Archive for the 'media' Category

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

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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 https://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  https://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  https://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


17
Apr
09

The Next International Trade Event in Africa will take place in…

africa

Over the years I have been dealing with event organizers in Africa, I have often requested events to take place outside the typical locations like
South Africa, Kenya or Nigeria. As such there is nothing wrong with these locations but if we don’t give a chance for events to take place
in the rest of the 51 countries some of the good intentions will become difficult to achieve when trying to promote regional integration to name but just one.

Regional and intraregional trade is high on the agenda of most African countries. Potential investors need to get a chance to explore all options not just a handful.
As the attached graph shows the share of regional trade is still a very small part of the total trade volumes although slightly growing.

061030_chart2

What I have witnessed, during events in Lagos, Johannesburg, Sun City or Cape Town, is that participation from the French speaking countries is very
limited in a best case scenario. To make things worse, if there are a few participants very often the organizers fail to provide simultaneous translation
assuming everybody speaks English. Of course any next invitation to attend will become a harder sell. When you speak to the organizers they will tell you
that the participation rate is “surprisingly” low from French speaking countries and therefore it does not justify the investment while one of
the agenda items clearly states “regional integration”.

I have taken the example of events taking place in English speaking countries posing a risk to lose out on French speaking participants but of course the issue goes both ways.

To be fair to the organizers there are some challenges that have to be considered when organizing events:

waiting

Flight connections between African countries, specially between French and English speaking ones, are often routed via a limited number of airports and can make the journey long and unpleasant.
Daily flights are not always available and a stopover sometimes means being stuck a full day because the connecting flight is only available the next day.

Finishing meetings in Gaborone some time back on a Friday afternoon, I was stuck in Johannesburg on Saturday because my next flight back to Accra was on Sunday.
So one may lose a lot of time in some cases or one should consider a costly trip to Europe to connect via Paris or London to fly back south while the passenger is only trying to fly to a destination that should take him/her 3 to 4 hours had there been a direct connection.

Either way the organizers understand this and fear that by choosing an “odd” location the participation rate will be low.

pasted-graphic-15

Potential sponsors to the event will also raise questions when an event is taking place in an “odd” country and may not provide sponsorship as much as they would if the event would take place in the more usual countries.
What sponsors should take into consideration though, is the fact that sponsorship is still a form of investment, and investing in existing markets yield different returns than investing in new and often unexplored markets with low or non existing competition. The investment therefore may yield much higher returns.
If one considers the cost to explore a new market on ones own, both in time and in money, to reach potential business partners I am convinced that it pays off to sponsor the “odd” countries from time to time.

If potential foreign investors are part of the targeted participants, the organizers again are faced with another challenge:  the perception of the lesser known countries, or worse the biased opinion on some of these countries. Organizers of course try to attract as many participants as possible so the logic is easy to follow when a choice is made for the more typical countries.

visas

Visas are another challenge that organizers face. Most of us who have worked in Africa know that the problem is not limited to Africans trying to fly to Europe or the US to attend events, but the problem also exists for Africans trying to visit another African country.

Some countries do have a serious accommodation challenge as is the case at this point in Angola. To get a hotel room requires in the worse case some months of upfront reservation. This sounds positive to me.
It means that the demand to partner with Angola exceeds the current available supply to host potential foreign investors but of course for the time being it poses logistical hindrance for organizers.
There are however many countries in Africa, outside the aforementioned ones, that can cater for events with auditoria that have simultaneous translation capabilities.

Most of these challenges are not limited of course to event organizers. They affect any company that wishes to expand their activities in the region.

My recommendation to the organizers would be, to discuss their logistical challenges with for instance the chambers of commerce, of countries they would like to consider outside the typical ones and seek ways to overcome some of these and to prepare the events in such a way that participants feel welcome regardless what language they speak.

If events get big enough maybe airlines are willing to provide charter planes to handle the peak passenger demand. If trade starts to increase significantly airlines may also consider to provide a more permanent connection between two trading countries. For the time being there is no direct flight between Ouagadougou and Lagos for passengers. Cargo flights are available however between the two cities. Once enough volumes of cargo moves between these two cities, it follows that at some point passenger flights will start to take off as well.

gb

Globalization does not stop in the US, Europe, Asia or Japan. Years ago, if a Chinese passenger boarded a flight to Bamako, the cabin staff would double check to make sure the passenger was boarding the correct flight.
Today its often difficult to get a seat on a flight because of the increased demand coming from Asia on some of the routes into Africa. Increasing amount of Africans travel via Dubai to Beijing or Shanghai as well.
Dubai has understood this opportunity and has become a major connecting hub between Africa and Asia

china_africa-trade_2006 _44229699_africa_china_invest_map416

Emirates Airlines are expanding their routes across the continent providing daily flights to a growing number of locations after starting their first flights to Cairo in 1986. Their planned flights to Angola, will become their 17th African destination.
Emirates Airlines have grown their African business by 17% recently and provide 4000 Africans with employment. Compare this for instance to South African Airlines who have 24 destinations within Africa after starting in 1934 and you realize the significance of the investment as well as the success Emirate Airlines are enjoying out of Africa and the benefit Africans enjoy from increased employment and from getting connected.

efa

In addressing the sponsors, organizers should expect some initial resistance but if enough success stories are shared about the returns the events have generated for their participants I am confident that this issue is just a matter of time.
Organizers very often have a better overview of companies willing to invest and can play a significant role as an intermediary to bridge demand and supply.
To date many local countries statistical data is inaccurate or at times conflicting if you compare the data of for instance two trading countries.
Potential investors and sponsors get confused as a result and the biased opinion will be reinforced in the worse case.
Target the low hanging fruits, the market makers as your first choice of sponsors.  They realize the benefit of exploring the markets before anybody else has arrived. The laggards will follow in due course and will  face stiff competition like the always do no matter where in the world from those who decided to go first.  The telecom operators are a good example who are fighting to get into the most remote countries because of the growth their businesses are enjoying.

aw3 aluminibanner

content-blog-111808-01-ghana

Here lies in my opinion also a wonderful opportunity for the organizers to become more vocal about the success stories of some of the countries as a result of their events. The more these event related successes are shared, the more participants the organizers should expect going forward, the more investors will consider the new country as a serious place for business. In the end everybody wins.

publicrelations

Some organizers get it right already, like eLearning Africa, http://www.elearning-africa.com which started in Ethiopia than moved to kenya and this year plan their event in Senegal.
Another good example is Africa.com http://africa.comworldseries.com which runs events in Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya and Tunisia, aiming to get their content to more than just Cape Town.
Business Excellence Global Media has taken the step of running their next event in Uganda instead of Johannesburg tapping into the East African market. http://www.be-excellent.com/dynamic.php?button=99&section=22

Please have a look as well at the following site for some more ideas for your next events http://www.africa-ata.org/cities.htm

So will the next World Economic Forum on Africa move again between Cape Town and Durban, or will the organizers be bold enough to try out a different location in Africa ?

© Desi Lopez Fafié


22
Jan
09

The Characteristics of a Leader

This is not a commercial for London Business School or INSEAD.

I was visiting the Masai Mara in Kenya and while we passed through a small Masai village I met with the village elder. A tall young man in his early thirties.
He took me around the village and explained to me how the community lived. Their most valuable items were their live stock and they had a place in the middle of the huts that was made of branches with a very small passage for the cattle to go through.

Cows were kept inside the huts with the Masai itself.
Wild animals could otherwise come and attack the cattle.

I entered one of the huts. There was no window and it was pitch dark inside. I was taken by the hand and lead to a small place that served as the living area where the family would come together to cook and to eat. Food was made on open fire inside the hut so the smell of smoke was intense to say the least.

The elder showed me the spots on his skin where he had put out burning sticks. He also showed me his teeth, or what was left of those and explained to me that he pulled his teeth out.
These somewhat horrific exercises are part of the rituals of the Masai to train the men to withstand pain.

Once back outside some of the other Masai men came and they formed a circle and one man at the time stood in the middle and started to jump two feet at the same time and managed to jump at least high enough to pass his waist line over the heads of those standing around him. The man was of similar hight as his neighbors in the circle. Each of the men took a turn while the others cheered the man jumping.

We concluded our visit at the school in the village. The children were having their break and were playing in the field.
When the elder had shown me the classrooms I asked him if it was alright to wait until the children came back from their break.
I wanted to see a class in action. The elder stepped outside and called the children back to the class.
I felt sorry for the children to have put a sudden end to their break. In a few minutes the classroom was filled with smiling and curious faces staring at me.

The age of the children ran from 3 to 12 years. A second classroom was under construction and once ready the elder children would move to the new classroom but for now they had to share the available room.

On the blackboard different topics were explained for the different age groups. One age group at the time took a turn to answer some of the questions.

The elder asked the older boys to explain to him what the characteristics were of a Leader?
Hands went up and a boy age 9 started:

A leader has to be honest, has to have a goal and must never put his men at risk.

Another boy took a turn and added a few more traits he felt were required to be a true leader like discipline and the need
to understand the strengths and weaknesses of himself and his men.

What I heard from these very young children made me realize how much we can learn from the Masai who have no television, no computer, no internet connection and yet are teaching the fundamentals of leadership to primary school age children.

I wonder how many 9 year olds in Europe or the US will be able to explain without any hesitation what the characteristics of a leader are. Some may not even know that the word leader means…..

At times I ask myself who is better off ?

© Desi Lopez Fafié


04
Jan
09

Eagerness to Learn

A boy of about 9 years old walked along with us up the hills in North West Ethiopia. We were on our way to visit some monasteries that were hidden in the slopes of the hills. This way the orthodox Christian communities protected their places of worship from the eyes of different religious invaders. Some of the monasteries were so well hidden that you almost had to fall into them before you could actually see them. Lalibela is probably one of the best kept secrets of ancient Ethiopian times and the construction is believed to have taken about 20.000 men 40 years to complete.
A hugh square trench was hewn from solid rock. The hugh mass of rock that remained in the middle was consequently chiseled out from the inside until a monolithic church was formed.
Similar to places like Petra in Jordan, in the case of Lalibela, twelve churches were rock hewn and connected to each other by tunnels in the late 12th to early 13th century.
A “draft” project was constructed first and collapsed in part. With the lessons learned a second complex was built successfully.
The river Jordan separates the two complexes.

During our climb the boy who had followed us for some time now was talking about life in the village.
I asked him where he had learned to speak English so well because most of the locals spoke very broken English or only Amharic. He told me he had learned English at school.
So I asked him why he was not at school. He told me that you needed a pen and a notebook to attend classes.
Unfortunately he had run out of both and his mother had no money to buy new materials for him.
So I asked again, how much he would have to pay for a pen or a notebook. One pen would be 2 Birr, and one notebook 6 Birr.
If I were to give you 20 Birr what would you do with it, I asked ? He thought about it for a moment and answered me that in that case he would buy four pens and two notebooks. That added to 20 Birr.
I realized that the boy had also learned some basic arithmetic. When I gave him the twenty Birr, ( 2US$) I asked him how I would know that he was going to use it as he had told me. He said that he would come to my “hotel” and show me the purchased items.

The boy ran back to the village and kept running until I lost sight of him.
I started to understand why Ethiopia produces so many good marathon runners.

We were in a remote area a couple of hours drive from a small airport about 800 kilometers north of Addis Ababa and throughout the fields you could see UN bags of milk powder that the UN planes had dropped. A burned out military tank reminded us of the war that had taken place not so long ago with neighboring Eritrea.

The area was extremely dry. Flies were trying to get as close to your eyes as possible to pick up some of the fluid and the only way to keep the flies away was to sweep a branch of a tree back and forth from your left shoulder to your right one. At night it cooled down to almost chilling temperatures because of the altitude we were at while during the day the sun was burning.

In the center of a village five small one-bedroom lodges formed the “hotel”. You had to go outside to use the shared shower. In the middle of the place was an open space covered with a straw roof that served as the dining room.

We arrived in the late afternoon and were welcomed by the owner of the lodge who asked us what we would like to eat that evening and what kind of breakfast we would like the next morning so that he could sent people to villages nearby to get the necessary ingredients.

After dinner we enjoyed the traditional coffee ceremony that Ethiopia is famous for. It’s said that coffee originates from Ethiopia.
Coffee beans are washed and roasted on charcoal and the guests are first invited to smell the aroma that is released from the roasted coffee beans.
Next the beans are ground. A clay pot with the coffee powder and water is put on the fire until the water boils.
The first round of coffee is served in small cups to the guests, as it is the strongest version. Two more rounds of coffee are served, each time releasing a milder version since more water is added.

While the coffee is being prepared incense is lit to chase the flies.

The next morning we woke up at 5 AM because we had a long trip ahead of us again. The boy was already sitting in front of our lodge with his notebooks and pens.
He told me that his mother had invited us for a coffee ceremony at her place that evening. A small cross made from stone hanging at a piece of rope was the gift
his mother insisted us to accept because we had given the boy back the opportunity to attend school and with that his future.

Rural life in Ethiopia is harsh but makes very honest people.

Back in Addis Ababa a child was asking me money at a traffic light. Instead I offered a pen I had in my pocket. The child took the pen and looked confused.
Probably the child had never seen a school from the insight. Some elder children shook their heads and explained that they wanted money instead.
It seemed to me that the influence of the big city on children in Addis Ababa was similar to that of New York or Madrid.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


23
Dec
08

e-Fishing

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


09
Dec
08

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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