Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Lessons From BarCampGhana '08

I know that by now my avid readers would be on the verge of dying from thirst due to the fact that, over the past two months, there have been no new entries on The Gamelian World. I am extremely sorry for this apparent desertion but let it be on record that, over the course of the past few months, i had to attend to other equally pressing engagements. Today's entry, as appropriately titled, is a tribute to youthful initiative and how such endeavours would inevitable spur the development agenda of Ghana and Africa.

On 22nd December 2008, i was part the group that participated in BarCampGhana. For starters, a barcamp is an unstructured gathering of people, an un-conference where people share ideas on topical issues. This is markedly different from a regular conference where experts hold sway on all issues under discussion. The organisers of the event envisaged it to be a gathering of like minded people in science, technology and business to discuss and interact in a fun environment. One theme that run throughout the deliberations was Ghana's place in the global scheme of things. The programme largely met its objectives and hold significant learning points for all aspiring future leaders.

Firstly that young people with the required initiative and drive can achieve whatever they put their mind to. The programme itself was put together by young Ghanaians who had the vision of advancing the use of technology in various spheres of Ghanaian life, in order to bring about the development we've all been yearning for. Similarly, some of the great innovations put on the table were from home-based young technology entrepreneurs-another pointer that the realisation of the dreams of young people is a possibility in this country.

Another key learning point from BarCampGhana is the need for the adoption of a progressive approach to doing things. Typical conferences have been criticised for not producing the requisite results because of disengagement of the audience at certain points of the event. One feature of BarCampGhana were the break out sessions. These sessions featured diverse discussions points that allowed participants to join any discussion of their choice. This ultimately promoted an atmosphere of engagement, contribution, learning and idea-generation. The point i want to make is that in the future, event organisers should not only stick to the way things are known to be done but to involve some level of flexibility and versatility.

A final learning point from BarCampGhana was the manner in which time was respected. This broke the perennial jinx of poor time management that plague most Ghanaian events. The event started on time and most of the key note speakers turned up. This only goes to show that Ghanaians' disrespect for time is something that we can easily overcome if we continue to demand of ourselves the highest standards when it comes to time management.

The only slight hitch of course was that the "big men and women" themselves did not show up at the time they were supposed to, begging consideration due to the pressure that mounts on them when the close of the year approaches. The negative consequence of the above is that their experienced perspectives were missing during most of the break out sessions. The organisers could make it a point to "be on them" and get them to come at the right time next year.

Putting the above together, BarCampGhana has been a shiny example of how youth initiative is on the verge of spurring massive development through technology in Africa, there are many lessons to be learnt from such proactivity, and the elderly generation must lend a hand to these efforts in order to support the young ones.

In praising the developments that took place at BarCampGhana, let me put on record that the exciting ideas that were brought to the fore at the event should not end on the floors of the venue as we have seen time and time again in Ghana. We must all make the effort of ensuring that these dreams are brought to life. Again, we must also take the message of BarCampGhana, as wished by the organisers, to the various communities in Ghana. This is to ensure that science technology and business are appropriately seen and utilised as the drivers of wealth and development in modern society.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Does open source software hold the future?

Over the past few years, the open source movement has made sturdy progress on the global stage as a strong contender to traditional proprietary software. Characteristic of this trend has been the rise of the Mozilla Firefox browser and the apache server software.

As an active participant in the global scheme of things, Africa has not been left out of the open source party. There are many indications to prove the above assertion. Firstly, it is on record that the West African nation of Mali is completely inundated with the Linux operating system. Secondly, there are not only African consumers, but also content providers. The name of Mark Shuttleworth, originator of the Linux-based Ubuntu project readily comes to mind. Finally, the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) leads a pack of local advocates who are continually spreading the gospel of the open source movement. I was at one of such fora last Wednesday 22nd October at the AITI-KACE here in Accra. The proceedings at that gathering put some few thoughts into my mind and is the inspiration for this entry.

I realised, first and foremost as an aspiring developer, the enormous tools that open source software has put at my disposal. The mere availability of the source code and the community behind the entire movement are metaphoric of petals and nectar in flowers, thus drawing many to accept the open source gospel. Pro-open source people think that their choice of software is a right and that they must be allowed to enjoy those rights just as any other right. They therefore see restrictions put on proprietary software as violations of their rights.

In addition, open source software gives aspiring young business people free or inexpensive software to run their business operations without running the risk of using cracked software. Issues have also been raised with small size of documents saved in the .odt format(openoffice writer) as against .doc format (microsoft word).

However, what has been seen as the key advantage of open source software as advanced by their evangelists, is the comparative low cost that they offer. This means that if African governments and business organisations should adopt open source, they would save scarce financial resources that can be expended on other pressing needs.

Contrary to the above arguments, pundits who argue for proprietary software also have strong reasons for which this switch will not happen overnight. Firstly, they argue that the quality of open source software does not stand up to that of proprietary software. Secondly, they say that the overall cost of open source, in terms of waste of time and inconvenience, is more than that of proprietary. What has been their trump card is the fact that people are so used to their software that they would not wish to change. Remember shifting to a new type of software will mean retraining all staff which has serious cost implications.

Both sides have strong arguments, which means that any future government and organisational-level decisions in this direction must be well thought through.

In summary, I have touched on the strides of the open source movement, especially in Africa, their quest for widespread adoption of their software, and the response of the proprietary software world. The debate continues......

Friday, 17 October 2008

Africa Too Has a Story to Tell

In many fields of human endeavour, African names are missing on the list of top achievers. This often creates the impression that the African has nothing, or at best very little, to offer to the world. The above misconception has continually been perpetuated such that anything that is good must necessarily be of western or eastern origin -or at least so they say. In the world of software development, on the global landscape, hardly are African names mentioned as active participants.

Does this mean that there are no African participants in this industry? Answer, NO! Although there are relatively few African players at the global level, there is a significant number of them out there worth mentioning. These people are playing key trendsetting roles and therefore demonstrating to aspiring African software industry players that indeed their dream is a feasible one.

There are three reasons why the stories of successful African software entrepreneurs do not catch fire. One is the fact that the very nature of most African cultures has restrained them from projecting their images in the public domain, lest they appear to be showing off. Secondly, the level of technology on the mother continent is so low that there are few African praise singers who will bring the stories of these heroes of ours to the fore. The third reason, which is the one that holds more weight, is that global media organisations are so preoccupied with reporting killings, wars, diseases and poverty in Africa that the speedy pace of technological advancements on the continent has been left uncommented on.

During the last few weeks I and my colleagues at MEST were tasked to investigate the success stories of successful African software entrepreneurs. The many names that came up were amazing and most revealing to me. This is because i had no idea that there were so many Africans making giant strides in the global software space. These were no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but they were Vinny Lingham, Joe Jackson, Harriet Somuah and Mark Shuttleworth in their own rights. I and my former group mates, Edward and Nii Nai, had a date with Mr Joe Jackson, CEO of theSOFTtribe, Nigeria, and this was really exciting.

My encounter with Mr Jackson was not only educative, as it allowed me to learn first hand the goings on of an industry in which i intend to become an active player, but also very deep in the sense that it afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the realities of the global software industry. I discovered that the internet was far more powerful than i thought and that to become successful in the web industry one must aim global.

But what was more intriguing about our interaction was the story Mr Jackson had to tell. The story was about how he and his partner, Mr Chinery-Hesse, started theSOFTtribe from a bedroom. It was about how the organisation grew to become a leader in West Africa and to have about 30% penetration into Ghana Club 100(group of 100 most successful Ghanaian companies). His story painted a vivid picture of the ingenuity of SOFT as they tasked themselves with the duty of providing African businesses with "tropically tolerant" software. Through the interaction we also discovered the difficulties SOFT is facing in the advent of the globalised world and the strategies that they are employing to overcome these challenges. Specifically, the company had to change its business model because the cascading effects of globalisation ensured that the world became a smaller place. Therefore major business decisions that were hitherto localised, such as decision to purchase software, were now shifted to USA, Europe or South Africa. The end result is that local software companies started losing out on business because the mother branches of most multinational firms were calling the shots. This situation was aggravated by the fact that Ghanaian companies that had foreign partners sarted shunning SOFT's products, even though they agree that they were of superior quality in the Ghanaian environment.

So the company had to give up its long term vision of building Enterprise Resource Planning Applications (ERPs) for West-African businesses. Instead they entered into a strategic partnership with Microsoft, where the software giant allowed them access to the source code of their Dynamics NAV software(formerly known as navision). This way the company brought knowledge of the local terrain to the table while microsoft brought international credibility. This ground-breaking deal turned out to be a win-win situation for both parties. The good news is that this has gone a long way to boost the business standing of theSOFTtribe.

To put everything together, there is massive evidence that Africans are active participants in the global order, specifically the software industry. The story of Mr Joe Jackson and theSOFTtribe is testimony that African companies experience the same forces that shape the business of organsations worldwide. It is also very important for young Africans to draw inspiration from these trailblazers and take a massive shot at their destinies by engaging in entrepreneurial pursuits. Finally, we can all acknowledge that indeed the african too has a story to tell!

Monday, 29 September 2008

Ghanaian Youth and Old Skuulism

I have surely realised by now that the life of a blogger is not an easy one. This is because, against my best wishes, i've been unable to update my blog in good time. The only excuse for this desertion is increased workload at work/school. I have since been plagued by bouts of guilty conscience. All the same, i apologise profusely to my few cherished avid readers, and promise to do a better job henceforth. So help me God!

Last Saturday, 27th September, i had the opportunity of partaking in the "Old Skuulz Reunion" organised by Accra-based radio station, Joy Fm. My observations of proceedings at this event has inspired me to come out with this blog entry.

For starters, the programme presents the platform for graduates of Ghana's secondary, now called senior high, school system to meet and reminisce their school experiences. The programme also sets the stage for a wide array of entertainment activities. Because of its hip nature, it predictably draws a lot of youthful audience. This year's event was held at the Ghana International Trade Fair Centre, La-Accra.

I attended this programme for a variety of reasons, but i guess the main ones were the sheer curiosity of observing first-hand the goings-on of this highly-publicised event, the need to meet up with my high school mates, some of whom i've not seen in ages, and to gain some respite after continuous hours of work during the past few weeks. My goals for representing at the old skuulz reunion were largely met.

Typical of a gathering of young people, the ambiance was an interesting mix of colour, style and vibrancy of Ghanaian youth. A cursory glance at the sights and sounds of the Trade Fair Centre on Saturday lays credence to the above assertion. For, revellers at the centre zealously potrayed their alma maters in dress, jama songs and active participation in various competitions that were put together by the organisers. You could see me at the Keta Secondary School Stand singing and dancing to sweet unquenching borborbor songs, alongside folks from other schools in the Volta region. I must at this point appreciate the creative zest of Joy Fm for making all these happen.

Although this may not be the intent of the organisers, this event has degenerated into an expose of deviant and socially-dangerous behaviour, which in the long run will not augur well for the future development of Ghana and Africa. My observations of events at the Trade Fair Centre has led me to this conclusion.

Personally, i have nothing against the comical nature in which some people choose to dress because i think it all adds fun to an event of this nature. However in attempt to appear interesting and trendy, some of my fellow young Ghanaians went wide off the mark. Some of the dress forms on parade spanned from the much-bashed micro skirty "apuskeleke" of some ladies to eye sore of young men shamelessly clad themselves in ladies' wigs and underwears! These daring young people have obviously chosen to avoid the option of relegating these socially-unacceptable behaviours to aour universities where they are now prevalent.

Dress was not the only cause for concern at Old Skuulz Reunion last Saturday. The excessive and vulgar intake of alcohol, cigarettes and i bet... hard drugs was pervasive. I had the displeasure of observing a group of jama singers drench in alcohol that was poured on them by a couple of happy-go-lucky drunk adventurers. That incident is not the best advertisement for one of the foremost entertainment events on the Ghanaian scene.

In addition, there was suprisingly a high number of kids, who were obviously under 18 years at the event. Considering the kind of activities that were unfolding before my very eyes at the programme, i think this development is most unfortunate. Joy Fm should have mapped out a strategy to discourage this youngsters from attending, or sacking them outright if need be.

Another happenning at the Old Skuulz Reunion, worthy of note, was the general disorganised nature of the environment. The streets in the immediate vicinity of the trade fair centre were jammed with people and vehicles. Also noticeable was the completely uncoordianted and directionless movement of human traffic within the event grounds. I believe that the organisers can do a lot to improve this situation by insisting on where people can go and cannot go during during the course of the event.

But it does not only take the initiative of the event organisers to solve these problems. It is equally the duty of the patrons of this event to refrain from vice at this event. It also behoves on parents to prevent their young children from attending gatherings of this nature. That way, there would be no danger of polluting their innocent minds. The police can also come in in their numbers n order to maintain general law and order.

In summary, although the Joy Fm Old Skuulz Reunion is an unmistakable major entertainment fixture on the Ghanaian calender, it is becoming the cooking pot for social entropy. It is the duty of the organisers and other stakeholders to bring the event back on cue.

I would like to end here by encouraging the organisers to take these and other steps in order to consolidate the event's standing in the Ghanaian entertainment list. Peace out!

Friday, 19 September 2008

The First Step


If the ancient Chinese saying that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with the very first step" is anything to go by, i surmise that you're going to be a regular visitor to my blog world since you've taken the first step of visiting this blog spot. So welcome everybody to what i call The Gamelian World.

I intend to use this blog as a platform to introduce myself to the world, share my perspectives on life and any topical issue associated with it and get to know other people's views. So i hope you keep your comments coming. I will also try, in spite of my busy schedule, to update regularly so that we all have an enjoyable experience. Since this is our first step i am going to share with you some knowledge of my country, so that you can appreciate the angle i am coming from.

I'm a citizen of the African nation of Ghana, which is located in the very centre of the earth (the Greenwich meridian and the equator intersect near a town called Tema). Ghana is the first country south of the Sahara to gain political independence. At the dawn of independence the country's founding president, the luminary African statesman Kwame Nkrumah, stated that "the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of the entire African continent. " Ghana's passion and drive towards establishing itself as a frontrunner in the comity of nations as well as a worthy model of black and African achievement was great in those early years. In Kwame Nkrumah's words he wanted to prove to the whole world that "after all the black man was capable of managing his own affairs." Unfortunately Kwame Nkrumah's lofty dreams could not be achieved because the country, like most third-world countries of the time, bore the brunt of the cold war exchanges between USA and USSR. In short, he was overthrown through Western influences. This sent the development direction of the country on a downward spiral, preventing the country from reaching its goals. The above development was fertilised by mismangement, corruption,... and frequent coups. With the country re-emerging from the lows of the 70s and 80s to a high of stable democratic governanace since 1992, the country is set for reinstating itself as the "beacon of Africa"' as symbolised by the black star that is so prominent on our flag. Over the last 16 years significant gains have been chalked in infrastructural development, education, agriculture and good governance. With the current breed of determined and motivated leaders on all sides of the political divide the future s certainly bright for Ghana.

You must forgive me, if you do like history or politics much, but i assure you that these things set the framework for how we perceive the world. To appease you, let's talk about a more interesting subject, tourism.

Over the last couple of years, Ghana has established itself as a destination of choice for most tourists visiting the west coast of Africa. The country has abundant tourist destinations in all its ten regions, spanning from the historical Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Dubois centre in the heart of Accra, former slave castles principally in the central region, slave routes dotting from north to south and awe-inspiring ecological sites in the volta region. Every region is unique with regards to what it has on offer and every you go you are bound to have a time of your life. So come visit Ghana!, the land of golden sunshine and warm people. Oh it, did i let it out? What makes the visit to Ghana worthwhile, however is not only the finery that the environment has in store. Rather it is the warm hearted, affectionate and always-smiling people that hold foreign visitors spellbound. Many of them "fall in love" with the country such that it is always a difficult task leaving when time is due. Suddenly, the curtailment of the Ghanaian oddyssey stares them in the face and most of them.......cry. The advantage that proceeds from this development is some sort of imaginary umbilical chord that ensures that Ghanaians who travel to any other part of the world have friends everywhere they go. Which is good for everybody. So visit Ghana and see you soon when you come(the tourist board does not pay me for this, i just love my country, lol).

There are certain characteristics that is typical of the Ghanaian people. Almost every Ghanaian is religious, socially conservative, we love football with a passion. The final thing is that we love our country and we are always willing to do what it takes to see her at the very top.

Thanks a bunch for visiting here and hope to see you around. Peace!