Saturday, June 30, 2007

African Tigers Re-Born

Some scientists believe that there were tigers in Africa a million years ago, but some species died out. The more recent hopes that the continent would generate tiger economies have been equally blighted.

Think of Ghana. When the former Gold Coast gained independence in 1957, its prospects were bright. The new country was rich in cocoa and gold and its population was relatively well-educated. But a long series of coups and persistent corruption dashed those hopes. Ghana is still resource-rich, but it relies on foreign aid for 11% of gross domestic product, and 60% of the population still toils away in subsistence agriculture.

An oil discovery and some changed thinking may be giving Ghana another chance. As John Kufuor, Ghana's president, put it, 'We're going to really zoom, accelerate.'

Oil alone certainly won't work miracles, despite a local newspaper's enthusiastic headline: 'Thank God, Oil at Last, Thank God.' In Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela, huge oil wealth has been disastrous, thwarting the nonoil economy and fertilizing corruption. Fortunately for Ghana, the country's oil revenues are expected to be more moderate -- a little less than the current flow of foreign aid.

A few brave global investors claim that some African countries, including Ghana, are finally learning the lessons of African failure and Asian tiger success. What makes economies successful isn't gifts from foreigners or royalties from oil producers, but bourgeois virtues: education, infrastructure, honest government, middle-class savings, a widespread work ethic, small families and so forth.

The newfound optimism may be a triumph of hope over experience, or a misreading of the effects of the current boom in resource prices. But it does look like a smaller portion of the windfall revenue is being wasted than in the past. That goes along with growing middle classes and more economically responsible governments.

Right now, the only tigers in Africa are a few specimens imported from China. But Mr. Kufuor may be right in his hopes for an indigenous species: 'You come back in five years, and you'll see that Ghana truly is the African tiger.'

Source: StreetInsider

Friday, June 29, 2007

George Ayittey conversation about a Cheetah sustainable fund

George Ayittey & Bono

I had a wonderful conversation with George Ayittey last friday about the recent TED conference in Arusha, Tanzania. I have profound respect for George because he is a old-school pragmatic thinker. Dr. Ayittey is trained as an Economist, but he doesn't talk like most Economists who talk about Africa such as Jeffrey Sachs or others.

During our 30 minute conversation about the TED conference, George asked, "so Nii how do we get you TED Cheetah's to contribute to African development"? I thought about it for a second and said, "I would be nice if TED sponsored fellows to their respective countries to use their professional work experience to help a business for a month or so. I heard a pause, and George said, "well that is nice, but what about a fund, called a Cheetah Fund that is sustainable was set-up to help TED fellows or other African Cheetahs with funding for their respective businesses".

Wow, I said to myself, how come I didn't think about this before. African chiefs have been using this system for centuries before colonialism, we just have to go back to some of our indigenous roots. George mentioned that the fund would be sustainable by having the Cheetah's repay the fund the amount giving to him or her, this way the fund would be sustainable.

In Africa, before there was European colonialism, African tribes taxed each other to fund small-scale businesses. If a business would fail that tribe would pull it's resources together to help that particular business. African countries had these types of systems in place years before any Wall Street Hedge Fund, or a Silicon Valley venture capitalist like, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB) were around.

We as Africans have to be progressive with our future and start addressing African opportunities. This Cheetah Fund is a good start to address African opportunities.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania

If you have never been on a safari, I highly recommend for you to go to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. I'm native to West Africa and we unfortunately don't have the Safari's or the scenic mountains East Africa have. I was astonished to see once a mountain, a crater with 30,000 animals stuck within it, it reminded me of Jurassic Park the movie.

Just getting to Ngorongoro is a adventure in itself, you drive through many towns and villages to a top elevation of about 6000 ft sea level. To reach the Ngorongoro crater you have to travel about 2000 ft down to reach the floor, reaching the floor are about 30,000 animals living and evolving.

Check out these links to learn more on Ngorongoro.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

It's noble for you celebrities to adopt African babies

People have been adopting African babies for years now, now the celebrities are trying to help out dear old Africa. While I applaud these celebrities and their noble efforts to help African babies find a better life in Western countries, maybe they should put their resources into other areas.

Most celebrities are in the entertainment industry. Why not have an African entertainment fund to help African entrepreneurs develop African entertainment content for African audiences? Better yet, fund projects directly. There are thousands of artisans, and musicians that could use collaboration and some western know-how to entertainment.

China: Developing Giant and Emerging Development Actor

I took time out of my busy management consulting schedule to attend an event about China development in Africa by Center for Global Development here in Washington, DC. I actually learned a few things about China's development, (some of you know I very passionate about China's investment in Africa). David Dollar, the country director for China and Mongolia for the World Bank, shared his thoughts and views about the Chinese approach to infrastructure development.

David mentioned that China uses full-cost recovery for most infrastructure projects, that's how the Chinese have been able to grow their infrastructure at break-neck pace. Full-cost recovery in public infrastructure works like this; when a highway is built there are tolls levied so that the costs of the highway project can be recouped and used to fund other public works projects. China is even selling some of it's infrastructure to the securities markets and getting a second return of their monies. David said, that this Chinese approach is a novel and interesting idea that the Chinese are not even initiating in Africa. In Africa, the Chinese ask governments what they want and they fund and build the projects according to that countries particular need.

Callisto Madavo a Zimbabwean, said that it's noble for the Chinese to invest in Africa and build projects. However, the Chinese are not allowing knowledge transfer to take place. For most projects in Africa they import their own Chinese workers and they do all the engineering and the design. The work the African natives do are mostly labor type of activities.

Africa is now at a interesting point in history: growth rates are high, turmoil and war are down, and Mobile handset penetration is high. We also have developing countries looking at our continent for resources and returns for their capital, mostly China, India, some Middle east countries. What I think is going to happen in Africa for the next 10-15 years in extreme growth fueled by natural resources (hard metals, and oil) and telecoms (Mobile phones and broadband). However, we will need to address the negatives of this growth; disposable income, public health reforms and sustainability.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Oil in Ghana, be carefull!

Oil companies have been exporting Oil out of West and Central Africa for years. Now the country of Ghana can finally say it will be a net exporter of this Black Gold. We all know that Oil is in great demand around the world and countries have used this commodity to help with development.

I just hope when the oil starts flowing the Government of Ghana doesn't abuse it's new source of revenue.

Read more from

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Africa needs comprehensive development package!

The biggest topic of TED was AID, and it's impact on development and corruption. Speaking with many none Africans or first time visitors, many asked, "so Africans don't want help or Aid". My reply was a little bias because I consider myself a Capitalist. My reply was, Africans want the ability to showcase their products or services on a world stage.

Throughout the conference I think many Africans came to the conclusion that we don't need AID or help, we need access to capital and markets, however one speaker who kind of closed out the conference was the Ex. Finance Minister of Nigeria and what she said left me thinking in a completely different way.

Here is a synopsis of what many speakers said:

Dr. George Ayittey

Africa needs young leaders whom he calls Africa's saviors or Cheetah's. Africa needs to go back to it's indigenous roots and rely on those institutions to fuel the growth for Africa. The Hippos or the Fufu leaders should be ashamed for squandering Africa's resources and should stop complaining about colonialism and it's after-effects. George is an old school intellectual who pulls no punches, he doesn't care what people think of him or whom he disregards.

Andrew Mwenda

Says aid makes African leaders complacent and dependent. This dependency makes Africa lazy and always reliant from the West. He asks why African governments haven't allowed entrepreneurs to market their services or products to international markets. Andrew is in favor of sustainable development for Africa.

James Shikwati

Has the same sentiment when it comes to aid and dependence. Andrew and James are microcosms of each other with some subtle differences. James is an economist and deep thinker and Andrew an journalist that has been jailed in Ugunda for telling the truth. James however goes into more depth about the African mindset and impressions about it. At TED he says if you give someone aid, you create a mindset of dependence and this dependence will only teach begging. James also says if the West really wants to help us, they should open up their markets to our products and services.

Herman Chinery Hesse - Africa's Bill Gates

Herman is a dear friend of mine, anytime he opens his mouth people sit down and watch him in action. Herman is a story teller, his stories always have humor and that humor is what sets him apart from most. At TED, he told some short stories about misery and triumph of Softribe. One thing that he mentioned that I never heard anyone say before is that he expected ministers to take bribe if they were not getting paid adequately. His quote, "how can you expect a minister with a masters education, who sees all this money cross his desk, not line his pockets, it's inevitable! Herman from his experience says what Africa needs is empowerment from people in the "Bush", this empowerment should allow these people to grow, make, or ship their products to earn a good wage so they can buy his software services.

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Dr. Ngozi the first Finance and Foreign Minister of Nigeria spoke with such conviction at TED that the curators were afraid to stop her speech after it went over 18 minutes. I don't know if putting her last was done on purpose or because she was probably the most important speaker at TED.

Synopsis: Dr. Ngozi said Africa needs comprehensive development package. A hybrid package that includes investment, development and aid. She says Africans should be proud they get aid, AFRICA USED TO GIVE AID AND WASN'T COMPENSATED FOR IT! The aid she is talking about is slavery and natural resources used to grow and build Europe and America. Dr. Ngozi also says Ireland and Spain receive aid from the European Union so why shouldn't Africa receive aid. She also says, aid needs to be classified as SMART AID! Aid that has accountability and goes to grassroots organizations and public programs that are closely watched. Dr. Ngozi tells a story about when she was little she carried her little sister on her back to a clinic to be treated, she says without aid her sister would have died. This Sista is on point!

Remarkable speakers, remarkable talks, remarkable though-provoking discussions!

Quintessential Quote: I saw, I make

I get an awaking every time I come back from Africa. We should appreciate things we take for granted everyday; running water, reliable electricity or even getting Movies On Demand from Comcast. An African Cheetah I met at TED, which I'm helping sponsoring his education spoke at TED about his electric windmill.

William Kamkwamba was 14 when he picked up an old donated Science textbook from the states, which showed how to make a electric windmill. His small town in Malawi where he grew up didn't have much electricity, William was able to build from scratch a windmill out of scrapes wood, and corrugated aluminum shingles. On stage at TED Chris Anderson the Curator of TED asked William how he got the idea for this windmill. His response, "I saw, I make". This is a remarkable African ingenuity story, in any case William is quite lucky that he was profiled in a magazine and was able to come to TED.

Africa has many William's, ingenuity has always been ingrained in Africans DNA. We sometimes need what Malcolm Gladwell would call, a Tipping Point. In William's case that Tipping point was an old discarded textbook from the states that was considered expired! I can't wait till MIT's Nicholas Negroponte launches his One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). What if this computer had an elearning science/technology model that showed students how to make small simple devices/gadgets into everyday uses?

Africa needs a lot right now, in terms of education I think we need to really change our curriculum to a more of an entrepreneur fun model. This curriculum should allow risk-taking and thought-provoking learning. As soon as we figure ICT infrastructure costs the OLPC will still be nothing but a machine that awesome tasks without the ability to connect to the global Internet.

Ted Global &Tanzania the best experience of a lifetime!

I just got back from Ted Global in Arusha, Tanzania. I'm still trying to comprehend what I witnessed and heard last week, the thought-provoking and speaker line up was very good. I would also like to congratulate the TED staff on a wonderful organized conference. I can't imagine what it took to manage people, logistics and safety for all who attended. I want to thank Chris Anderson for having the foresight into putting his resources and energy into this endeavour, last but not least, I want to thank Emeka Okafor for organizing a good speaker line-up and picking to attend this conference.

TED Global as Dr. George Ayittey would call it was full of "Cheetahs". His definition of a Cheetah is someone who is provoking change, challenging old thinking and taking calculated-risks in Africa, I believe I fall in this category. This conference is a small step in changing mindset and debate about sustainability, accountability/governance, and overall growth on the African continent. Mark my words, the Africa's Cheetah's welcome the challenge of growing Africa!
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