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.