Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How time flies, some of the things I don't want to miss at Columbia

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

How time flies! It's already six months since I moved to New York to begin post-graduate studies at Columbia University and the first semester is already done!

Before I arrived here, I was briefed and adequately told what to expect, but I suspect that some things were left for me to discover by myself and I did. I discovered too soon that having left the classroom for seven years after completing undergraduate studies, it wasn't going to be easy studying at graduate level and in subjects that I have no background in like Financial Accounting!

Besides, I took it for granted that I would settle quickly in New York City because of my frequent travel experience only to realize that I wasn’t prepared to suck in the City. It occurred to me too soon that this is New York, 'the Big Apple', I still don't feel at home here and that's in spite of the fact that I live in a very comfortable apartment right in the heart of Columbia University's gorgeous campus at the center of the City.

I am also learning too soon that, one year is not a long time, no, it is not. I have just done six months, and unfortunately, as I look ahead to the end of the programme, I am beginning to feel some amount of trepidation – there were some things I didn’t want to miss out on, but it looks like I might have to do more to avoid missing them. I wanted to fully enjoy the city by visiting all the important places and making new friends, I mean good friends that I can take along the rest of my life, but even though I have met some great people here, had some great lunches and dinners, it doesn’t quite seem to me that I have become friends with these incredible people, maybe I am wrong on this, and I will be happy to be wrong.

So far I have been to only a few places, and not too many of the great restaurants in the City yet. I ate once in Chef Yu’s Restaurant on the 8th Avenue and West 42nd Street and the food was great. I also loved the set up of the restaurant, spacious and comfortable.

Even though I am a student both at the Journalism and Business Schools, the programme is structured in a way that I have to take most of my courses at the Business School, and as a result I am missing out on the Journalism School, something I didn’t expect to happen.

Meanwhile, the Business School has a great active networking strategy, but I feel like I am losing out on that as well. The Cluster and Learning Team systems of the School is a great way to stay connected in Columbia but I don’t seem to have maximized that in as much as I would like to, I had hoped to learn some new things and polish my guitar playing skills while here, even though I had contacted a private teacher to give me private tuition, met a friend who wants us to play jams together on campus, I have not been able to – but I have six more months to go and I do hope to make amends.
And before I am done, I am missing some people already - I am missing my amazing Cluster mates. There are some awesome people in the Cluster who have been so good to me, some have been there for me in very difficult times. I am also missing some of the Peer Advisors (PAs) already even before I am done, wish I could mention names here, but for fear of leaving some names out I won’t even start.

Some of the Professors and Academic Staff do so much to make students go through their studies here smoothly. I have come to know some of them well enough to say they are great people.

At least I can mention the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship Program on which I am privileged to be here. The Director, Terri Thompson and her ever supportive Program Coordinator Gary Hill are never to be forgotten duo. They are doing everything possible to make me and my fellow Bagehots as we are called to sail through the program successfully. And these Fellows are a never to be missed ‘crowd’. Wonderful people to be around, I don’t want to miss the chances of spending much more time with them.

Columbia is a great place to be and I hope to make the best of the second and final semester of the program, so help me God.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Taught by Ira Millstein, a Colossus in Corporate Governance

Prof. Ira Millstein
I knew my time at Columbia University would be memorable, but even before the end of A Term of the First Semester, I am having incredible encounters that would stick with me for a very long time, and one of them is meeting the Colossus of American corporate governance, Prof. Ira Millstein.

Prof. Millstein taught me Corporate Governance together with Holly Gregory. These Americans are in my view the epitome and repository of knowledge and competence on matters relating to corporate governance.

The two taught the subject with such depth and passion that left me wondering about the little I knew about the subject before the class began. I have heard about corporate governance and attended a couple of workshops on the subject, but I had until meeting Millstein and Gregory never thought it was far more important than it had been made to appear from all the other times I have heard about the subject.

Prof. Millstein's personality is literally conjoined to the subject. There is a Millstein Centre dedicated to him at Columbia and an annual Millstein Corporate Governance Forum instituted since 2006 at the Columbia Law School where he has been teaching for a long time now.

Prof. Millstein, is a man of character, with intent for greater good and an asset not only to the American people but to the world. Despite his advanced age, I suspect he must be in his 70s, is still alert and consistent and very logical in his line of argument.

During class discussions with other experts, (he invited various people with expertize in different aspects of corporate governance to lecture the class) and he knows when to interject with a comment or question. Never have I seen him for once drift off from the main issue on discussion.

Great people like Prof. Millstein gives hope to the world and humanity, especially in these trying times when the US government has been shut down, and in my own country, Ghana, the news coming out points to a gloomy economy, with the government being accused of not setting its priorities right. The Ghana government has also raised the cost of utilities and other taxes, because it says it needs to pay for the cost of producing the services, and it has a widening budget deficit - in 2012 the government run a deficit of almost 12 percent and as at the end of August 2013 the budget deficit stood at 7.3 percent.

Meanwhile, this same government has been reported to be literally throwing money at its cronies in very suspicious and almost phony national enterprises and projects. And while some of these transactions have been found to be phony, no one has been arrested yet or punished - a very bad example of corporate governance, and it appears we haven't seen the last questionable deal yet, many more are yet to be exposed by the few yet to be compromised journalists who are already coming under great pressure to accept huge gifts like some others have and keep mute.

In such difficult moments, Prof. Millstein gives hope to some of us, who have found ourselves on the side of the people. The majority who are voiceless, and depend on the established order, that is governments to ensure the atmosphere for their existence through the proper administration of public funds and individual investments.

The few in public office and in big business, who control so much of the world's wealth and resources, who swear to the laws of their countries to perform their duties with due diligence and in upholding the law, but fail to do so, not only hurt the people but are more likely to end up in ignominy.

Corporate governance is so important that its pursuance and enforcement should be done with all the passion and dedication necessary for attaining very high levels of efficiency, to protect lives and investments and ensure economic growth.

The ripples of the financial crisis that hit America and Europe in 2008 are still being felt, and the conducts that lead to that incident were clearly in violation of good corporate governance principles among which includes accountability.

Prof. Millstein has made an indelible impact on me, after I have taken his class. On the last day of the class, he organised a party for us and told us he will miss us. I know the class will miss him too. And I will from now on, never write or talk about corporate governance without making reference to Prof. Millstein. He is indeed a Colossus of corporate governance and America and the world owes him gratitude not only for his intellectual contributions to corporate governance, but also for his ethical stand on the issues. He is a good man and the world has been impacted to a large extent by his immeasurable contributions to corporate governance and now I have had the glorious benefit of learning at his feet.

According to his biography, Prof. Millstein who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1949 is the director of the Columbia Law School and Columbia Business School Program on Global, Economic & Regulatory Interdependence.

He is a senior partner at the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and he has counseled numerous boards on issues of corporate governance.

His biography notes that he has counselled among others, the boards of General Motors, Westinghouse, Bethlehem Steel, WellChoice (fka, Empire Blue Cross), the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), Tyco International, the Walt Disney Co., the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Ford Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

He is a member of the board of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center and serves as pro bono counsel to the board of directors of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency overseeing the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan.

He was appointed by former Governor George Pataki as chairman of a New York State Commission on Public Authority Reform, which led to the 2009 Public Authorities Reform Act, and he currently serves as chairman of the governor's task force overseeing implementation of the Act.

In addition to his active legal practice, Millstein is the senior associate dean for corporate governance and the Theodore Nierenberg Adjunct Professor of Corporate Governance at the Yale School of Management.

In November 2006, the School of Management renamed its corporate governance center the Millstein Center for Corporate Governance and Performance in honor of Millstein. He is the chairman emeritus, having served as chairman from 1999 to 2005, of the Private Sector Advisory Group to the Global Corporate Governance Forum founded by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He served as chairman of the OECD Business Sector Advisory Group on Corporate Governance from 1997 to 1998 and as co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Improving the Effectiveness of Corporate Audit Committees (sponsored by the New York Stock Exchange and the National Association of Securities Dealers) in 1998–1999.

In 1997, he was appointed by Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to the U.S.-Russia Capital Markets Forum Working Group on Investor Protection. In 1996, Millstein chaired the National Association of Corporate Directors' blue ribbon commission on director professionalism.

Prof. Millstein is a gift to humanity and I am grateful for the opportunity to be taught by him.

If you ever get to read this blog, Prof. Ira Millstein, remember that I will miss you too, and I will forever remain grateful that you have taught me.

Thank you.

PS: When I wrote this blog I only assumed Prof. Millstein would be above 70 years. I have later been told that he is 87 years.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The America I came to, three months away from home

On Columbia University campus.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

I have not written on my blog for a long time now. While I still can't find time due to the heavy load of academic work, I am going an extra mile this Sunday evening to write something. Something I believe you will enjoy reading and probably learn something from.

As I was growing up, I have always wanted to travel around the world - probably a dream I have just like most children do, and this dream might have been influenced by what we read in books or see on TV. And as much as that was a big ambition, it was a far away dream for someone like me. That was almost an impossibility, a mirage. Meanwhile, I have been told several times that I have a bright future, but the realities of my circumstances made that future dim.

My dream of travelling around the world took a long time to come, while I have had the opportunity to travel around the 10 regions of Ghana reporting on issues from the environment, women and children.

The realities around me almost made my hopes of travelling around the world a pipe dream.

There were times when I have vacillated between very high optimism and the very low ebbs of despair and despondency. There were times in my life that I have almost given up. Moreso, because I have chosen a profession that in my country is often rewarded only when you do it wrong. The only way I have been repeatedly told I could 'succeed' as a journalist is not to tell the truth, not to expose wrongdoing by powerful people, and to accept bribes in various forms. There are many 'journalists' who have 'succeeded' that way, by receiving bribes from corrupt politicians and crooked business people and cronies of people in power.

I have not made money from journalism yet, but the most elating experiences of my career in more than the two decades of practice were not when I have made any material gains but moments when I have alerted the public to danger, dug out and shared useful information and broke some news ahead of others. I have not made money from journalism, but I have kept faith with the profession and it appears the profession is keeping faith with me, no matter how long it took - my patience and endurance are paying off - and some of this characteristics I owe to my Late mother. May her soul continue to rest in peace. She has always told me to be patient. I was a hot-headed little boy, impatient at everything and everyone around me. I am glad I listened to her.
I have continued to do journalism even though I have had opportunities to switch to other careers. There is nothing I love more than writing. And indeed, the fact that journalism has the ability to do good, to speak for the downtrodden and voiceless; groups that I have a strong affinity with, probably because of my background growing up in challenging circumstances.

Today, as I write this blog, I am living in New York City, 'The Big Apple'. And I am beginning to realise that living in New York City is every American's dream."It's the place to be", someone had told me. This makes me feel lucky or even blessed.

Besides, I am not only living in New York City but studying at Columbia University, an Ivy League institution rated this year as the World's 10th Best University.

Coming to America after a whirlwind travel around the world in the last two years has been a real big change. A change for the better, I hope and an indication that 'A prophet is not honoured by his own people'. I have mostly felt mistreated and unappreciated in my own country, in spite of the evidence of my contributions to the country's good at my own expense.

In the last three months that I have been living and studying in America, I have come face-to-face with the realities that confront humans everywhere. Despite travelling around the world and meeting different people in different cultures I am still dealing with culture shock in America - details of which I would write about at a latter date.

I am having issues with the food. At one point I almost threw up in class soon after lunch and that has compelled me to do my own cooking at home these days. I eat less outside.

But more importantly, since coming to Columbia I have made some great friends, people around whom I feel very comfortable and happy to be with. My colleagues in the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship and some Cluster mates at the Columbia Business School. There are other really amazing people outside my cluster who have made me feel welcome. Some of the professors and staff of Columbia make life so easy for me.

There are these special people who have made me to feel like I was family and I can't help but mention them, the Maxwells - Dan, Joyce and their children, Patrick and Clare. I spent a weekend with the Maxwells in Boston. There are also Karen Dean and her husband Nathan Waxman who hosted me for two weeks at their apartment before I moved to campus.

I am not done yet with my transition into American society, one academic year looks like a long time, and it has only been three months.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

GMO promoters winning as major opponent switches camp and Ghana digs heels

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

It could be described as a battle to control food security. It could even be seen as a game in which the best and skilful players are maneuvering to take over the entire food production and supply chain with multinationals with all the money, power and influence to do so in the lead.

It could also be seen as major scientific breakthroughs in food production to ensure global food security, but the debate over the safety and sustainability of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has seen some drama in recent months.

Major turn-around

One of the world’s leading critics of GMO has now become a supporter. The man, Mark Lynas, who is a known climate change campaigner, is now calling on some African countries to embrace biotechnology as a tool to ensure food security.

Lynas is the author of the globally acclaimed book, ’60 Degrees’, which has been translated into 26 languages.

Lynas was reported to have said at Makerere University in Uganda that he changed his mind to stop opposing GM when he realised that scientists, upon whom he depended for climate information, were united in supporting GM technology.

According to him, GM technology offers more benefits to humanity and the environment than dangers.

What is GMO?

The non-profit organisation NON-GMO describes GMOs  “genetically modified organisms,” as plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.

Ghana speeds up GMO efforts

Ghana is one of the African countries that is embarking on a GMO crusade. The country quietly passed the biosafety law on December 31, 2011. Information available to says officials of the country’s Ministry of Agriculture were not even consulted before the law was rushed and passed. They made no input into the law.

The Law, from the Biosafety Act, 831, 2011 will enable Ghana to allow the application of biotechnology in food crop production involving Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) to enter food production.

And  less than two years after passing the law Ghana has started digging its heels in pursing GMOs. The country has started field trials of some crops. According to the Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, the country has approved four crops to undergo GMO confined field trials (CFTs).

A Director at the Ministry, Mr Eric Amaning Okoree, has said that rice, sweet potato, cotton and cowpea have so far been approved for CFTs. He was speaking in a presentation at a panel discussion organised by the US Embassy in Accra.

Limited field trials for genetically modified cotton and rice crops in selected areas of the country have already started.

Field trials for Bt. rice which commenced in June is taking place in Fumesua in the Ashanti Region, while field cultivation for Bt. cotton, which also started June 30, 2013, are still ongoing at six locations in six districts of the country.

The sites and districts are Kpalkore in the Mion District, Natagu in the Saboba District; Walewale, West Mamprusi District; Pieng, Sissala East District; Pulima, Sissala West and Yobzeri in the Tolon District, all in Ghana’s Northern Region.

Confined on-station field trials have also been approved in Ghana and structures already put in place for Bt. Cowpea as well as for High Protein Sweet Potato, although planting is yet to start, according to Dr. Emmanuel Chamba, Plant Breeder and Principal Investigator for Bt Cotton research at the CSIR-Savanna Agric. Research Institute (SARI), Nyankpala in Tamale.

The US debates

While in Ghana, there is insignificant opposition and debate about GMOs, in the US, there are worries and intense discussions.

Prof. Jeff Wolt, Professor of Agronomy and Toxicology, Biosafety Institute for Genetically Modified Agricultural Products, Iowa State University has said in 2011 that there are no known dangers from GMOs.

He said in the United States 93% of soybean and over 70% of corn are genetically modified and he said the country has regulatory mechanisms that regulate the safety of GMOs. He indicated that the US started commercializing GMOs in 1996, arguing that scientists have evaluated GMOs and they cannot find any risks. He was of the view that questions about safety are a judgement concerning the perceived risks of GMOs. According to him, scientists have done evaluations and can see no reason that GMOs that are grown in the US and other parts of the world cannot be considered as safe.

He said “there are negligible risks in GMOs, because there are no risks to the population.”

On it’s front page of today August 6, 2013, the Epoch Times of New York reports that the city has joined the GMO labeling debate. The paper starts the report in these words, “No one today can tell if the food they buy is made from genetically modified organisms(GMOs), unless they buy organic food.” In other words organic products are labeled but GMOs are not.

According to the paper three quarters of processed foods on store shelves in the US contain GMO based ingredients, adding that no scientific consensus exists on the safety of GMOs.

The paper adds that while some independent studies claim they are safe, others have identified a range of hazards, including cancer, infertility, and birth defects.

There are some Americans who even believe that GMOs might be responsible for the country’s obesity challenges.

Some even believe that the promotion of GMOs are a subtle attempt to control the world’s population.

“Most genetically modified foods also contain the herbicides they were engineered to resist, the health effects of which are likewise uncertain,” the paper says.

The paper citing a Washington-based non-profit, Food & Water Watch reports that despite overwhelming public support for GMO labeling as shown in dozens of surveys conducted in more than a decade, the effort to get GMOs labeled has met with resistance at the federal level with support of over half a billion dollars spent on lobbying by biotechnology giants like Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical.

So far in the US, only Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO labeling laws.

Meanwhile, GM corn or maize now makes about 81% of the trade in crops globally and 89% of the soybean supplied between 2009 and 2010 was from GM corn countries, available data shows.

Data also shows that international trade in GM seeds has grown to about $42 billion.

Data from the Iowa State University indicates that more than 70 countries in the world have harmonised their seed policies and regulations since 1992.

As the battle goes on, it is clear that promoters of GMOs are winning, but for how long?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ghana government is visionless, clueless and exploitative

...attempt to amend Communications Service Tax shows

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

The Ghana government’s attempt to amend the Communications Service Tax Act clearly shows that it is clueless, visionless and intent on exploiting Ghanaians at home and abroad.

That is notwithstanding the fact that Ghanaians living abroad have become major contributors to the country’s economy.

The government after setting a 6.7% budget deficit target for 2012, overrun it to almost 100% by spending more than the revenue it generated.

The budget deficit was as a result of increased salaries, lower income taxes, utility and fuel subsidies, according to the Bank of Ghana.

After creating a deficit of nearly 12 per cent -  it seems to be looking for easy ways to make money, when it has not shown responsible stewardship of monies it is already holding. The government which is on record to be doling out money  to its cronies and financiers of the party in power the National Democratic Congress under questionable circumstances, does not seem to have the creativity and economic competence to find other reasonable sources of raising revenue.

The government in the past week sought to amend some provisions in the Communications Service Tax Act, 2008 (Act 754) to clarify the scope and coverage of the tax and include interconnection services within the tax base.

According to the government the Bill seeks to exact additional levies on international calls and data transmission, as well as address revenue losses as a result of loopholes in that Act.

The government is seeking to charge some six cents on every minute of calls originating from outside Ghana, to make up for losses close to Ghȼ45 million every month due to irregular and fraudulent activities in that sector, it says.

As the debate was going on in Parliament, the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications warned that the cost of telecoms services could rise if the Communication Service Tax (CST) Amendment Bill currently before parliament is passed.

The bill imposes a six per cent tax in addition to the existing surcharge of six cents per minute which government collects on international calls.

“If parliament passes the CST Amendment Bill it would lead to a substantial increase in the cost of telecommunications services, if operators pass on the cost to consumers,” the Chamber said in a statement July 3, 2013.

Between June 2008 when the law became operational and December 2009, the government announced that it had raked in an amount of over GH¢114 million from the Communication Service Tax, and 20 per cent of the tax revenue was to be given to the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP), and recent developments have shown how the NYEP is using its money.

It is unthinkable, to say the least, that the government wants to put an additional tax on calls made by people in other countries to Ghana, including mostly, Ghanaians living abroad, when they are already paying a levy.

According to the World Bank, nearly 825,000 Ghanaians are living abroad, the number could be more if undocumented migrants from the country are included and they contribute so much to the country’s economy.

It is estimated that Ghanaians living abroad sent remittances or private unrequited transfers (net) of about $2.12 billion in 2010.

Remittances from Ghanaians abroad is above the total amount of  Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), consisting of loans and grants from donors, even though, ODA accounts for about 42% of the national budget.

The Bank of Ghana reports in 2009 show that remittance inflows amounted to $1.6 billion, higher than the World Bank’s recorded $1.5 billion and almost 10 times the $114 million recorded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Figures obtained by from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, show that in 2010 the total amount of ODA the country received was $1.8 billion.

The breakdown as provided by the Ministry is as follows: Grants – $612 million; and Loans – $1,242 billion.

The contributions of Ghanaians abroad should be complemented by prudent and responsible financial management to derive maximum benefits for the country, increasing taxes on citizens abroad who are already supporting the economy is disingenuous – what the government must do, is to work with money transfer companies to cut their remittance charges, to make it cheaper to send money into Ghana from abroad.

A World Bank study has found that Ghana together with South Africa and Tanzania have higher remittance prices with prices averaging 19 per cent on cost of sending money to Ghana.

The World Bank attributed the high remittance prices to the limited competition in the market for cross-border payments.

“Remittance prices are even higher between African nations. South Africa, Tanzania, and Ghana are the most expensive sending countries in Africa, with prices averaging 20.7 percent, 19.7 percent, and 19 percent respectively, due to several factors including limited competition in the market for cross-border payments,”  said the World Bank’s Send Money Africa database.

Following debates in Parliament, the government has withdrawn the bill “to seek further stakeholder consultations before the House considers the amendments sought to the legislation passed in 2008,” the Ghana News Agency reported, despite the fact that it sent the bill to Parliament under a ‘Certificate of Urgency’.

The GNA citing reliable sources in the Majority caucus in Parliament also said, consideration of the bill had been put on hold owing to concerns by stakeholders that approval of the legislation would amount to double taxation of consumers who are already paying tax on every minute of talk time. That indicates that the bill would resurface and possibly passed.

But it goes to show that the Ghana government lacks vision and is clueless about how to raise money to efficiently run the economy. Taxing phone calls for now, looks like an easy and cheaper way to rake in money, which the government is more likely to mismanage, much to the disadvantage of long-suffering Ghanaians.

There are six mobile phone operators in Ghana and among them, they have about 26 million subscriptions.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

As Obama pledges $7b for energy in Africa, where is the $63b pledge for health care?

President Barack Obama
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

President, Barack Obama is in Africa for the second time since becoming President of the United States of America and he is pledging funds to help the continent. This time, he is pledging $7 billion to deal with the energy crisis in sub-Sahara Africa.

"More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, and more than 85% of those living in rural areas lack access," a statement from the White House has said.

Sub-Saharan Africa will need more than $300 billion to achieve universal electricity access by 2030, the statement added.

This was how the CNN captured the pledge in its reportage: “US President Barack Obama pledged $7 billion Sunday to help combat frequent power blackouts in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Funds from the initiative, dubbed ‘Power Africa’, will be distributed over the next five years, it said.

Most countries in sub-Sahara Africa have huge power deficits leading to constant power outages. These outages are affecting lifestyles and industries. Businesses are losing millions of dollars in revenue and investments as a result.

President Obama is no doubt a charismatic leader. He seems passionate about making a positive impact on the world, but is he getting as much as he wants done? Would this new $7 billion pledge materialize?

These questions are necessary because when Obama first came to Ghana in 2009, he made a financial pledge to fix Africa’s broken health care sector, with particular emphasis on public health. He made a pledge of a whopping $63 billion.

Making his policy speech on Africa in Ghana’s Parliament in Accra Saturday July 11, 2009, he said even though enormous progress has been made on the continent in health care and many more people with HIV/AIDS still live productive lives and are getting the drugs they need, “too many still die from diseases that shouldn’t kill them, when children are being killed because of mosquito bites and mothers are dying in child birth, then we know that more progress must be made."

If that pledge has been fulfilled, it would be worthwhile to know how much of that has been disbursed. It would also be useful to examine what benchmarks were set to attain the goals for which the amount was pledged and if it was ever given, to look out for what has been achieved so far after nearly three years.

It is one thing to pledge, and it is another thing to deliver on the pledge. Before another celebration is
organized for this new initiative, looking at the very critical situation of Africa's energy challenges, and in the  light of the truth, there should be compelling reasons to seek to know what happened with the $63 billion pledge to support the health care sector in Africa.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How the Internet and new media bolstered my journalism career

Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

I have not written a blog for a long time. It is because I have been taken away into other things that demand much of my time. I however hope you will enjoy this latest one. 

When I began writing, I knew I wanted to take it as far as possible. But I also knew that apart from my commitment to the essential requirements of the writing profession, like being ethical, responsible, objective, fair and fearless, there was something else that I wasn’t quite sure of.

As I trudged on the path of writing and journalism, I grew to love my job, my profession. One of the things that built the connection between me and journalism was my strong love for words - words strewn together beautifully and meaningfully. And journalism uses words, but more importantly, because journalism and writing are known to be powerful tools of transformation.

I taught myself to write in 1985. I started writing poetry. No one taught me to do so. All the poetry I have ever learned before then was in Middle School, which I completed in 1983.

However, I was introduced to writing articles; and then news, when I met Mr. Kweku Howard, who later directed me to Step Magazine, a youth magazine which first started in Kenya and later was published in Ghana as well. The Managing Editor of Step Magazine, Mr. Lawrence Darmani, immediately noticed the writer in me and offered me an internship with the magazine in 1990 and my writing career took off.

Since then I have never looked back. I have had the privilege of working with Mr. G. B. K. Owusu, the longest serving editor of the Christian Messenger newspaper – he served for over 30 years. He took great interest in me, supported, guided and nurtured my writing skills.

I have been writing in the last 23 years and have written for every single important national newspaper in Ghana. I have contributed to some foreign publications around the world as well - including in Kenya and far away Australia.  I have been on TV and radio shows including the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Netherlands, but it was the Internet and new media that made my career to blossom. The Internet took me to the world!

When I began professional writing in 1990 with my internship at Step Magazine, we didn’t have the Internet. Computers were not even common in Ghana. Only a privileged few had access to computers – I was one of the lucky few that had access to computers at work. But there was no Internet, and for the most part journalism in all other forms was limited to print, TV and radio. These have their limitations, in terms of reach, but the Internet changed all that.

And despite winning a national award in 1994 - the First Prize of the Media Features on Children Award of the Ghana National Commission on Children, the impact of my work didn't go as far as it could have.

However, in 1998 three Internet Service Providers (ISPs) started offering services in Ghana.  They were Network Computer Systems, Africa Online and Ghana Internet Services, but at this stage, the service was exclusive, expensive and very slow- they targeted mostly corporate organizations and wealthy individuals, the ordinary Ghanaian was left out of the bracket.

I remember later in the year 2000, some individuals could get email addresses at the Balme Library of the University of Ghana, Legon. They could however, only access their emails at certain times. It was sort of rationed.

Nevertheless, even with that amount of progress, Internet access in Ghana was still limited, expensive and prohibitive for many Ghanaians including myself.  Only few companies and citizens could afford ‘high speed’ Internet, never mind how slow it was.

The Internet brought with it so many opportunities including online journalism and social media.

It was around this time that I managed to get my first Hotmail account – it was the most popular web based free email service available at that time. Thanks to Joyce Maxwell, an American citizen with whom I worked on the FOELINE, a magazine of Friends of the Earth, Ghana. I created my first email account on her laptop!

But as the Internet became even more popular and more companies and services started operations in the sector, access became even more common, but was still slow and expensive – and what that meant was that most Ghanaians couldn’t afford to spend lots of time online, until sometime later when the Internet became more available and affordable.

That was the time when blogging became popular with some class of Ghanaians. I created my first blog account in 2007, but forgot the password soon after, but the article that I posted on the blog became popular on the Internet.  It was an article I wrote about the side effects of telecommunication masts on human health. I later came across a blog which copiously cited this article.

I still had very little access to the Internet at that time because of cost. The only way I could access the Internet was an Internet café, where I would browse my emails quickly, search for information, print them out or put them on a floppy disk or burn onto CD.

But all that changed when I joined as an online journalist. I had unlimited access to the Internet and there was the freedom to write and I did write. There was little interference from management in professional work. I have subsequently created another blog and have received lots of feedback to my posts.

When I joined the website, there were a handful of feature articles on the Features page. One was an article culled from the Mirror newspaper asking how romantic Ghanaian men are and it sat there for a very long time with no updates, until I began posting articles.  I started posting some of my own articles – the article on the economic value of shea nut in Ghana, one on motivating health care workers, the effects of the Slave Trade on Africa’s economy, the article on gender and then the one on e-waste dumping in Ghana.

I wrote and published short stories and poems as well on the website. And then I began receiving emails and phone calls from within the country and around the world. And even at this point, I hadn’t started using social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. I was cautious. Though I signed up for Twitter at some point, I wasn’t using it frequently and so I forgot the password!

By the end of 2008, I have established a global network of well-wishers who showed appreciation for my works and writing style which they found on the Internet.

I made friends and attracted potential employers as well. The Internet brought me to the world!

I had my first job as a ‘Fixer’ for a German TV station, Proseiben. The crew told me they got to know about me from the Green Peace in Holland. As a matter of fact, I do not know anyone at the Green Peace before then. Apparently, people at Green Peace were familiar with my works online. I later came into contact though, with its director, the South African human rights activist Kumi Naidoo. We met first in Accra at the Aid Effectiveness Conference in 2008 and later in Durban South Africa.

While before the Internet, I would not see invitation letters addressed to me, through the Internet, these reach me directly through my email account, further opening wider doors for my career to blossom.

The Internet and new media have shot my career up and brought my ‘brand’ of journalism to the world, an indication that the Internet and new media can be used for good, and whosoever wishes, can use these to showcase what they’ve got.

If we didn't have the Internet, my works would probably not reach and benefit the world.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Shame of the Nation Address

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Fellow Ghanaians, the President has given 'The State of the Nation Address', his supporters and party members are applauding him. But listening to some ordinary Ghanaians on the streets and on social media, it is easy to tell that they are not impressed. Others have simply described it as 'business as usual'.

As a citizen of this great nation, I am invoking my rights under Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution to express my views on the state of affairs of our country.

And before anyone questions my right to have a contrary view to the President on the state of affairs of our country, especially those who would demand to know what I have been doing to make the nation any better, I will not hesitate to point to such individuals, who are  also exercising their rights to free expression that I have been making in my view what is my 'widow's mite' of contributions to this country as a journalist. I am indeed making sacrifices in the line of duty to keep citizens informed, educated and entertained by breaking important news, writing and exposing some of the dangers in our society to alert citizens and to call for solutions to them. All these I have done for over four years without receiving compensation. While on the contrary, experts who are paid to solve the nation's problems, apparently look on helplessly, and in some instances unconcerned, while the majority of our citizenry suffer needlessly from lack of some of the basic necessities of life like potable water, sanitation facilities and inadequate electricity power supply.

Fastest growing economy

After 56 years of independence, it is shameful for Ghana to be in this current condition. The country was the fastest growing economy in the world in 2011 with a GDP growth rate of 14 percent. When the 2012 estimates are concluded, the country is expected to grow above 8 percent. While the numbers are looking good, there are no visible impacts of this growth on the majority of Ghanaians. There are no direct impacts on the standard of living of many Ghanaians.


Some sources elsewhere put foreign direct investments into the country in all the sectors at $32 billion and supported with investments from the oil sector. Revenue from oil, even though contributing a mere 1 percent of GDP has significantly contributed to this growth,and yet the country of about 24 million people can't find alternatives or solutions to its energy crisis. Despite this growing level of FDI into the country, the manufacturing sector is literally dead. FDI inflows into the country haven't stimulated appreciable growth in industry to create jobs.

Water and Sanitation

Water and sanitation facilities are inadequate, endangering the lives of 1000s of children under the age of five every year.

Currently, 19 out of every 100 Ghanaians openly defecate daily, either in the morning or evening or both, bringing the total figure to about five million a day, and  according to figures released by the Water and Sanitation Programme of the World Bank in April 2012, Ghana loses $79 million annually as a result of open defecation, making the country the fifth highest among 18 African countries analysed by the Bank.

The development charity, WaterAid, says although from 1990 to 2010 the population of Ghana grew by 9.4 million, only 2.3 million people secured access to sanitation over the same period.  In total, it says nearly 21 million (86%) out of Ghana’s 24 million people are without access to a safe improved toilet, while almost 50% use shared latrines and 19% practice open defecation.

In the last couple of months water is being rationed in the capital, just as electricity power is.

Uncompleted donor financed projects

The government applies for loans and grants to do projects that would improve the quality of lives of Ghanaians, but these projects are not completed on time, because government officials assigned to these projects are not working, they are playing what we call in Ghana 'delaying tactics' for reasons best known to themselves. The World Bank recently expressed its frustration with the government when it published the status of projects and programmes it is sponsoring in the country. About 50 percent of projects expected to be completed in three years are still uncompleted up to five years since they were started, some are even running into eight to nine years and meanwhile, $1.5 billion approved by the Bank for these projects are still sitting idle in accounts. This is only what is known from the World Bank. If all the other development partners would be bold enough to reveal the state of affairs of projects they are financing, it would not paint a good picture of the state of affairs in our country.


Despite the increased knowledge about the role of energy in industrialization, it is curious seeing the current distressing situation where power is rationed irrationally in the country. Small businesses can't grow to make the necessary impact on the economy because of the lack of regular supply of energy. In some places power is available fewer days in a working week, far and in-between during productive periods, denying small businesses the opportunity to be productive.

The country rushed to start commercial production of oil when plans could have been made to trap and use the natural petroleum gas from the oil field, just as Trinidad and Tobago has done, making it the world's leading supplier of gas. The country depends on the Akosombo dam which was built more than four decades ago, which has exceeded its capacity. A couple of thermal plants that have to depend on the irregular West Africa Gas Pipeline, have been shut, because the West Africa Gas Project has been out of order for some months now due to some accident offshore. The thermal plants can't be powered because gas is not flowing from the pipeline.

Businesses and citizens are bearing the brunt of what can arguably be called poor leadership, as most people have to sleep in the dark. There is also shortage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), and most families are unable to cook food - an obvious possible situation that can lead to deforestation as some people might be compelled to return to using charcoal or wood fuel for cooking.

Budget deficit

It is a painful ritual the country has to go through every election year. The dust on the 2012 election has barely settled and the government is known to have overrun its budget. Provisional figures show a government budget deficit of 12.1 percent of GDP, which is over 80 percent of the target of 6.7 percent of GDP. This has led to downgrades of the country's credit outlook by ratings agencies Fitch and Moody's.

Fellow Ghanaians, as hard working and law abiding citizens, we deserve better than these and we must demand higher quality leadership from people at the helm of affairs in our great country.

The police

The Ghana Police Service, which has the constitutional mandate to check crime, has sadly become part of the problem. Bribery is rife among Police officers and the service is so slow to respond to alarms on crime, situations that seem to have emboldened criminals who have become brazen in their approach, attacking and robbing citizens at will. Speak to most victims of crime in this country and they will tell you horrible tales of their experiences when they called on the Ghana Police to report their ordeals. Most leave the stations feeling like they are the criminals. Our police men and women show little empathy for victims of crime, especially victims of domestic and sexual violence, even though a special unit in the service has been created to deal with such matters.

Education and Health

Fellow citizens, Ghana's education system used to be among the best in the world. Sometime ago, the Queen of England was reported to have wanted her son, Prince Charles to come and study at the University of Ghana, but the University couldn't admit him because of the demands for his accommodation and security issues. He requested to use an entire floor.

In those days, graduates of even our basic education system were sufficiently and effectively well educated and functional, but that can't be said of most of the products of the system today. Products of our education system have virtually no ethics, always looking to cut corners and make quick bucks.

Education facilities have become inadequate, either as a result of poor planning or mismanagement. The morale of teachers is generally low.

A UNESCO report on education shows that comparing Ghana to South Korea, the country’s education sector has stagnated.

In a summary, the report says “‘Whilst both countries had a similar starting point in the early 1970s Ghana has lagged behind since then. The Republic of Korea began to expand its secondary system rapidly in the 1970s, but in Ghana the secondary education gross enrolment ratio stagnated at around 40% for another thirty years.”

The report attributing Ghana’s lack of progress in education as partly due to the result of economic problems, said it was also because of insufficient investment in education or linking of economic planning with skills development policies.

The same report shows that a large population in Ghana can’t read a sentence after leaving school as recently as in 2008.

“In Ghana, for example, over half of women and over one-third of men aged 15 to 29 who had completed six years of school could not read a sentence at all in 2008. A further 28% of the young women and 33% of the young men could only read part of a sentence,” it says.

Our health facilities have been left to crumble. Most medical facilities do not have basic equipment to work with, and even though the country spends millions of dollars in training medical professionals, most are often not motivated enough to stay in the country to work.

The health insurance scheme introduced in the country and hailed across the world is likely to grind to a halt, riddled with mismanagement and corruption it is faced with possible bankruptcy, a World Bank report has warned.

Fellow Ghanaians, I can go on and on to talk about nepotism, cronyism, the inability of the state to confront public sector corruption head-on, the poor performance of state prosecutors in trying cases of fraud against the state, the financial mismanagement and waste in the system, the indiscipline in the army as expressed in soldiers attacking and assaulting police officers, the carnage on our roads.

Having mentioned that, the Road Safety Commission, has sometime ago announced a beauty pageant in response to the increasing road traffic accidents in the country. The Commission believes that a beauty pageant can help reduce road traffic accidents in Ghana.

More than 1,800 people die annually while 14,500 people are injured through accidents on the country’s roads. The socio-economic costs of road accidents are estimated at 1.6 per cent of Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the Commission believes that a beauty pageant will offer solutions.


Another canker dissipating our energies and resources is the hydra-headed beast called partisanship. Ghana is so partisan that the President during a meeting with Ghanaians resident in Ethiopia in January 2012 mentioned the issue which is a major challenge to our moving forward. Most people are given important public sector positions not because they are competent, but because they are political party members and the party they belong to is in power.

People belonging to opposing parties are not expected to make their views known on national issues.
Supporters of ruling parties praise everything governments do, whether it serves us well or not. They see nothing wrong with their governments and see everything wrong with the opposition and it is the same with the opposite side. This conduct is our bane.


Fellow Ghanaians, I would not want to say anything further, as you are all probably aware of the shameful condition our dear country is in.

Patriotism is dead. Killed by our leaders. As we look at our leaders, we do not see patriotism, we see partisanship and pursuit of selfish and personal gain, as such citizens are compelled to emulate these - conducts that are further sinking, holding back our collective development.

But hope is not lost yet. Like the proverbial phoenix, we can rise again from the ashes, only if we so desire, by changing our ways, by letting our laws and institutions work, by paying our dues to the Motherland.

God bless our homeland Ghana.

Thank you.