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.