Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easter 2015 - Resurrection Nigeria

Two nights in a row  I kept vigil in  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  My mind was on Nigeria and Nigeria was on my mind; - the election results of the Presidential race.  I was not the only one whose heart was beating a tad faster.  Last night I finally slept. And a sweet one, it was.    Here are my 5 "take-aways" from the presidential elections.

Professor Jega, and the role of the academia
In as much as we decry the fallen standards in Nigerian universities, bemoaning the citizens' disappointment by the system, something good was found in that milieu.  Professor Attahiru Jega decided that all Returning Officers for all 36 States and the FCT - Federal Capital Territory, be drawn from the numerous Vice-Chancellors of the Nigerian Universities. They may not be the best academics the world has known, they may neither master stage track nor even read well  at night (especially without glasses) but they all accepted the challenge.  The Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC) also did their part. In principle, NYSC is an old-age institution that spreads Nigerians across the federation, making sure that people go to the parts of the country where they do not come from.  "Corpers" on mission learn the "other" cultures and people of Nigeria. This, till date, is the most important unity and integration institution that Nigeria has.  My first take away is that if Nigerian education, universities and academia are equipped enough, this country can lead in almost anything. Intellectual probity is the greatest arm against the unbridled  greed of  politicians, as seen in the epic "Orubebe-Jega Drama"

Citizen engagement powered by technology
This time around, Nigerians were decided that it will not be "business as usual" as it  has always been. The population decided to massively engage.  I really loved the R-egister, S-elect, V-ote, P-rotect (RSVP) campaign as well as the #NigeriaDecides tag on Twitter.  At the end of February, the election fever in Nigeria was higher in °Celcius than Ebola.  Almost all discussions were centered on GEJ and GMB, the abbreviated names of the key runners.  I saw volunteers who went from house to house to talk to people about one candidate or another trying to "deliver" locations.  The extent to which social media played a role in the Nigerian presidential elections cannot be under-estimated. My second take-away is this: Technology is power. Power belongs to the people. When both team up.. they become indomitable, any time, any where.

Real-time transparency
The Independent National Electoral Commission has pulled off the biggest democratic presidential elections in Africa.  The independence of the Jega-led institution  is being hailed by all and sundry.  INEC has social media outlets that were manned, 24/7. They have hotlines and were taking real-time interactive feedback from voters and the public in general. By the time the number of registered voters and the effective number of PVC (Permanent Voters' Card)  that have been collected was known, one knew the maximum number of voters to expect. So far, except for a few rare places, over-voting in any polling unit has had an automatic cancellation of all votes. But beyond these, the declaration of results in "the face" of all media, traditional and new, social and  copyright, at the same time... that was THE one that did it.  Across the country, and in most parts of the world, calculators came in handy, pen and paper too. Some were using spreadsheets, someone started a Google Document and made it open. Every Dick, Tom and Harry who cared about the Nigerian Presidential elections could track and add up the figures and do so in the same minute as they were being announced. My third take away is that the transparent, real-time, offline and Online, all-media announcement of the results proved to be the biggest challenge and deterrent to intending troublemakers. Real-time transparency is the greatest arm against "backdoor, shadowy and secret" election malpractice.

Global media with "nothing to chew"
First there were allegations from certain media when visas were refused to some journalists. Then came a 6-week postponement.  The phobia was palpable as the days approached. There was mass "exiting" of persons, in families, who were expecting Nigeria to tip over.  The rush to buy food and store.. in expectation of the violence that will follow.. all of that came to nothing. In the early hours of Saturday the 28, the first reports were that "Nigerian elections are marred by violence" though the images were missing. Millions were sure they will come. The normal "African elections" followed by killings, burnings, and destruction. This time, things are different. My sweet take-away here: prophets of doom can pack up and go home. There wont be any violence-tourism following the Presidential elections in Nigeria. You are free to report or not, but  right now, Nigerians have the means to tell their own story. 

Jonathan extends Goodluck to Buhari

When it was clear that the game was over, even before the final tallying of all results, President Goodluck Jonathan  gave the famous and proverbial phone call to the winner.  That  call, made to the right person, at the right time, will remain "golden" in the memories of most peace-loving Nigerians. After the call, he also published a message, and later on, gave the speech.  Here is my take-home from here: Jonathan may not have been a great leader, he may not have scored well in many a score sheet,  but he has refused to lead the country into war, silencing all "demons of destruction" that were secretly preparing for bloodbath.  In so doing, he sent the strongest message to all other "losers-to-be", which, for me, is also a great gift.

As Easter rolls in this weekend,  Nigerians will be celebrating  the death of bloodbath'ed  presidential elections and the rising of a new order.  The resurrection of a  new hope, expectancies of better governance, and the satisfaction that comes with a victory won for the people by the people.

Happy Easter Nigeria!
God bless Nigeria!
Viva Africa!

Friday, January 30, 2015

To be or not to be: Charlie, Chimamanda-Achebe, CEO

2015 is here. Happy New Year.  The year is kicking off with issues that I consider  “fundamental” for African development. The first is human rights, the second is governance and the third is elections.   I am still reflecting, thinking out loud.

Depending on where one is coming from, the #CharlieHebdo debate is rife. Some are taking it from the religious angle: analyzing the tendency for violent individuals to hide behind a religion.  Some are looking at it from the “anti” perspective: seeking to see who is for, pitching those who are for against those who are against.  Whichever way one looks at it, that over 2 million took part in the #ParisMarch and that more millions gathered across the world around #JeSuisCharlie” is a fact. Millions standing up  for freedom of expression.

The Charlie question for me, is still a question of rights. What rights do people have? Which ones do we want to respect and uphold? Do media have the right to provocation?   If yes, does that hold sway  in Africa?  If no, how do you prosecute/chastise  media that provokes?  I was not the only one wondering (the reaction is actually stronger than the word) why so many African Presidents and governments were quick to become Charlie. Presidents who jail  journalists and bloggers for ”insults”. Governments that cannot even tolerate “Freedom of Information” bills in their own countries. Countries where “The President is sick” earns a journalist a prison term. How can an Africa that stifles free speech be Charlie? How can Africa where certain states/governments have declared themselves by religions be Charlie? How can Africa where the African Union has voted to give immunity to all seating presidents, with Robert Mugabe at its Chair, be Charlie?


I  read three very important books in 2014. I will recommend these to you.  I started with Chimamanda Adichie’s  “Half of a Yellow Sun”, then Chinua Achebe’s “There was a Country” , and Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”.  Adichie’s book tells the story of the Nigerian civil war. Achebe’s book tells the story of Nigeria before,  during and after the Nigerian civil war. Mandela’s in his autobiography, tells the story of his fight against apartheid.  One  development issue runs across these  trio: governance. These recount the greed for power of our leaders, their fear of loss of power, and  all the evil that is unleashed  so that a group can maintain another in an oppressive grip in order to keep power.  The other thing that runs across these narrative is the madness with which those in power crack down on any attempts to challenge the status-quo. Anyone trying to ask questions,  call for reasoning or request for more transparency  is vigorously shut up.  How long are we going to keep quiet over this?  How  can we call for freedom of expression for journalists in France, those who are not afraid to expose their leaders, and in Africa we behave as if “let the sleeping dog lie”  is the best attitude. 

CEO: Chief Electoral Officer

Elections times are the times for much talk and incursions into the evaluation of governance.  Zambia’s one is done and dusted. President Edgar Lungu has taken office.  Nigeria will enter the game on Valentine’s Day, to be followed by others.  There are also those who are getting ready… constitutionally ready. Burkina Faso’s ousting of I-will-die-in-Power  ex-President, Blaise Compaoré sent ripples that are still being felt in 2015.  This is a call, therefore, to all African CEOs to  RSVP: Register, Vote, Safeguard and Protect  the electoral process.  The CEOs are not the electoral officers, but the voters. Ultimately, the power lies in your vote. If you sell your vote, a part of your future is gone with it. If you vote on sectarian (ethnic, regional, religious affiliation) bases,  in the stead of competence and merit, you are establishing/reinforcing mediocrity.  If you refuse to sanction corruption and bad governance, you are rewarding them.

The time is here to stand up for the right: for human rights, for transparency, and for good governance. The 2015 coin  has two side: standing up for what is right, and standing up against what is wrong!

The Long Walk… continues

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Before the kickoff: of balls, broadband and Brazil

In a few days, it will be the kickoff of the FIFA Soccer World Cup in Brazil. Across all football-loving countries, the fever is mounting. Fan frenzy is getting crazy, way before the kickoff.
Are we ready?
We ask that question right until the opening ceremony. Anything can go wrong. We inspect infrastructure: stadia, hotel capacity, roads, airports, etc. We double-check lists: team lists, team staff lists, stadium staff lists, list of officials, etc. We check prices: tickets for matches, flight tickets, hotel costs, local transport, etc. We check for security, return on investment, fan satisfaction, tourism gains. We monitor..
Unknown to many soccer fans, Brazil hosted a 2-day Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance in April.. Don’t bother making up the acronym from the initial letters. The country decided to align the meeting to the “prevailing mood” and named it “Net Mundial”. In other words the Internet equivalent of the “Mundial”. In hosting NetMundial, Brazil was contributing to the global Net game. Making it faster and better.
Sold out
If you were planning to be part of the FIFA World Cup and are yet to get a ticket by the time this post is published, then it might be too late. Tickets are all almost sold out. World Cup match tickets are not “there for the asking”. There is a limited number of them. In the world of the Internet, they are called “Critical Resources”. These are resources that everyone needs and wants to have, but only a few possess. Access to the Internet at an affordable rate is one of those! Two-third’s of the world population are still dreaming of affordable access to the Internet.
Balls and broadband
There will be great Brazil 2014 memorabilia. Some may want to get a shot at the jerseys of famous players. Others may want a photo opportunity with a star. Brazuca, the official ball, will certainly be in high demand. Whichever way, Internet connection will be in higher demand than all of these. Internet service providers in Brazil are already rolling out “World Cup” packages. These tend to give unlimited Internet Connection for less than 1$ per day. Can the offers hold through the games? Will they continue after the games?
The World Cup and the World Wide Web
Did you know? It will almost be impossible for anybody to get a ticket to any of the World Cup matches without logging on to the FIFA website. Almost all tickets are applied for and sold online. Collection is the only thing you do offline. Without necessarily blowing its trumpets, FIFA may well become the largest organization that uses the Internet and inspires its use. Without doubt, the World Cup will be more enjoyable to those who have broadband Internet connection. In these days of:
Live tweeting;
Parallel online World Cup Matches for fans;
Match streaming on mobiles:
Balls must meet broadband. Brazil must raise the game. FIFA must pay attention to affordable Internet and fans must claim their rights as web citizens!

Game on!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Quand Le Congo expulse les congolais, les africains doivent s'en indigner

Il est le matin de dimanche 11 mai. Je suis le débat “africain” sur Radio France Internationale. Un plateau des frères congolais de deux rives – Brazzaville et Kinshasa. Le sujet: l'expulsion des milliers des congolais (RDC) du Congo.

Le Chef de la Police du Congo-Brazza reconnait que ses hommes n'ont pas respecté les consignes. Ils ont carrément dépouillé les Kinois - téléphones portables, bijoux, argent. On polémique sur le nombre des expulsés. Le Congo-Brazza parle des quelques 3000 qui comprenaient aussi d'autres nationalités, mais reconnait que plus de 57000 sont partis. Les autorités de la RDC elles, parlent de plus de 72000.

Tout cela se passe en Afrique, entre deux pays frères. Deux pays qui partagent un même nom, qui parlent la même langue.

D'après une autorité de la RDC, pendant trois jours, il n'y a pas eu des barques pour faire traverser la foule. Trois jours pendant lesquels il pleuvait. Des milliers des congolais massés au bord la fleuve, sous la belle étoile.. sous la pluie. Des familles tout-entières, les mamans avec les bébés en main... incroyable mais vrai!!

Pourquoi? Quelle est la raison de cette expulsion? L'insécurité. C'est la raison officielle donnée par Le Congo-Brazza. Oui, oui. En avril 2014, un gouvernement africain décide d'expulser des milliers des personnes  pour garder sa “sécurité”. C'est à dire, pour qu'un pays maintient sa sécurité, le seul moyen qu'il trouve, c'est l'EXPULSION des étrangers vivant su son territoire.. Et cela se passe en Afrique..

Je m'en indigne. Je condamne. Mobiliser 1500 policiers pour expulser 3000 étrangers pour un mois? Moi je dis que là, il y a un objectif affiché de terroriser des familles. Et cela explique bien pourquoi plus des 20 fois le nombre officiel des expulsés ont décidé de plier bagages par eux-mêmes, et de partir.

C'est une honte. C'est une honte pour chaque africain. C'est un honte pour chaque africain vivant dans un pays qui n'est pas le sien. C'est une humiliation pour chaque être humain avec la peau noire.

S'il suffit seulement pour un pays d'évoquer “l'insécurité” pour lancer une opération d'expulsion de masse tel que Le Congo l'a fait.. alors nous sommes mal barrés.

Le Congo l'a fait. Demain ce sera un pays Schengen...

Monday, March 31, 2014

5 Minutes or 5 hours: the Internet connection will decide.

Image from

I had a clear plan of what I wanted to achieve in 5 minutes when I got to the bank. I have done this before and I knew how long it takes.

Step 1: Check latest status of local account
Step 2: Flip out a Visa card that is linked to an international account
Step 3: Withdraw a given amount from the international account to feed into the local account
Step 4: Send cash via a money transfer service to someone in an un-banked rural area
Step 5: Send the transaction details of the money transfer to the receiver by SMS
Step 6: Go home.

But this very day, things just did not work out the way they should. There has been a general Internet connectivity low in the city and I did not take that into consideration when I was doing my 5-minutes calculations. As always, I walk into the bank and the first uncomfortable thing was the sight of the many people on the queue. I sensed a problem.

“Madam, we have a problem with the Internet connection. Our systems are slow.”

I told myself, I could use the time that the queue lasts to do one or two things. I keep my place on the queue, and walk over to the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) outside. Step 1 was to find out the status of the local account.

“This service cannot be completed at the moment” the ATM said.

Fine, I told myself. Since I was at the bank, I might as well ask Customer Service to check up on that account.

Madame, even the intra-bank communications are not going”

Step 1 is foiled. I tell myself that I will get to that some time. It is important to proceed to Steps 2 and 3. I get the Visa card out, to be able to pull the cash I needed.

“Your financial Institution is unavailable.”

The message here is that connections between us and other banks are just not working at the moment.

So I am on the queue to send cash that I have not yet withdrawn from an account which is impossible to access! I need a B Plan. The people in the village are waiting for the money. It took me 3 hours to be able to raise the cash needed. And now I realise to what extent my savings and financial life are linked to the Internet!!

It takes another 30 minutes to do the money transfer. “Madam, please be patient, our Internet is slow today”.

Yes. “The Internet is slow today” and I have lost 5 hours of productivity, emotional balance and almost the trust of people who are dear to me.

Affordable, reliable and broadband Internet. Give it to me, and I will gain time, productivity and trust.