Posts Tagged ‘crossing


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


Expatriate or Immigrant ?

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

girl and paf

The answer to this question depends on the direction of the airplane that carries people around the world.
If  the airplane leaves New York or Paris and arrives in Accra, the disembarking passengers are called Expats, but arriving back in New York or Paris the passengers disembarking there are called Immigrants.

At one of the Infrastructure conferences organized by the Corporate Council on Africa  I asked the same question to the audience. Afterwards I was approached by a representative of the US State Department who explained that the US legislation has different terminology to describe movements of people.
Although the statement in itself most likely was correct, my point was not to find out the morphology nor the meaning of the words but to expose the spirit in which these different words are used when dealing with people.

Because of the nature of my work I travel frequently across continents and I have witnessed many instances where I felt that immigration officers practiced borderline behavior “welcoming” passengers, not adding any kind of security value to the process.

Up until recently Air France flights arrived for instance in Douala  accompanied by officers of the PAF (Police Nationale PAF), the police unit that deals with immigration at the French airports. Their task was to check passengers at the door of the airplane on Cameroon soil just before boarding the flight.
Passengers had already gone through all the local formalities and controls of the Airport of Douala.
Upon arrival at the airport in Paris at the gate of the plane, another team of the PAF unit, once  were shouting the word “Passeports” to the disembarking passengers, before allowing the passengers to join the queues at the immigration booths where , like every other passenger arriving in Paris, people’s passports were checked.

I asked a lady PAF officer why she was shouting at us, since in my opinion this did not add any value to the procedure other than creating a hostile setting between the officer and the passenger and I wanted to know if this was the first impression that she wanted to leave the passengers with. Instead of receiving an answer her superior officer took my passport and after examining he pointed out to me that my passport was in a bad shape. I acknowledged and suggested to the officer that he should complain to my government while I had taken notice of his badge number and name. I would gladly report the incident to his government officials likewise. Based on this the officer asked me to proceed and started to check the next passenger.

The incident worried me because I felt that if this was the way I, as a European,  had been addressed,  I could only imagine how my African fellow passengers were going to be treated.

All in all  passengers arriving from Douala were therefore checked four times ( once by the local authorities in Douala and three times by officers of the PAF) as opposed to passengers arriving from New York who’s passports were not checked leaving the US and were only checked at the Paris immigration booths for the first time since they left home.

Some of the flights from Africa to Europe take about 5 to 6 hours. Not long enough to sleep while too long to feel as if nothing happened. On top arriving in winter time in Europe at 6 am in the morning at around freezing point coming from tropical zones is a challenge in itself to put a smile on your tired face on arrival.  An incident like described can therefore result in a lot of needless frustration.

What this behavior and procedure illustrates is contempt for anybody arriving from Africa to France in this case and an expression of doubt about the intentions of the passengers arriving into the country. Similar incidents happen around Europe and the rest of the world.

Most countries in Europe apply the rule that someone is not guilty until proven guilty. This rule seem to be forgotten at times when passengers arrive at the airports of some of the European destinations. Not every passenger arrives planning to stay illegal in the country.
Given the old ties that Europe has with some of the African countries it is to be expected that people like to visit their relatives or come and do business with their European partners.

Many people arriving in Europe feel embarrassed or at times even humiliated by the way they are received after a long journey.

finger print reader iris scan handpalm

From a security point of view I don’t understand that in this day and age our identity documents are still not including biometric information.
Some airports like Amsterdam and Dubai use biometric data at their e-gates but only with those passengers that have subscribed to the service.
It would speed up immigration procedures at a fraction of the costs and eliminate all the emotion and frustration that passengers have to go through if biometric data could become a standard part of our travel documents.
To include visa requirements in this procedure,  barcodes or similar easy to incorporate tools can be used and checked before boarding a plane using barcode readers. The technology is there to provide an effective and practical solution.

To agree on standards across nations and deal with privacy legislation are probably the biggest challenges but if these can be overcome the rest is just a matter of volume and implementation.

Immigration staff find it difficult at times to compare pictures with faces if the person is from a different racial origin than he is himself. With biometric tools any doubt is eliminated and any fraud immediately exposed.


On a flight to Washington DC,  I ended up sitting next to Mrs. Christine Lagarde, who at the time was still Minister of Trade of the French Government. I shared my concerns regarding the immigration practices since many of my African colleagues have to travel to Europe and or the US to get trained.  Even with our companies supporting documents they struggle sometimes to get visas and if they do they may face an unfriendly welcome nevertheless.

Mrs Lagarde felt that it was important to ensure proper training for the immigration staff so that borderline behavior could be reduced to the minimum. I felt this was an encouraging statement and I hope that training is being provided adequately and other countries will follow this example so that all world citizens can travel and won’t have to worry if they will be received with respect and dignity upon arrival at their foreign destinations.

French tax payers may wonder why one PAF team had to check another PAF team before the final check at the Airport immigration booths if a decision was made to fly the PAF officers up and down to African states and maybe ask Mrs Lagarde, who now owns the French Budget the question when the government will implement biometric data in their identification documents if immigrants are of such a concern.   The French Embassies could start providing visas that include data that can be processed electronically and limit the risk of fraud.

Not only will this cut costs but it will improve security. It may set an example for other countries around the world to follow. The passenger will no longer be subject to humiliating behavior of some of the immigration officers.

© Desi Lopez Fafié


Crossing Boarders

As a member I was informed about a Roundtable Meeting held on November  2008 at The Corporate Council on Africa in Washington.  Representatives from USAID came to CCA to discuss The President’s Global Food Security Response, a $130 million increase in development assistance to increase agricultural productivity of staple foods, stimulate the supply response and expand trade of staple foods.
The presentation went over  facts as they are understood today.
Now facts are facts and to see poverty come down from 60% to 54% in 14 years is a fact, not one to be proud of I would say.
The development process takes too long. In part to quote Jeffrey Sachs “because too many institutions are providing small parts of development assistance and as a result the assistance is too fragmented.
In part because the one size fits all approach that has been a practice for many years clearly does not bring the efficiencies that could be achieved if a more case by case approach would be implemented”.
With the economic crisis I am concerned that Africa may suffer from more delays to get out of the poverty trap because other priorities will prevail.
What strikes me here is another fact:
Initially 700 Billion dollars could be found in a week and it took another week to agree on the first set of terms and conditions to repair an industry sector that had gotten out of control while we need a few decades to resolve a problem that affects almost 1 billion people in Africa. A problem that deals with the most burning issues threatening human beings in all their outlook of life.
To quote Bono “Where we live in this world should not determine whether we live in this world”. The devastating impact of Malaria Tuberculosis and Aids can be addressed if only we want to.
Botswana is already starting to get hit by the crisis due to a drop of commodity prices according to a recent article I read.
This on top of the human hemorrhage that is taking place in the country as a result of AIDS leaving it without a labor force needed to fuel a sustainable economy.
The presentation addressed Regional trade which is a logical and reasonable proposition but why will this work in Africa if the EU has made insignificant progress to deal with their Agricultural issues for as long as they exist and EU Agriculture has been the biggest tax payers money waister to keep inefficient French and Italian farmers alive at the expense of inflated consumer prices due to imposed subsidies.
As long as a Ghanaian farmer pays 8% duties exporting raw cacao and 38% on cacao powder to protect inefficient production capacity in the west, the incentive for the farmer in Ghana is lacking let alone to try and share the market with his Ivorian neighbor… So without fair market access I see no significant change that will arise from regional trade while we maintain trade barriers.
Food shortage is a threat with the current world population projections where we are almost doubling the numbers in 15 years. So knowledge transfer to improve agricultural output is a priority in my opinion to avoid more hunger and famine. The presentation acknowledged this and that was a very positive point.
In today’s information age solutions are within reach if only we want to share our knowledge.
One slide  said that we have to recognize Agricultural related issues are a complex problem. I could not agree more to that. But it should say that we have largely imposed our problem on the farmers in Africa due to protectionism in the rest of the world.
Climate impact is another concern, and some of the biggest contributors to the global warming are outside Africa and Africa will again be one of the most hit victims.
According to the presentation only 3.1 M hectares are irrigated out of the 74 M agricultural land in Nigeria. I guess soon the cost to irrigate will increase since water will come in less abundance to the region. Ghana is suffering as we know from short rainfalls and Lake Volta was drying up, causing severe energy problems to the region as a result.
I drove from Ouagadougou to Bamako recently and back. It took me about 45 minutes to get through the border and this should be considered a record time. I made 6 stops in total each way between customs, passport control, laissez passer for the car etc. Trucks take hours to cross the border.
The procedures at the Ghanaian border are even worse because at times the language barrier kicks in.  Between Ghana and Togo the situation is not  any better.
Borders close at 22.00 hours between Mali and Burkina Faso. If you want to get to the border from Mali back to Burkina after 1800 hours you have to be in a convoy of 6 cars or accept two police officers to escort you to the border the last 90 km. They say it is for your safety.
You have to pay the officers for them to assist you.
How does this compare to cost of interstate transport in the US or EU. All of this op top of the fact that both Mali and Burkina Faso are landlocked countries that already suffer from excessive costs of transport in the first place.
On a positive note the roads are getting much better but there are still long stretches to be fixed with dangerous potholes.
How many people in Washington or Brussels realize what the transport corridors look like between Burkina and Mali ?
A major opportunity to use Information Technology to speed up the border formalities I would say.
I am not negative towards all the good efforts of the likes of USAID. All these efforts are most welcome. That said, Jeffrey Sachs estimates that the AID industry consumes about 8B US $ out of the ODA sums that are allocated to Africa just to keep itself operational. This amount is significant if you consider the debt service and other components that are coming out of ODA as well, leaving real cash to a stripped down number insufficient to deal with the burning issues nations are facing. As long as we have talk shows going on until pigs fly and the G8 continue to provide lip service I am not so sure that the MDG’s will ever be met, forget about 2015.
Why did I have to sign a petition sent to Prime Minister Gordon Brown asking him to ensure at least the presence of ONE African leader at the discussions concerning the economic crisis in the world.
So when are we going to have a slide that says
“The complex problem constitutes of the following”, and lets state the dry facts as they really are and put a solution to it.
If we want, any problem no matter how complex can be solved. If we really want that is…
© Desi Lopez Fafié

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