Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ghana’s growing mobile phone industry – any health implications?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi


Do mobile phones really cause cancer of any kind? Is their use in any way connected with the occurrence of diseases such as leukemia and impotence?

Ghana’s mobile phone industry is growing fast. Records available from the National Communications Authority (NCA) show that mobile telephony in Ghana has exceeded 7,604,053 subscribers. And the number of mobile phone companies is growing. There are currently about six mobile phone operators licensed to do business in Ghana. Certainly, the growing number of providers will see an increase in subscription rates and accompanying increase in the number of sophisticated handsets that Ghanaians use.

Subsequently, there will be an increase in the number of base stations or transmitter towers that mobile phone companies need to be able to make subscribers make and receive phone calls.

But has the side effects of this growing and essential industry been taken into account and adequate policy made to handle them, should they occur?

Scientific evidence

Some scientists say that the technology used by the communications industry emits a type of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) that poses a health hazard to people. But local mobile phone companies, on the other hand, say, “it is only speculation.” In their view, there is no scientific fact to back the claim.

These days, mobile phones have become the most convenient mode of communication these days. And this technological advancement has turned the world into a globalised village, and Ghanaians are happily part of it. But at what costs?

For a mobile phone to send and receive calls, it must be within range of a transmitting tower. A mobile phone works just like a radio does: if you are too far from the station’s signal, your radio (or phone) cannot pick up the music (or receive a call). Radio stations, in order to transmit to a larger area erect transmission towers. Mobile phone companies also use transmission towers to relay messages to users at great distances.

The towers, and to a lesser extent, the hand sets, generate electromagnetic radiation (EMR). While most EMR is not considered to be dangerous to humans, scientific study shows that the EMR from mobile phone, radio and TV transmitter towers very likely is.

Prof. Kofi Oduro-Afriyie, a Physicist and Vice President of Central University College, Accra admits that no specific research has been done with regards to mobile phones in Ghana, but was quick to confirm that EMR is a known health hazard.

“Even though our human bodies need a certain level of radiation to survive, too much of it will cause genetic mutations, leukemia, cancer and impotence,” he said.

He explained that “electromagnetic radiation is all the more dangerous because these diseases take about 20 years before they show.”

Evidence of the danger comes from studies done in other countries. For example, the “EMFacts Information Service” a publication specialized on radiation issues in Australia, states that “although the exposure to the radiation from mobile phone towers is extremely low, the risk of cancer and other diseases is increased when the exposure is for long periods” such as for people living near these towers.

EMFacts also reports that a research team led by Dr B. Hockings found that children living within four kilometres of TV transmission towers in Sydney showed higher rates of childhood leukemia, the disease most often implicated with exposure to EMR. In fact “childhood leukemia in the exposed (closer) group was 60 per cent higher than in the control (further) group.”

In this study, the level of EMR was 1000 times lower than the Australian standard. Of great concern to researchers is that children seem to be more affected by EMR than are adults.

In other research, a 1990 study by Richard Hayes found that men who were exposed to micro and radio waves had a greater incidence of testicular cancer. A 1987 study by Dr W. Morton of the University of Oregon’s Health Science Centre, found excess cancer among people living close to radio and TV broadcast towers.

A Polish study found that soldiers exposed to EMR suffered from increased rates of leukemia and lymphoma. At the same time, Drs Henry Lai and Narendra Singh in Seattle, USA, found that exposing rats to ’safe’ levels of radiation resulted in increased breaks in the DNA of their brain cells – and damage to DNA is associated with the initiation of cancer.

Expanding networks

Whatever the health risks and associated demands on Ghana’s health budget, the mobile telephony companies are here to make profit, and they won’t be the ones paying the hospital bills, so what do they have to lose?

Ghana’s trade liberalization policy, linked with a desire to strengthen the private sector, the zeal to open the country’s doors for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) has opened the door to a proliferation of private phone, radio and TV companies.

These companies are employing aggressive and competitive marketing strategies, they have together won millions of Ghanaians. With the growing demand for more services, the number of transmission towers will multiply, and they are, on a daily basis. These expansions are being pursued without considering the possible health hazards associated with the EMR these towers pour into their surroundings.

And these days, it is not uncommon to see cell sites and transmission towers sited in densely populated areas, and these apart from the dangers of radiation do pose physical dangers to residents. A recent incident in Tema where a transmission tower collapsed over a building during rainstorms is an example.

In some instances, residents have gone to court to stop mobile phone companies from erecting transmission towers in their communities, citing possible side effects of radiation on their health as reasons.

Contrary evidence

The mobile phone companies appear unconcerned. For them profit is everything. To them the issues that are being raised by scientists are speculations with no real proof. And of course evidence exists elsewhere showing that some very influential mobile telephony companies have commissioned scientific researches of their own that have shown proof to the contrary – that there are no dangers to health from using mobile phones.

To achieve their lofty targets and maximize profits, the mobile phone providers are “extolling the benefits and denying the risks, in spite of mounting scientific evidence to the contrary. In the face of these challenges, what should be done in Ghana? What national safety standards should be set to regulate EMR emission levels?

Regulating the industry

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency responsible for regulating the environmental activities of businesses, has not identified the mobile phone companies as having a significant impact on the environment. According to an EPA insider, mobile phone companies are required to register with the EPA but not to submit Environmental Impact Assessments before they commence business. And there have been instances where some of the companies have gone ahead to erect transmission towers without permission from the EPA and have been asked to pull these down after residents have drawn the attention of the EPA.

The Ghana Standards Board (GSB) has likewise not considered setting standards for mobile phones. A source stated that they respond to the immediate needs of the country and that when a need is identified, they are willing to work on it. If faced with the evidence, they will study it and set up a technical committee to come out with standards.

The National Communications Authority (NCA), seems to simply give licenses for mobile companies to operate. They even lack the necessary clout to get these companies to meet the requirements for their operations such as providing quality services for their subscribers.

Until recently, when the NCA showed that it has got teeth, it has always been seen as a toothless bulldog. It opened wide its mouth to bring some sanity into the industry by ordering two of the service providers to clean-up their acts. They also ordered the two companies to halt any further signing on of new subscribers until they improved their services.

But it is yet to be seen, whether they can really bite, because, there is strong suspicion among Ghanaians that the companies are still increasing their subscriber base even after the directive.

Benchmarks for radiation control

Ghana can take a cue from other countries of the world that already have permissible levels of radiation emission.

Countries, like the USA, Britain, New Zealand and Australia, have set national standards to prevent high levels of electromagnetic radiation and the resulting illnesses in their citizens.

The situation in Ghana, which has no EMR safety standards, is all the more disturbing because the mobile phone companies doing business here have not taken precautions to protect their customers.

For example, salesmen of some of these companies are themselves unaware of the safety issues of mobile phone usage. When asked about what they tell customers, they simply said, ‘we tell our customers not to use the phone often - because it is expensive.”

Another salesman said he advises his customers to get a leather jacket for their phones and to carry them somewhere other than a breast pocket to minimize the health dangers such as cancer.

However, one marketing manager ruled these out as safety measures, insisting that they only advise customers to get leather jackets to prevent scratches on the phone.

About 20 mobile phone users who were interviewed confirmed they have only been taught how to use the phones, nothing more. Nothing was mentioned to them by company employees about health dangers associated with mobile phone usage.

Lack of adequate information

The communications companies would like their customers to believe that there is no health controversy. Neither would they like the people who are living and working near their transmission towers to question the effects of the electromagnetic radiation these towers give off.

However, in other parts of the world, the controversy rages on and for us in Ghana, the emerging facts about the issues can be looked at carefully in our context.

Looking at our Ghanaian situation, where we have limited, if not zero resources to handle the ill effects of electromagnetic radiation, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

It is our duty to inform our people, so they can make informed choices.

It was nine years ago when I first raised the flag, but no one seemed to have seen it.

Dr Bockings, the Australian Researcher, recommended then, that, “it would be prudent for some countries to set up perspective epidemiological cancer studies of possible effects of mobile phones -both base stations (transmission towers) and hand held units - so that in 10 years we have some answers.”

This advice was given in 1998. Tens years on, nothing concrete has happened.

I hope government would initiate moves with environmental groups and research institutions; with funding from the mobile phone, radio and TV companies, to conduct studies to establish the facts concerning the possible health hazards associated with communications technologies, so that at least, in Ghana, the tide of the cases of cancer, leukemia and impotence can be stemmed, to prolong the lives of our people.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ghana's mysterious 'Big Tree'

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

There is a tree which stands at 90 metres in height and 396 centimetres in diameter. According to Ghana’s Forestry officials, it is the biggest tree in the country.

Growing in the forests of Akim Oda in Ghana’s Eastern region, the tree known locally as “the Big Tree” is of the Bako species and its botanical name is tieghemela heckle.
The sheer size and height of the tree leaves so many local people in awe making them deify it. It is a mystery to them, and believing it must have some supernatural powers, they regularly visit the tree carrying gifts and sacrifices.

Many have dug holes around the giant roots of the tree where they leave their sacrifices with prayer requests for good fortune.

“The Big Tree” does not only serve the curiosity of local people, it is also a tourist attraction.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mining in Ghana – paradox of profits, pollutions and poverty

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Mining in Ghana has been going on for over 100 years now. And 100 years of any business venture is long enough to show visible signs of progress and understandably positive returns, both economically and socially.

But whatever benefits mining in Ghana has brought the country, can best be seen mostly in the mining entities. Not even Ghana as a nation can boast of any appreciable return on investments in mining, having invested lands, people and to some extent the humanity of some of its people including their culture and traditions.

The mining companies rake in huge profits from their activities in Ghana. For in stance, in 1995 a mining company operating in one of Ghana’s mining towns made a profit after tax of US$105 million.

The mining sector in Ghana earned an unbelievable US$ 2,099.43 million in 1999. But these huge earnings were made at the expense of lives and property belonging to ordinary Ghanaians whose peaceful and subsistent lifestyles had to be sacrificed on the altar of national economic expedience. But these benefits in terms of their national dimensions remain, ever questionable.

What is however, interesting about the contribution of mining to the national economy shows glaringly when it is compared to the agriculture sector.

Between 1993 and 1997 mining contributed just 1.5% to Ghana’s GDP as against agriculture’s 40%.

It is estimated for instance, that since 1985 Ghana has attracted external investment in the gold sector alone to the tune of over US$ 3.2 billion in new mine development and expansion.

Despite these huge figures, it is widely believed that only about 10% of the value of gold comes to the country.

Unlike agriculture though, the mining sector is spiced with so much incentives for investors, making it the most attractive and lucrative sector to invest in.

But strangely, Ghana is an agricultural country. However, the country doesn’t seem to pursue a vigorous agriculture expansion programme, at least not for the moment.

Mining as a sector, makes minimum contribution to employment and offers very high wages than the local average. Yet less than 8% of Ghanaians are in formal employment in the mining sector.

Meanwhile, over the last decade, mining has significantly added to the country’s ecological destruction amounting to around 7% of the country’s GDP.

Enter any mining community in Ghana, and what hits you right in the face is abject poverty.

The first middle aged man you are likely to meet might look older than his actual age. He is obviously hit, knocked about and tossed around by poverty. He is listless, and despondent. He might also be suffering from a disease resulting from mining pollution.

These people strut around hopelessly in their native lands, and they are typical examples of casualties resulting from the uncontrollable urge and penchant for profits by mining companies.

These companies have the unflinching support and backing of the governments in power. They needlessly carry on their operations with impunity and gross disregard for human life and right to property.

I have had the privilege of working in some mining communities in Ghana. It is not only appalling poverty and resignation that greets you, but also grim pessimism of local people.

While we are it, every year government declares how much profit the country has earned from mining activities. But even then, the suspicion among mining industry watchers is that, government does not declare the true figures. The figures that governments declare are not the true reflection of how much is made from the venture.

Royalties that are paid to stools in these communities hardly reach their intended target, but no one cares. To most of the people in charge, it is only important that the royalties are paid. They care less if any one benefits from the income. This meager royalty that is paid to local people is supported by laws, laws that seem to only favour the multi-nationals and protect their supreme interest for profits.

A few individuals are believed to pocket royalties meant for communities. And often these monies are shared in phony contracts of some sorts. Some of the roads and schools that are constructed from these monies do not last, because they are hurriedly and poorly constructed to cover up the greed and corruption of the few soulless individuals for whom the majority are a bunch of weak ignoramuses whose plight one must exploit to make some money.

The effects of mining on Ghana as a nation have been downplayed over the years. The profits are used to placate a restless populace. We are told to shut up when some of us want to cry foul and demand proper accountability.

Interestingly, for the most part, some of the people who speak for the mining companies are powerful fellow Ghanaians. They are catered for very well by these mining companies, their heels are well oiled. They are often noble Ghanaians who have spoken so loud about equality, justice and a fair country for all some time past, but they have suddenly turned coat and joined the powerful miners.

And when they do, they unleash on the rest of us a cacophony of raucous tunes that persistently jar our ear drums. They do these with unmatched alacrity in impeccable Queen’s English, making the rest of us look like less mortals, who must acquiesce and believe everything they are telling us.

But all that glitters is not gold. It is not all that is said in faultless English that is the truth.

Agriculture in Ghana has suffered the most palpable neglect and slow development including the adoption and adaptation of modern technology.

And that is not withstanding the fact that the agriculture sector is the single most important sector of the country’s economy. The sector employs about 70% of all Ghanaians employed in the country and contributes about 40% to GDP.

It is the main source of sustenance for the country. But mining is favoured against agriculture.

So many cocoa farmers have had to reluctantly give up their ancestral farmlands spanning four to five generations to mining companies. It is usually the case that when mining companies acquire a land in a community for prospecting, that local farmers are required to abandon their farms. They are paid some compensation, though, but these compensations never meet any economic or moral requirement for such huge losses.

Pittances are paid to these farmers and their cocoa trees and other crops are destroyed to make way for mining.

That would not be the end. And once the mining itself begins, there appears more serious challenges to contend with. The modes of operation of these mining firms dispose most residents to health and environmental risks.

Usually, these companies involve in surface mining instead of the better option of underground mining. They do because surface mining is cheaper.

The process of gold mining involves the blasting of rocks, which is accompanied by deafening noises, vibration of the ground which sends dust and particles in the air and water.

To extract gold, toxic chemicals such as cyanide, arsenic, sulphur dioxide are used and other gases are produced with serious health consequences - these chemicals leak into underground sources of drinking water, exposing local inhabitants who most of the time lack potable drinking water to danger.

Local people might drink water from poisoned streams or even eat fish from polluted rivers.

Large craters resulting from blasting are left to collect stagnant water, and these breed mosquitoes leading to high incidents of malaria in these areas, part of which the country spends over US$77 million yearly to treat. Skin diseases and diarrhea are common in these areas.

Following in tow are sexually transmitted diseases, pulmonary tuberculosis, acute conjunctivitis, poverty and a rising crime rate.

The pull factors of mining communities are not only the lure of gold, but also the attraction for other jobs, which are often non-existent.

Prostitution is very common in these areas also because not only do both men and women troop there to grab a share of the hard cash that is to be made, but even local women and girls whose husbands and fathers have lost their sources of livelihood, which used to be the farmlands they once owned, tend to become merchants of the flesh. They are both compelled and attracted into the sex trade.

The cost of living in these areas is so high because there is expatriate money to be made, and local people are forced to live like paupers in their own land.

They fall prey to all kinds of NGOs who hold claim to their salvation. While some of these groups are genuine and they fight relentlessly for the rights of these people, there are charlatans among them who feed fat on the misfortune of local people like leeches.

They sometimes exaggerate the real issues without particularly having a good understanding of the situation on the ground. They make so much noise and in some cases they even attract the attention of the international community. But in the end, they benefit at the expense of the victims of mining.

Local people are dispossessed, displaced and divided. The few who know what ‘is good’ for them betray the majority and side with the merciless exploiters.

As we all watch in dismay, some mining companies play the corporate responsibility card and win a few favours and applause from the absent minded crowd who only watch at a distance, but see only these ‘kindness’ of the mining companies.

In any case, should we as a country continue to favour mining at the expense of agriculture? When in reality the mining industry has a very short life span? When all the deposits are mined, the mines close down and often the towns and villages are deserted turning them into ‘ghost’ towns.

What are often left behind are degraded lands that can not be reclaimed or farmed on, and with these, a dark cloud of uncertainty, pollutions, poverty and even death.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Kakum National Park - better seen and felt

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The Kakum National Park, is one of Ghana’s rich natural resources. It is a perfect example of the country’s rich biodiversity, and an enthralling rainforest any country of the world would wish to have making it the tourist’s haven.

The birth of Kakum

Kakum, is named after the Kakum River whose headwaters lie within the park’s boundaries. It was originally set aside as a forest reserve in 1925. The protected area of the forest covers 360 km2.

The area of the park was released for protection by six local authorities. These are; Assin Attandanso, Twifo Hemang, Assin Apimanin, Denkyira, Abura and Effutuakwa all in the Central region. The chiefs of these communities gave portions of land under their domains for the project.

The legal foundations of Kakum

Over the years, several laws have been passed to make the existence of the Kakum Park a reality. The laws were evolved for over four and half decades. In 1961 the Wild Animals Preservation Act was enacted. The main focus of the Act was to preserve the white breasted guinea fowl, the colobus monkey, chimpanzee, hippo and other animals including those whose female and young ones need protection.

Some ten years later in 1971 the legislation was amended to widen the scope of protected species that were not covered by the earlier legislation. The Legislative Amendments of 1971 identified more threatened wildlife for complete protection. And these were seven primate species, three types of pangolius elephant, lion, leopard and the honey badger.

Twenty years later in 1991, the law was amended again. This time it was referred to as Protective Legislation. When the Wild Life Reserves Regulation was amended, it included specifically, Kakum and Assin Attandanso. Following this amendment, the Natural Resources Conservation and Historic Preservation Project was launched between 1992 and 1993. As a result, Legislative Instrument 1525.1991 effectively established the Kakum National Park.

The Canopy Walkway

In 1995, the most remarkable aspect of the park came into being. The Spectacular Canopy Walk was officially opened. The canopy is Africa’s only canopy walkway and it is suspended 100 feet above the ground and from this height, it offers a bird’s eye view of the forest.

At this height, it is possible to have a good view of the birds and insects that fly across the park, something that is impossible to see on the ground The canopy is made of steel cable, netting, and has narrow wooden planks laid on the floor. It is connected by tree platforms that serve as observation points for viewing the rainforest.

Animal and plant species

Kakum contains animal species of great diversity. They include various species of the forest elephant, bongo, yellow backed duiker, nearly 300 species of birds, 100 mammal, reptile and amphibian species, with a three-quarter million insects and at least 600 butterflies.

It also contains hundreds of species of herbaceous and woody plants.

There is a beauty and radiance that the rainforest exudes, but which can only be seen and felt when you are there.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ghana Elections: It is a run-off, and the people are ready

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Being a Ghanaian has made more sense to me these few days than it ever has. I have lived in Ghana all my life and nearly half of my entire life, I have worked as a journalist, therefore, I know there is no place like Ghana – and truly, there is none.

The conduct of the general elections of December 7, 2008 has further enhanced my sense of belonging and being a Ghanaian. Because when it comes to elections, Africa as a continent in general is not a good case. Most African countries have gone up in smoke before and soon after elections.

There are so many examples, like Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire where election disputes have led to fellow countrymen and women hacking each other to death. Some of these countries are still struggling to come close to anything resembling a state.

Ghanaians on the other hand held together despite pre-election tensions which were created by FM radio stations and some newspapers, and these were simply doing the bidding of their bosses and financiers, they were not reflecting the true nature of events on the ground.

Ghanaians thankfully, held their heads up, and refused to take the bait. They coolly voted and allowed the power of the ballot to speak.

At the end of the day, when the results were declared, everyone accepted it. No one, even for some of those who are displeased with the outcome at their constituencies resorted to violence of any kind. Indeed, the altercations that were reported are so minor that they had no significant impact on the society.

The results as declared by the Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan were as follows: Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) polled 4, 159, 439 representing 49.13% of total valid votes cast, and Prof. Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) polled 4,056.634 representing 47.92% of total valid votes cast.

Dr. Edward Mahama of the Peoples National Convention (PNC) got 73, 494 votes, representing 0.87% of valid votes cast.

Mr. Emmanuel Antwi of the Democratic Freedom Party (DFP) polled 27, 889 which is 0.33% of valid votes cast.

The candidate of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP), Mr. T. N. Ward-Brew got 8,653 representing 0.10% of valid votes cast.

Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) polled 113, 494 representing 1.34% of total valid votes cast.

Mr. Kwabena Agyei of the Reformed Democratic Party (RDP) got 6, 889, which is 0.08% of total valid votes cast and the only independent presidential candidate in the race, Mr. Kwesi Amoafo-Yeboah, polled 19, 342 representing 0.23% of total valid votes cast.

Total valid votes cast is 8, 465, 834, and there were 205,438 rejected votes making a total of 8,671,272 votes cast.

The total number of registered voters is 12, 472, 758 and the turn-out was 69.52%.
The total of rejected votes comes to 2.4% of votes cast.

The winner of the first round of voting Nana Addo did not get the more than 50% of votes required to make him the outright winner of the elections and therefore, as required by Ghana’s laws, there should be a run-off. And Ghanaians, just like before are ready for it!

If this teaches any lesson, what it does teach is that, a people can choose to be violent, and Ghanaians chose not to. They want peace, because human life and dignity can be enhanced and given value in peace.

Ghanaians have shown to the world that Africans are not savages and when it matters, they would lead the way and show everyone that we are human!

The campaigning for the run-off would be tense, and of course that is to be expected in an election of this nature that produces no clear winner, and Ghanaians would reaffirm their earlier comportment and respect for due process, they would vote peacefully come December 28, 2008, and when the winner is announced, they would accept and move on with their lives.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ghana elections: The people are the winners!

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

I have always said and still maintain that Ghana is one of the most beautiful countries on this planet called earth, but it can be made better.

On Sunday December 7, 2008, Ghanaians voted. As I write this piece on Monday, the results are trickling in. Some of the confirmed results though are interesting and to a large extent revealing, because some of the Members of Parliament who are political dinosaurs or some choose to call them heavyweights have been beaten in their own backyards, in some instances, by political novices.

These developments are interesting, but the most interesting for me, is the conduct of the elections in general. Ghanaians are a great people! And they love and cherish peace.

As a journalist whose duty led me to cover some polling stations to witness the voting and watch the ballots being counted, I feel so honoured to be a Ghanaian.

The process generally went on smoothly, people stayed in the queues and waited for their turn to vote. Some centres though, jammed by eager voters as early as 4:00am became empty before the close of voting.

The isolated cases of some minor altercations were reported, but they had no significant impact on the conduct of the elections.

Ghanaians have shown to the world again that, we are matured, responsible and progressive minded. But where does the tension come from?

I can only imagine one source. Greedy, power hungry politicians! Yes. Most of them a class of empty headed blokes whose only perceived legitimate right to hold claim to political power is their bloated ego, so called connections, political lineage and in some instances, ill gotten money.

These are the lot who pollute the media, using their corrupt allies whose only interest is not the public good but filthy lucre.

They abuse the intelligence of the unsuspecting public by lying through their teeth about almost everything they say. They manipulate and misinform the public through the media and by that they create unnecessary tension, leading to violence in some cases.

These politicians by and large have nothing to lose but well, some things to gain.

As everyone, including the rest of the world wait for the final declaration of results, there is nothing so far to indicate that there would be trouble, except the meaningless vituperations of some obtuse politicians who are making wild allegations and claims about results.

Thankfully, the good people of Ghana are discerning and they would not take to the streets.

Bravo Ghana! Long Live the great people of Ghana! No matter, which group of politicians wins this elections, you the people of Ghana are the winners!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where are Ghana’s child entrepreneurs?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

According to available records Ghana’s population is made up of over 50% young people. They are between the ages of 18-40 years.

They are the energy soaked, ambitious and bubbling group of our population, who possibly, could determine the future of this country – whichever way they choose! But why aren’t they making headline news in entrepreneurship?

This brings me to the many fascinating stories I have read about teenagers who have earned a million dollars in the first year of their attempt at setting up business. They start on their own, while they are still doing home work with the help of parents and siblings.

Their businesses range from online, courier services, manufacturing to ICT.

One story of teenage entrepreneurs that has held me spellbound is that of Leanna Archer, a 12-year-old girl from Central Islip, New York in the USA.

Leanna’s story quickly sent my mind wandering about our cities’ major streets where most of our children have been reduced to eking out a living, as they pathetically sell sachet water. These kids weave dangerously in-between moving vehicles to be able to sell to thirsty travelers and passers by.

Some of these kids are as young as eight or nine years old. While they struggle on the sweltering sun to sell whatever, they are able to lay hands on, it is hard to tell how much money they are able to make risking their young lives in the manner that they do.

I do not believe they earn anything decent enough to be able to afford a balanced diet three times a day, let alone have some change for a good savings.

It would be surprising, that with their growing numbers on the streets, and competing with some adults, that they would be able to make good sales.

Back to Leanna’s story. This 12-year-old girl is already a star in the US. And the intriguing thing about her business is; she got the idea for her business from home. She took a recipe for home-made hair products and turned it into a money making business.

Leanna’s Grandmother made the product herself, and used it on her mother. Her mother started using the hair product on Leanna when she was three years old. Leanna decided to use the recipe and produce hair products for sale. Presto! She has a business.

She has developed her own website on which she is selling the product. She makes $5000 every month, making her business a $60,000 earner every year. And from the way things look now, this business is likely to grow faster than she has anticipated.

This is how the 12-year-old entrepreneur lives her life as she wrote on her website:

“With my parents’ help, on weekends I make and package Leanna’s Hair Products at home (Hair Dressing, Hair Oil Treatment, Shampoo, Conditioner, Deep Conditioner ).

During the week, after I complete all my homework, I pack boxes from every day orders that I get online and from selected hair salons.”

Yes. She runs her business from home, finds time to grant interviews to magazines, radio and TV stations, goes around to give motivational talks and still do her homework!

I am yet to come across any Ghanaian teenager who has actually started a business while still in school and under the parents’ care.

Please, if you are reading this piece and you know any one like that let me know. I want to interview them.

I am not saying Ghanaian children are not smart, but I am yet to see these smart kids start and run a business that bring in more money than their parents earn in a month!

The truth is, when you are a smart kid starting out something beyond and above what your seniors know or think in Ghana, then you must be a witch or a strange kid. And often the thought is that you must be protected from yourself or you might be killed by enemies or witches. You are then discouraged and advised to shelve any such idea.

The thinking which is widely held is that young people are not expected to take huge leaps in life and young people are not expected to know or do better than their elders. Indeed, this is extended into the corporate world, where your boss never expects you to know anything better than he or she does.

That attitude appears to have been so ingrained in the very core of our being as Ghanaians to the extent that it comes out so naturally for us to discourage a young person or subordinate from taking ‘outrageous’ decisions that would lead to achieving anything extraordinary.

It is no wonder that mediocre and substandard performers in various endeavours become instant heroes in our midst. True to word, they don’t last – they vanish just as they appeared on the scene on the wings of cheap propaganda. Some even earn national honours!

This country in my humble opinion has not figured out yet what to do with its young people. I wish I have the voice to tell all the gifted and talented young people to rise up and be counted. We seem to be giving our young people only what we deem to be an education. That is fine, but where does that leave us? Most young people graduate from university with First Class Degrees and yet have no clue about what to do with their lives.

Only a few of them really move on in life. Those who can’t stick it out quickly run back to the universities to acquire a Masters Degree – as if a Masters Degree grants automatic immunity from challenges that all graduates face. A Masters Degree in itself is a good thing, but it does not on its own guarantee success if you can’t function and you are not creative.

Others who have the money and can afford have gone to read Law. I just hope by passing the Law programme at Ghana’s Law School at Makola, they would become good, useful and successful lawyers.

I wish I have what it takes to tell Ghana's young to live up to their dreams no matter what. They have what it takes to change their lives, families, and the country and influence the world by releasing their creativity.

Ghana’s young ought to wake up and explore their entrepreneurial skills – it is one sure way of making the country better.

There are so many opportunities around us that we can turn into life-changing products and money making ventures. It does not take age to achieve anything; it is how you use what you have. Start with what you have and how much you know. Just look around you, there is probably a favourite item your grandfather or someone might have discarded. But it might hold the secret to your breakthrough.

Leanna used the home-made recipe her grandmother has been using for years and made products out of them and sold to the world. You can do the same or even more.

All adults have a duty to groom young people to fully discover their creative abilities. Don’t stop the children. If they become successful, no witch can kill them. God will protect them. Let them explore and be productive, Ghana can move forward with the young where the old have failed us.

The time is now or never. Let us give our young the encouragement and support to be resourceful and productive. And for those young people who spend all their time on the internet watching things that add nothing to their lives but destroy their already fragile future, please put a stop to it and use your energies on things that would challenge you to be creative in a meaningful manner.

Someone please, find me Ghana's child entrepreneurs.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

E-waste in Ghana – Authorities deny dumping

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

E-waste dumping is a major problem in Ghana, but Ghanaian authorities deny there is any amount of dumping going on in the country.

Ghana’s Environment Ministry and Environment Protection Agency (EPA) all insist what is going on in Ghana is not dumping.

Meanwhile, large numbers of obsolete computers enter the country through Ghana’s ports on a daily basis.

Investigations at the Tema Port show that even Pentium Two computers are being imported into the country. But IT experts say Pentium Two computers can not be of much use to any economy that intends to use ICT to facilitate growth.

They argue that apart from the fact that most of the software that are being written these days can not run on these versions of computers, they do not have the capacity for high volume industries. These computers are likely to end up in the waste stream sooner than later.

Mr. Kofi Dadzie, of Rancard Solutions, an ICT company says these types of computers are obsolete and would not help the country in its quest for development.

He said, “applications these days are built to meet computing power, and why should we go for low computing power to compete?”

Mr. Dadzie said importing low power 400 MHz and 500 MHz computers into the country is not advisable for productivity. He added that it is possible that people who are looking for opportunities to dump old computers might be responsible for exporting such computers into Ghana.

The Agbogbloshie scrap yard and dump site in Accra are equally important evidences of dumping.

The e-waste problem in Ghana appears to have caught some attention following an article I wrote in June 2007 to inform the world about the possible dangers that Ghanaians and the country’s environment could be exposed to if the problem is not properly handled.

But Ghanaian authorities do not appear to see the problem as a serious one that requires urgent attention. While the Environment Agency (EA) of the UK is investigating some recycling companies in the UK on suspicion of dumping e-waste into Ghana, Ghanaian authorities are unaware of the on-going investigation.

Speaking to me in a telephone conversation, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Local Government, Science and Environment, Maxwell Kofi Jummah, says there is no dumping of e-waste in Ghana. He said “there is no dumping of e-waste in Ghana.” And when I asked if he was aware of the Agbogbloshie dump site, he insisted, “they don’t throw computers there, if you go to Agbogbloshie you will not find even 10 computers there.”

He also told me he is not aware of the UK government’s investigation of the matter.

Mr. Jummah also said a law will come into effect in two years that says all used electronics equipment such as fridges, TVs and Air Conditioners that are imported into Ghana must have energy efficiency labels on them. He said people would also be given coupons to trade their obsolete gadgets with energy-efficient ones.

Asked if the law covers used computers, he said, “I am not sure if used computers are covered by the law.”

Meanwhile, Computer Aid International, a UK based Charity which distributes refurbished computers to developing countries, say they are hopeful that the EA would contact the Ghanaian authorities as part of their investigations.

Speaking to me on the phone, Louise Richard, the CEO of Computer Aid International, which also put pressure on the UK government to investigate the dumping of e-waste in Ghana following a Green Peace International report on the problem which was published on August 5, 2008, said there is evidence of e-waste dumping in Ghana.

Ms. Richard said the evidence of e-waste dumping in Ghana is contained in the very detailed reports which the Green Peace International and Consumers International have produced.

Both the Green Peace and Consumers International reports have documented videos, photographs and lab reports to show the gravity of the problem in Ghana.

Depending on who is speaking on the issue, it appears there is no concerted government approach to resolving the issue.

Speaking at a Climate Change meeting in Accra, August 21, 2008, Ghana’s environment Minister, Kwadwo Adjei Darko made an appeal to developed countries to stop dumping e-waste in Ghana.

He said old computers are being imported into Ghana and these importations have resulted in hazardous e-waste in the country.
He appealed to exporting countries to stop using Africa as a dumping ground.

Indeed, even though the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the EPA, William Abaidoo announced the formation of a committee to draft policy to deal with the problem not much has happened since the announcement was made.

In an interview he granted Ghana’s leading daily newspaper Daily Graphic, he said the EPA was developing guidelines to regulate the importation of used electronic gadgets into the country.

The interview published in the April 25, 2008, issue of the newspaper quoted him as saying that the guidelines would serve as a standard for what "we want to have and receive as a country in terms of electronic wastes."

But when I called him to find out if the committee has been formed he instead referred me to another officer.

And he was also unaware of the UK government’s investigation of the issue in Ghana.
He also asked me to show him any evidence of e-waste dumping in Ghana. “If you know anywhere e-waste is being dumped in Ghana, show that to me and the EPA will act.”

Clearly this remark shows a denial of the incidents of e-waste dumping in Ghana.

While the debate goes on, the eight-year olds, teenagers and adults who work to survive by dismantling obsolete computers without any protective gear and burn the cables in open fires to extract the copper, would continue to be at risk in as much as they expose Ghana’s environment to risk of contamination from lead, cadmium, polybrominated flame retardants and other hazardous chemicals.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ghana goes biofuel despite evidence of effects on food prices

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Ghana is set to begin biofuel production very soon, despite mounting evidence of biofuels' effects on the current global food crisis.

Two weeks ago, the government of Ghana gave approval for a Norwegian biofuels firm ScanFuel to start production early 2009. The company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Thor Hesselberg said on Friday November 21, 2008 that the company is expected to produce 5000 barrels per day of crude oil equivalent by 2015.

According to reports the ScanFuel’s operation is located outside Kumasi in the Ashanti region. ScanFuel will initially cultivate Jatropha seeds, considered high oil-yielding on 10,000 hectares of land.

The company which has a Ghanaian subsidiary, ScanFuel Ghana Ltd says the Ghanaian unit has contracted about 400,000 hectares of land, with up to 60 percent reserved for biofuel production, "not less" than 30 percent for food production and the remainder for biodiversity buffer zones.

The development is curious, particularly so, when it is happening in a developing and agriculture based country like Ghana.

And that is notwithstanding the fact that it has now been established that the production of biofuel is a major contributor to the current worsening global food crisis.

Indeed, the use of productive agriculture land for the production of crops for ethanol has been identified as a factor that is pushing world food prices up to 75%.

Other factors identified for the crisis include growing populations, shortfall in production, high demand for animal feed and consumption patterns. Climate change and rainfall patterns have also been blamed.

Sir James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank has identified “a growing middle class in India and China” is one of the factors that have contributed to the food crisis.

This emerging middle class he said demand more food and more resources which are all driving food and fuel prices up.

The middle class in India and China he said is expected to grow to about 1.5 billion in the next 15 years.

The Guardian newspaper in London in July 2008 published a leaked World Bank report which says biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated. Indeed, the report is a sharp contradiction of the US government’s claims that biofuel contributes less than 3% to the food crisis.

According to the Guardian, the unpublished report, authored by Don Mitchell, a senior economist at the World Bank, is a detailed, month-by-month analysis of the surge in food prices, and allows much closer examination of the link between biofuels and food supply. There are even suspicions that the report which was completed in April has not yet being published to avoid embarrassing the US government.

The Guardian report says since April, all petrol and diesel in Britain has had to include 2.5% from biofuels. The EU has been considering raising that target to 10% by 2020, but is faced with mounting evidence that that will only push food prices higher.

Early in May this year, the UN’s top adviser on food security, Olivier de Schutter made a scathing criticism against the investments that are being made in biofuel by some countries. In an interview with the BBC, he described the investment in biofuel as “irresponsible” and a “crime against humanity.” He went ahead to call for an immediate freeze of the policy and asked for restrain on investors whose speculation he says is driving food prices higher.

Ghana has not been left out in the biofuel scramble. The country is eagerly investing in biofuel with the help of Brazil, the world’s leading biofuel producing country.

While in Ghana for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII) meeting in April, 2008, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed an agreement with the Ghana government to grow sugarcane for bio-ethanol in Ghana. During the signing ceremony, da Silva said, "in Ghana we are developing a project that will result in growing 27,000 hectares (of sugarcane) for the production of 150 million litres of ethanol per year that are destined for the Swedish market."

President da Silva who is encouraging farmers in his country to grow biofuels including sugarcane, castor beans and corn, instead of traditional food crops, says rising fuel prices and not biofuels are responsible for the high cost of food.

The World Bank report meanwhile pointed out that biofuels derived from sugarcane, which Brazil specializes in, have not had any dramatic impact on food prices.

At a World Bank Dialogue Series recently in Accra, Ghana, Arnold McIntyre of the IMF said countries are turning to biofuels in response to current global fuel crisis, adding that by 2005, the US overtook Brazil as the largest producer of ethanol. In the EU, he said, Germany is the largest producer of biofuel.

He moreover said, biofuel production in the US which is corn based, is less cost effective than the sugarcane based in Brazil. He also called for policy change to address biofuel production and suggested that it is necessary to do more research in second generation biofuel production.

Ghana, a developing country, which has about 70% of its population in the rural areas involved in agriculture, ironically imports over 40% of its food needs.

Another interesting angle to Ghana’s agriculture dilemma is the fact that while agriculture contributes nearly 40% to the country’s GDP, only 10% of the national budget is allocated to the sector.

Ghana has the capability to lead a ‘green revolution’ in Africa, in this critical moment, but sadly not much is being done to shore up the agriculture sector. Only about 16% of Ghana’s arable land is used for farming.

And the prices of food have more than doubled in Ghana since the crisis.

Ghanaian food crop farmers need support in the forms of investments in inputs, fertilizer, training and access to markets. These could potentially boost agriculture in the country and contribute to job creation and economic growth.

This unrestrained interest in biofuels should be viewed against the background of Ghana’s struggling agriculture industry, or else the country could be heading to an unknown destination, which consequences could be socially and economically painful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How SMS technology is impacting lives in Ghana

by Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Kwesi Ben lifted his handset and as he did he stretched his neck and looked intensely at the screen of the cell phone he was clutching. His eyes looked so intent as though he wanted to see through the screen.

A few seconds ago, the cell phone had beeped. He knew immediately that he had received a short message or what is simply called text message.

His eyes beamed and brightened. He grinned from ear to ear. It was obvious the message might have come with some good news.

Indeed it has. His brother who lives in the UK has just sent him details of a money transfer he has made for him. Kwesi could walk into any payment point and receive his money instantly! He could now pay his fees.

Kwesi is 21 years old and he is pursuing his dreams of becoming a network administrator, so he needed every cedi he could get to pay his fees at the training institution.

He is one of the very few lucky Ghanaians who have a relative in the UK, who could afford to send them money to cater for pressing needs. And for him the message about the money’s arrival gets to him by SMS. That is the power of mobile telephony unleashed through the SMS technology.

The SMS (Short Message Services) technology since its inclusion in mobile telephony services in Ghana has impacted many lives – positively and negatively.

SMS revenue

Records available show that the global revenue of SMS in 2007 was more than $5 billion with more than one trillion messages sent out.

The genesis of SMS technology

The Short Message Service (SMS) allows text messages to be sent and received to and from mobile telephones. The text can comprise words or numbers or an alphanumeric combination.

Each short message is up to 160 characters in length when Latin alphabets are used, and 70 characters in length when non-Latin alphabets such as Arabic and Chinese are used.

Like most other services and modules of functionality of the GSM system, it is acknowledged that no individual can claim the invention of the SMS. However, credit has often been given to a pioneer in Finnish mobile communications, Matti Makkonen.

Indeed, the idea of adding text messaging to mobile telephony services was quite expected in many of the mobile telephony institutions at the beginning of the 1980s.

Experts within most of these institutions and communities contributed largely to the discussions on the direction in which the SMS should go within the GSM system.

For most of these experts, the idea was to use SMS as a means to alert the individual mobile phone user of incoming voice mail.

However, few within the community believed that SMS could be used to send text messages from one mobile phone user to another.

Meanwhile, it has been said in some other cycles that the technology was initially used between company technicians working on cell sites to communicate on progress of work. The SMS was thought to be a much cheaper and convenient means of communications between technicians and engineers working at different points at a time. At that time it was said, no commercial consideration was given to the technology.

After several trials with amazing success rates, the first commercial text message was sent on December 3, 1992 by Neil Papworth of Sema Group from a personal computer to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone on the Vodafone GSM network in the UK.

The initial growth however, was slow. In 1995, customers sent an average of only 0.4 messages per GSM customer per month in the UK.

The rapid growth of SMS

But very soon, people became more aware of the SMS system and began using it.

The service then experienced an unexpected growth. In 1999, the SMS market in Europe alone had reached over three billion short messages per month as of December of that year, despite the fact that mobile telephony providers did not market the product seriously.

Using the system in Ghana

Statistics on SMS usage in Ghana is hard to come by. I tried talking to people in the industry, searching on the internet and so on, but didn’t come up with any accurate figure.

The statistics however, available is as old as the year 2000. It indicates that SMS sent in Ghana grew from an initial 22,000 to over 130,000. With ghana’s mobile telephony density standing at about 7.6 million subscribers coupled with increased activities in and new ways of communicating, the figure could be higher.

For most Ghanaians, the SMS technology has become a convenient way of sharing love.

Kwame, a sports journalist I spoke to told me it is the best way for him to express his love to his girlfriend. He said he enjoys the thrill that the beeping of the cell phone gives and the anticipated happiness that follows when his girlfriend scrolls down her mobile phone to read the caring and loving words he has sent to her.

John, a radio producer, told me it is the most amazing thing that has ever happened to him, his close associates and church members. He says he uses the text message a lot to send inspiring and encouraging words to his friends. He added that, he even uses it as a means of sending devotionals to his friends. According to him, each time he had done that, he had received feedback that keeps him elated and satisfied.

He also said there were times he has sent text messages to encourage his friends and they have responded by asking him if he knew what they were going through at the material moment, because the text messages answered their nagging questions and given them solace just when he had sent them.

For some others, it is a convenient means of reaching someone when the person is out of coverage area or when the recipient’s phone is off. Text messages would mostly be delivered through the message centre anytime the phone is on or when it is within coverage area.

Businesses have been conducted through SMS, deals have been sealed simply by SMS and some people have walked away with successful transactions in Ghana.

SMS segments and competitions by radio and TV stations have changed so many lives in Ghana. Many Ghanaians now have a voice on radio and on television, freedom of expression has been enhanced, knowledge has become widely and readily available through the technology and ordinary people can also contribute to national debates.

Richard is a young man in his early twenties. He owns a mobile phone, but couldn’t afford another one, even though he would have loved to have a brand new phone with enhanced technology. And he was lucky to get one.

He sent a single text message in support of a contestant in a television reality show and he won an already connected brand new cell phone. His dream was fulfilled.

Besides its convenience, most Ghanaians consider sending text messages cheaper than making a call on their cell phones.

SMS in banking

Most banks in Ghana use SMS technology in their services. Customers of some banks receive SMS messages on their cell phones in real time, whenever a change is effected in their accounts. Immediately a customer’s account is credited or debited, the customer receives a text message indicating the exact nature of the transaction.

Customers of some banks can purchase and upload call credits on their cell phones by using SMS.

In some banks, customers can transfer money to other accounts by simply sending SMS messages.

During the redenomination exercise in Ghana, the Bank of Ghana sent text messages to Ghanaians on the exercise.

Some banks also announce new products to prospective customers through SMS technology.

SMS gaming

Recently, the National Lottery Authority (NLA) has introduced a game called ‘MobiGame’ and patrons can play by sending text messages.

SMS in healthcare

An organization known as mPedigree is developing a technology to use SMS to check on the efficacy of drugs on the Ghanaian market. Consumers can send SMS to mPedigree to check on the efficacy of a drug, and then a reply would be sent to them indicating the genuineness or otherwise of the drug.

This project aims at curbing the menace of fake drugs on the Ghanaian market and to safeguard the health of citizens.

SMS technology in agric

Busylab, a subsidiary of Busyinternet in Ghana has developed a system known as tradenet, it is an SMS platform that allows farmers and traders in agricultural products to conduct business across Africa.

One can easily access agricultural products and prices by sending a text message to a number that has been provided on the system.

SMS and elections

In some emerging democracies in Africa such as Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the SMS technology have been used to communicate election results as well as make complaints about electoral malpractices.

Some political parties have also used SMS to communicate with voters and canvass for votes.

SMS tragedies

The impact of SMS technology on Ghanaian lives though, has not always been good news. There have been some tragic outcomes resulting from text messages.

SMS technology has also brought in its wake some pain and death. SMS messages have left in their trail suspicion, bitterness and anger leading to conflicts, with some ending in bitter consequences.

Sometime ago a military man stationed at the Castle in the office of the President of Ghana, in a fist of fury and jealousy shot and killed his girlfriend and committed suicide when he read an SMS message on her phone he believed was sent by a secret lover.

There are reports that some marriages have broken because jealous lovers have chanced upon suspicious text messages on their partners’ cell phones.


There is no doubt that, either way, positive or negative, the SMS technology has made and continues to make incredible impacts on the lives of Ghanaians.

While some remarkable things are happening in some ways that we probably will never know, the cell phone companies, radio, TV stations and some event organisers are also thankfully raking in the profits and lifestyles are changing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sad day for Ghanaian journalism, but I feel vindicated

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

On Saturday, October 25, 2008, The Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), the august organization that I belong to, organized its 13th Awards Night, but without the highlight of the Night – the Journalist of the Year Award!

According to the GJA the entries submitted were of such poor quality that they did not merit the award. This development saddens me, but in the same vein it makes me feel vindicated.

The event has loudly confirmed what I have been complaining about for so long and it appears no one has been listening - the low level to which journalism has fallen in Ghana!

Lots of the people, who are practicing journalism in Ghana today, appear to be hirelings with no particular attachment to the noble profession. The same is the case with some media owners whose only supreme interest is profit. They make no attempt whatsoever to find the link between the mission of journalism which is to serve the majority of the underprivileged and change society for the good and profit. They are only motivated by profit!

And often when they achieve the mission, it is only by accident.

I remember sometime ago I wrote an article titled "In Ghana something is mightier than the pen” in which I chronicled the heroic history and development of Ghanaian journalism, citing some of the great individuals who paid their due to Mother Ghana and the noble profession.

Soon after I wrote another article titled, "How bland mediocrity succeeds on numbers in Ghana.”, in this article I criticized poor customer service and the kind of journalism that is being pushed down the throat of the good people of this beloved country. As to be expected, a Ghanaian graduate student in the United States wrote a rejoinder to this particular article and launched a scathing attack on my person without addressing the issues I raised in the article.

Not long ago, I wrote another article, "How plagiarists, pirates and profiteers invade a noble profession.”

Two people came to me to complain that the article was too harsh. But just two or three days later an incident led one of them to come back to me and thank me for writing the piece.

There is too much mediocrity in journalism in Ghana. But we refuse to admit it so we could address it.

I felt so ashamed when I was listening to the Information Minister, Asamoah Boateng admonish journalists at the event to show respect to their own organization.

I do not see why a professional belonging to an organization to which principles he or she is subjected to would flout with impunity the norms of the organization. But it happens so often in Ghana, that it has to take the Minister to call us to order.

This again, to me is another confirmation of how far Ghanaian journalism has fallen.

Because any journalist worth his or her salt who belongs to the GJA, would not only submit his or her works to professional scrutiny but more so, as a professional, when such a person falls short in the performance of his or her duty, it is only proper, legally and morally to submit yourself to sanctioning by duly constituted legal bodies.

Listening to our radio stations or watching our TV stations, one could see some great stuff coming out of them, but more often than not programming on our airwaves are becoming less edifying.

As for the majority of our newspapers, the least said about them the better.

In the name of good old noble journalism, some media organizations are practicing plagiarism as if there is no law in this country which stipulates how intellectual property ought to be treated.

The fact that the GJA cannot find any journalist worthy of recognition as journalist of the year is loud enough for the true journalists among us to stand up and be counted.

And I hope this incident would serve as a wake up call to those journalists for whom, journalism is more than just working to put bread on the table, but more than that it is a life-long commitment to serve humanity and change lives for the better.

PS: Sadly, I couldn’t enter the awards competition because the GJA did not include online journalists in any category.

Friday, October 17, 2008

UK investigates e-waste dumping in Ghana

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The United Kingdom (UK) environment authorities have initiated investigations into the dumping of e-waste into Ghana.

The Environment Agency of the UK has confirmed the ongoing investigations to me in an email response Friday October 17, 2008.

The Environment Agency has responsibility for protecting and improving the environment in England and Wales.

The Senior Press Officer responsible for environment protection, Scarlett Elworthy wrote,"Thank you for your recent inquiry about the reports of UK computers being dumped in Ghana.

Yes. The Environment Agency's National Investigations Crime Team are carrying out inquiries within England and Wales into the circumstances of the alleged illegal exports and we are pursuing a number of lines of inquiry.”

She however said she couldn’t say anything beyond confirming that indeed they are investigating the illegal exports of e-waste into Ghana.

She promised, “I will be happy to provide you with an update once the investigation has concluded.”

E-waste issue watchers believe the investigations are as a result of a report published by the Greenpeace, an environmental NGO about e-waste dumping in Ghana. The report led to public outcry in the UK, and citizens criticized the Agency for failing to do its work which was making it possible for recycling companies to export broken-down computers to Ghana.

During investigations on e-waste dumping in Ghana, some damaged computers found at the Agbogbloshie dump site in Accra had labels of the National Health Service (NHS). Some other computers with NHS labels were also found to be on sale at secondhand electronics equipment dealers’ shops in Ghana’s capital Accra.

Some of the PCs were also found to have come from UK local councils and universities, including Kent County Council, Southampton County Council, Salford University and Richmond upon Thames College’s (RUTC).

The Agency while admitting the investigations refuses to name the firms under investigation. It also denied that the investigations were prompted by media and public criticisms.

It is believed that some recycling companies in the UK after collecting broken-down computers, instead of recycling them collude with some Ghanaian business people and divert the items to Ghana to be sold cheaply.

The UK and other European countries including Germany have come under severe criticisms recently following media and other reports indicating that e-waste from their countries are being dumped in developing countries including Ghana.

And that is in spite of the fact that these countries have passed legislation over a year ago to regulate the handling of e-waste. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive stipulates that Information Technology (IT) manufacturers are legally responsible for the safe disposal of their products, and are obliged to ensure all products are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner themselves or sign up with a government-approved waste-handling firm to do it on their behalf.

But unfortunately, some of these discarded computers end up in Ghana. There is evidence that despite the more stringent regulatory regimes in the European Union, as much as 75% of the e-waste generated in the EU cannot be accounted for. Presumably, if e-waste ends up in Ghana, then it is only logical to say some of the EU’s 75% unaccounted for e-waste is being dumped in Ghana.

The Greenpeace study found that soil and water bodies at the Agbogbloshie dump site contain high levels of a cocktail of poisonous chemicals. They found levels as high as100 times more than allowable levels.

At the Agbogbloshie site, adults and children, some as young as eight years engage in dismantling brokendown computers, burning the cables to extract copper wires for sale. They do not were protective clothing as they work and therefore are exposed to heavy metals like lead, cadmium and ploybrominated flame retardants.

In April 2008 Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the setting up of a committee to draft a policy guideline to regulate e-waste in Ghana, but not much has been heard about the initiative to date, despite the escalation of the incident of dumping of e-waste in the country.

Ghana’s Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Environment, has also said it has no immediate plans of banning the importation of used computers and electronics equipment into the country, because if that is done, the prices of computers in the country would soar.

This is in spite of the suspicion among e-waste observers that the open door policy of importation of used computers into Ghana has made it possible for some individuals and organizations to smuggle obsolete and broken-down electronics equipment into the country.

At the Climate Change Conference in Ghana August 21, 2008, Ghana’s Local Government Minister Kwadwo Adjei Darko appealed to e-waste exporting countries to stop using Ghana as a dumping ground.

It is hoped that the UK example would be followed by other European countries including the United States, which is yet to ratify the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

The Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on 21 March 1989 and went into force on 5 May 1992. It establishes a framework of control over the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes.

The Convention was initiated in response to numerous international scandals regarding hazardous waste trafficking that began to occur in the late 1980s.

It has become imperative at this stage to call for a global action to curb the growing menace of e-waste dumping, because Ghana does not have the scientific and medical capacity to deal with the dangers that e-waste could possibly pose to the environment and human health.

Friday, October 3, 2008

How plagiarists, pirates and profiteers invade a noble profession

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The noble profession of journalism has been violated in Ghana! It has been so demeaned and scandalized beyond redemption anytime soon.

Ghana’s media landscape has been described variously, often in positive notes, but I am one person who has not been fooled by those high sounding accolades, indeed the media in Ghana has come a very long way, but it is not yet time to say ‘Eureka’!

If you ask me, I will tell you I am the least impressed with the state of the media in Ghana without batting an eye.

The media in Ghana has gone to the dogs! Yes! Professional journalism has been so emasculated it is suffocating under the wait of criminal activities, mediocrity, shallow mindedness and unfettered greed for profit in the name of serving the public interest.

I remember someone taking me on when I lamented about the level of mediocrity that Ghanaians are willing to put up with in as much as they are willing to dish out. Excellence in much of what we do is a far cry and we appear to be just okay with it.

Indeed, anyone who has gone to school and has learned the English language and or any other language for that matter could read and write. And even school drop-outs can also write. As a matter of fact, there are some drop-outs who write better than some PhD holders I personally know.

But the fact that one could write, and indeed write well, does not make one a journalist! Journalism involves writing, but more than that it is governed by rules that anyone who wants to practice the trade must be informed about.

Charlatans, pretenders, hoodlums and any greedy fellow who finds the media a lucrative business venture have infiltrated the noble profession in Ghana, are doing their own things, and justifying their actions by the profits they are raking in.

But it is so appalling, especially so, because most media managers in the country do not understand what journalism is all about. And that is where the plagiarists come in.

Plagiarism is the act of copying another person’s works in the form of writings and putting them up as your own. It is a crime punishable by the law. It is a copyright infringement, but it is so rampant in the media in Ghana.

Ghanaian publishers hire just anyone who can write, refuse to give them training but unleash them into newsrooms to practice journalism and they are perpetrating criminal activities in the name of journalism.

It is common to find plagiarized works in most publications, especially, the online publications. They take works by others and do not credit them appropriately; sometimes they claim ownership of the works, by deleting every reference to the original creator of the intellectual work.

In conversations and correspondences I have had with some of these managers, including some owners of these media they confess that they are not journalists and do not know the rules! I have even had some challenging me when I have questioned their actions in cases where they have stolen my works and that of my hard working colleagues.

These people and all others who indulge in this act should be reminded that, by plagiarising someone's works you are more despicable than an armed robber and a rapist!

My friend Justin told me this morning to name and shame these crooks and that’s just what I am doing.

You would be surprised to know that the culprits include the so called leading media houses with some very highly respected journalists. In fact, one very popular Ghanaian journalist once told me, “but we all do it!” And I told him, well, I don’t. And it is wrong.

You would find that even the nation’s leading newspaper the Daily Graphic is guilty. A Canadian journalist friend of mine told me of how a reporter of the Daily Graphic stole his article and presented it to his editor as his own. He called this reporter and complained to him, and he simply apologized.

Only recently, my colleagues and I in the office found a story we had worked on so hard in the Daily Graphic and every trace and reference to our organization in the story were deleted. The Daily Graphic did not credit us!

A website, ghanamusic also recently stole an article I personally wrote on Ghanaian musician Wanlov the Kubolor and presented it to ghanaweb as their own. I got to know when I saw the story on ghanaweb and complained to the webmaster. He wrote back to me insisting that the story was sent to him by ghanamusic and so if I have any complaints I should make it to ghanamusic. I have written two emails to ghanamusic and they haven’t shown the courtesy of a reply yet.

The Daily Guide also stole a large part of a story we did on the recent Kantamanto fire outbreak and presented it as interviews they did on the spot. But that’s not all, sometime ago, some of the Daily Guide’s reporters stole some stories my colleagues and I published elsewhere and put their names by them as if they wrote them. I remember calling the editor and drawing his attention to the crime and he promised it won’t happen again, but it still goes on.

Other publications like Ghana Review International, allghanadata, ghanatoday, peacefmonline are culprits.

Sometime ago I heard a story I wrote and published elsewhere being read on Peace FM without any reference to either me or the publication that first carried the story – that is plagiarism.

It is perfectly okay to use works by other people but the proper practice is to acknowledge the source. Indicate where you are getting it from. Some publications would do stories from radio sources and say ‘an Accra radio station’, this is meaningless.

Simply indicate the radio station you are quoting. They often do this because they do not want to in their ignorance publicise the radio station or in other instances the website or the newspaper in their medium. Well then, if these sources are not worth mentioning in your medium, then do not use materials from them!

Very soon, I will be taking some of these criminals on by heading to court because that is the right place to deal with thieves!

It is so sad the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and the National Media Commission (NMC) or the Copyright Office are not dealing with this matter. They probably are not because it has not been brought to their attention. Well, now I have.

The Copyright Office has been dealing with pirates of musical works. Plagiarism is the same as piracy and perpetrators must be dealt with.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Low internet penetration in Ghana is due to high cost

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi


About a year ago, precisely on September 10, 2007 I wrote an article on the above subject drawing attention to the issue of high cost of the internet in Ghana, which was published elsewhere.

In that article I emphasized on the need for government to act in concert with stakeholders in the internet industry to reduce the cost of internet services, and make it affordable so that many more Ghanaians can access the technology.

On Monday September 22, 2008, in a GNA report, Mr. Eric Akumiah, Secretary of the Internet Society, Ghana was quoted as saying that internet usage in Ghana is a mere 2.7 per cent as compared to 5.3 per cent in Africa.

And according to statistics, only 1.5 million Ghanaians have access to the internet.

Again a 2007 World Bank Report on internet usage in the world cited Ghana as one of the African countries with the lowest record of internet patronage, coming behind South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Senegal.

And Mr. Akumiah attributes the low penetration of internet in Ghana to some policies and called on government to recognize the importance of a multi-stakeholder model of decision making especially on Internet Policy Development.

Mr. Akumiah’s concern has compelled me to revisit the subject.

Cost is certainly one of the major factors in hindering the growth of the sector.

Cost as a major factor has hindered most Ghanaians access to the internet, and this, in spite of the proliferation of Information Technology Communication (ICT) in the country.

Many more Ghanaians have access to mobile telephony than they have access to the internet.

Ghana’s ICT policy

A cursory glance at Ghana’s ICT policy document shows an optimistic and encouraging picture of the future of the industry, but cost still remains a hindering factor.

While the government of Ghana through this document has factored ICT into national development and is doing what it can to accelerate growth in that sector, not many Ghanaians have access to ICT, particularly the internet.

And for ICT industry players, it is a motivating document that is obviously meant to oil the wheels of the industry and propel it into its rightful place in the overall scheme of development processes in the country.

It is a known fact that the entire world today is ICT driven. ICT is the tool that drives the major economies of the world. ICT is also transforming societies and economies of developing countries including Ghana, even though at a slower pace.

The reality and importance of ICT in development, both personal and national is widely accepted in Ghana and this importance to Ghana’s development is seen in the Government’s determination to make ICT the driving force behind the society and economy.

To drive home this point the government has set up a Ghana ICT Policy Plan Committee and given it the task of developing an ICT-led socio-economic Development Policy and Plan for the country.

This policy is intended to move the economy and the society towards a knowledge based information society and economy. And this is to be achieved within the shortest possible time.

According to the document, the government of Ghana believes that ICT has the potential to accelerate socio-economic development and the government is vigorously pursuing a multi-faceted policy in the direction of engendering growth in the sector. The government is therefore, implementing the ICT for Accelerated Development policy (ICT4AD).

The main aim of the policy is to develop an integrated ICT-led socio-economic development framework for Ghana. The policy is to induce the massive laying of infrastructure for ICT, initiate and pursue consensus building with all stakeholders as well as create the enabling environment for the accelerated growth of a knowledge based information society.

Growth trends in ICT

This policy, with government’s commitment has significantly led to a tangible growth in the ICT sector, particularly the mobile telephony sector. There is however, more room for improvement.

While the mobile telephony sector has seen a massive growth and expansion within a relatively short period, the internet sector has rather witnessed a slow growth.

Available statistics indicate that as at the end of 2007 the number of mobile phone subscribers in Ghana had hit above 7.5 million culminating in a total teledensity of about 25 per cent.

Only a very small number of Ghanaians are internet broadband customers.

Statistics from the NCA shows that as at the end of the fourth quarter of 2007 there were 376, 509 fixed telephone line users, while the number of payphones dropped from 10, 824 to 9,551 and mobile telephony hit 7,604,053.

And as at March 31st 2006, there were 3,620 internet broadband customers representing a mere 0.016% of the population of Ghana.

Obviously, this low figure is due to the inability of most Ghanaians to access internet services and products because they are expensive.

Cost of internet

The high cost of internet services and products is leaving majority of Ghanaians out of the enormous opportunities and benefits that the technology offers in education, governance, commerce and research. The production, packaging and manner of distribution of internet services make the technology expensive.

And internet services are expensive because Ghana has no nation-wide telecommunication backbone for data network which makes accessing and broadcasting bandwidth for the industry a big challenge.

National ICT backbone

Thankfully, a $70m national communications backbone project was expected to be completed in August 2008. The project is funded by the Japanese government.

It is hoped that this project when fully operational would improve mobile telephony and the quality of internet services. But it is not clear yet if it would lead to price cuts.

Start-up cost of ISP

The financial capital required to set up an Internet Service Provider (ISP) business is huge. The cost of the lowest range of Access Unit (AU) equipment required to set up a small ISP is around US$10,000 to US$15,000. The cost of renting office premises can cost the range of US$2000 monthly and so on.

Licensing fees are also high for dedicated spectrums or frequencies and even for the universal unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrum a service provider is required to pay a fee to the National Communications Authority (NCA) in the ranges of US$500 or US$300.

The cost of purchasing bandwidth is another prohibiting factor. It would cost a small ISP about US$7000 to acquire 2MB of bandwidth for rebroadcast and redistribution to its customers and often in some cases, fiber is unavailable for termination on the location of the ISP.

Some ISPs have to depend on satellite services which cost higher than fiber.

Customer access equipment also cost a fortune for many Ghanaians. Equipment for connecting to the internet at home or even the office costs between US$120 and US$500, excluding installation charges. And monthly charges are quite high for most Ghanaians.

Apart from the cost of hiring IT professionals and other staff to run an ISP, there are not many qualified for the field. All these factors contribute to make the production cost of internet services expensive and beyond the reach of a large number of the population.

Indeed, no business can thrive and grow if its production cost is higher than how much it sells the finished product, and to survive, ISPs have to price their products in ranges that would help them stay in business.

The picture can be better

The picture we have just seen is the very reason why majority of Ghanaians cannot access the internet as much as they ought to for the purposes of personal development and subsequently national development.

The situation as it stands today is slowing the pace of national growth through the use of ICT, particularly the internet.

It is no surprise that, while a great volume of business and governance issues are carried out on the internet in developed countries including some developing countries like Rwanda, the case is not the same in Ghana, because prices in these countries are even cheaper than what pertains in Ghana. In some developed countries one can easily get internet access at home for less than US$40.

National payment platform

I am aware of a number of e-commerce websites that have collapsed because Ghanaians simply do not use the platform.

Fact is, while the e-commerce platform is supposed to make business cheaper and convenient, it rather makes it expensive and irrelevant to use in Ghana.

Some of the contributing factors though include a lack of a national electronic payment platform which would facilitate e-commerce. There is also lack of faith in the electronic payment system as a result of fraud.

This challenge is however been addressed with the introduction of the E-Zwich system.

In the meantime, though, some financial institutions, and software developers are working hard to resolve the issue of an electronic payment system for the country. When realized, this will change the face of transaction on the internet in Ghana.

Some benefits of the internet

All these challenges notwithstanding, there have been some examples of the economic and social benefits of ICT that I have been aware of in this country.

I know of a young man who after he had completed Senior Secondary School (SSS), spent time at home conducting research on the internet. His research led him to find a university in the US that was offering scholarships to African students. This scholarship included a roundtrip air ticket, tuition and boarding and lodging.

This opportunity came at a time when his father was scratching his head over how to raise the money for him to attend one of our universities here in Ghana. He is currently in the US studying for a degree. That is the benefit of the internet. But that became possible because, his father could afford the service at home.

I know someone else who used the internet at the work place to procure a training programme elsewhere to enhance his performance at work.

Even the internet cafes don’t come cheap. One has to travel from home to the cafes, and in the cafes, one is confronted with lots of inconveniences and lack of privacy. Some cafes are not fitted with cooling systems and where some are, they are often not functioning properly, making the use of these cafes uncomfortable.

If we should consider the cost of traveling to and from the cafes and the accompanying inconveniences, then that makes internet services expensive to most people.

I am also aware that most graduate students of our universities do not have to go through the hassles they used to go through in the past to work on their theses because of the availability of the internet. The internet has expanded the worldview of quite a number of people. The news comes faster and easier to access and communication links have been strengthened via the internet.

Students and pupils can do their homework on the internet, because such services and facilities do exist on the internet. The internet can also facilitate high quality teaching in the classroom as well as enrich the teaching skills of teachers.

People’s lives have been enriched through internet social networking communities and some others have gained global presence through the internet, on networks like Hi5, Myspace and Facebook.

Government must join forces

Government must work at a comprehensive programme within the framework of the ICT4D to facilitate a reduction in the cost of running ISPs to make the internet cheaper and affordable for most Ghanaians.

Government should join forces with some of the private sector players in the industry who are willing to provide their expertise and in some cases platforms to accelerate the completion of the national backbone.

It is also necessary to work together with other stakeholders towards the goal of reducing cost, but maintaining quality so that the internet can reach a great number of Ghanaians.

To achieve the lofty goals of making Ghana an information and knowledge driven society and economy is a possibility, only and only when the government exhibits the political will to do what it ought to, to make the goals a reality, or else the very basis of national development in today’s world, which is ICT, would elude us.

Because, as the fact still remains in Ghana - while the internet is a good thing, most people cannot afford it.