growth rings to tell its age.

A story goes that the Giraffe nibbles leaves from the Acacia tree one at a time only for a short while and always moving against the wind going from one Acacia to the next.

So the questions are:
Why only nibbling a few leaves at a time and why does the Giraffe move against the wind?

The Acacia tree will start to produce a flow of liquid that will run through the branches and will reach the leaves that is toxic to the Giraffe. So before this liquid reached the leaves the Giraffe will go on to the next Acacia tree.

This leaves us with the second question, why against the wind. The tree will excrete some of the liquid and the wind will carry this on to the neighboring trees. As soon as this liquid reaches the trees they will also start the production of the liquid. So if the Giraffe moves against the wind it will find trees that have not been informed yet.

It demonstrates how nature is in harmony allowing the Giraffe to eat without a complete destruction of a tree. I am still confused what balance the human race has brought to Nature, but that is a different chapter all together.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


US Peace Corps members speaking Bambara

During a meeting in Bamako earlier this month I was impressed by two young Americans who work for Junior Achievement as members of the US Peace Corps speaking Bambara, a local language spoken in some parts of Western Africa.

Although it is often said that those who speak English make little or no effort to learn a different language, since the whole world speaks English anyways, you may have run into native English speaking nationals that have learned to speak Spanish or French.

I have met a few Americans and Irish in the past who learned to speak Dutch.
Dutch is difficult to many foreigners because of some combination of vowels that are unique to the Dutch language and because of a strong pronounced G that comes from the back of the throat.

Meeting a new generation that comes to Africa learning local African languages is very encouraging and I am sure that it must have made a world of a difference for both the two as well as for the communities that they are working with in their mutual acceptance, understanding of and respect for each others cultures.

Six of the foreign languages that have been imported into Africa (Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch) are widely spoken in the respective regions.

Arabic mainly in the North of the continent with French as a second language, an evolved version of Dutch in South Africa, Portuguese in five countries, Spanish in one. The remainder of the region either speak English or French.

There are hundreds of native languages in Africa, some of which are only spoken, not written. It is not unusual to find even hundreds of languages in just one country. Nigeria and Cameroon are good examples.

Speaking the language makes a difference in enjoying the place anywhere in the world. The more one invests the more one will get in return.

Foreign languages can be considered as a tool. In a world where distances become increasingly irrelevant, we use the language for business or for leisure during our holiday travels.

In some countries in Europe people take it for granted that one speaks a few languages and socially this has limited added value since most of the people speak at least a few foreign languages anyways.

When two similar cultures meet, it is easier to measure respect and it is less likely to get confused even if foreign languages are involved.

In Africa investing in a local language will yield respect and lasting friendship. Speaking one of the imported languages is a minimum. If one really wants to integrate into a local community learning the local language is probably the best way and it will help to discover elements of the culture that otherwise would remain unknown.

If one speaks a local language in Africa the local community will value this different. It will be seen as a token of respect and open mindedness. Cultures are very different in this case and it is very easy to be misunderstood or to misunderstand someone. Language therefore becomes more essential.

The young Masai is using a western cell phone, but that does not change the fundamental culture of the Masai.

One of the two Peace Corps members has almost completed his term in Mali, and will soon go back to the US to finish his studies and told me that he hopes to get back to Africa to put his studies into good use. Maybe it was due to speaking Bambara that a seed was planted for a tree to grow in the future.

If you have read my earlier post, I mentioned the fact that people either don’t like the region or they do.

© Desi Lopez Fafié

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December 2008