Monday, November 13, 2006


As you can tell, my updates to this blog have been quite sporadic. Blame that on time crunch from the many balls one is juggling. In particular, a recent push to get a startup up and rolling has made it quite difficult to devote the time needed to make this blog hum. So, I plan on taking a break from feeding this particular blog for a while. This hiatus may turn out to be a permanent one: who is to say?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mau-Mau history we should not forget

Growing up, I remember reading John Gunther's Inside Africa book and then later picking up Ngugi's novels on Kenya in those troubled times. This article makes clear that we humans have almost infinite capacity to justify what we do depending what is motivating us.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Libya jumps the computing gun

Gaddafi is always good for drama, no? Well, Libya becomes the first country to make the committment needed to get production of the $100 laptop a reality. $250 million is what it took. I guess this is one useful result of the recent oil boom!

Obassanjo breaks the taboo

The big man utters the "G" word, geneocide. A word rarely heard on an African leader's lip. It's about time.

Starbucks and Nobucks

See the movie (and the movie too!) review below from the NYT and decide for yourself, what is really needed to move Africa forward. Trade or Aid? The movie documents what I have seen myself in the chocolate/cocoa bean industries, the cotton, cosmetic sectors and on and on and on. The portion of the revenues - from commodity-based goods sold in the West - going to commodity producers in Africa is over time shrinking.

Africans need a 2 pronged strategy. First, recognize this trend and seek to capture more and more of the value from processing their own commodities. Cue Equitable Trade, a more significant effort IMO than Fairtrade. Secondly, Africa needs to push the international community especially end-consumers to recognize the facts about trade and aid. It is in the West's interests to have a prospering Africa which can buy way more Western goods than the current surpluses dumped in the name of aid.

PS None of this is an indictment of Starbucks. From the little I know they seem to have a bit of a social conscience. Their profits are coming from playing well the hand dealt them by this warped global ecosystem

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Published: October 6, 2006

The documentary “Black Gold” tells an unresolved modern version of the age-old David and Goliath story. The giants in this case are multinational corporations that control the worldwide coffee market. The heroic little guy, Tadesse Meskela, represents the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-op Union, which encompasses 74 co-ops in southern Ethiopia. That country, the birthplace of coffee, produces some of the highest-quality beans in the world.

Mr. Meskela devotes himself tirelessly to traveling the world looking for buyers who will pay a fair price for the beans harvested by the nation’s 70,000 coffee farmers. Instead of wielding a slingshot, he works circuitously by eliminating many of the middlemen who drive up the price of coffee and bypassing commodities exchanges to sell his product directly to buyers. His cause has been embraced by the fair-trade movement, which is working to bring so-called fairly traded commodities like chocolate and bananas, as well as coffee, to increasing numbers of American grocery stores.

Directed by the English documentary filmmakers Nick and Marc Francis, “Black Gold” eventually widens its scope of inquiry to examine the World Trade Organization, which, it claims, prevents the world’s poorer countries from developing export trade, leaving them dependent on emergency relief.

The opening scenes examine the coffee-making process, from the harvesting of beans by Ethiopian workers who earn less than 50 cents a day to the movement of the product through various stages into the retail market.

Along the way the film dishes out facts: coffee is the second most actively traded commodity in the world, after oil; since 1990, retail sales of coffee have increased to $80 billion from $30 billion. Globally, about 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed a day, 400 million of those in the United States. Four multinational corporations dominate the world coffee market, with the international price determined in New York and London.

In Ethiopia 67 percent of the country’s export revenue comes from coffee, and 11 million people count on coffee for their survival.

“Black Gold” adroitly segues between scenes of poor agricultural workers sorting through coffee beans and high-end coffee tasting competitions and exhibitions of brewing machines. A Seattle tour traces the history of Starbucks; during a visit to a Starbucks outlet, a happy employee gushes about being in “the people-touching business.”

At a World Trade Organization convocation in Cancun, Mexico, embittered ministers of trade for developing African nations complain about being excluded from negotiations and flatly reject the agreements imposed on them. Eventually the movie returns to Ethiopia, where it finds a famine is taking hold. Coffee farmers, facing bankruptcy, have begun to replace their coffee fields with chat, a chewable narcotic plant that commands a higher price.

One of the most disquieting (and challenging) statistics is left for last: if Africa’s share of world trade increased by only one percentage point, it would generate $70 billion a year, five times what the continent receives in aid. Who wouldn’t want that?


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Current Read

I finally picked up Philip Caputo's book and have been trying to finish it off. Started off well but midway through I began to lose my enthusiasm to some degree. The characters and their coupling just didn't seem too believable to me. Maybe I just expected too much. It does have some very graphic detail about the kind of bad things that go on in the Sudan and neighbouring areas. Plus, it really shines light on the aid racket. Rant alert! Development is unlikely to happen if there is an expectation of aid especially the kind of aid typically sent to Africa.

The lure of Timbuktu

Check out this relentless exposure of all that is good coming out of Africa.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

From the "Believe It Or Not" school

Please kill, but do so ethically. That is the moral of this story that smacks of an insular corporate culture (and little common sense)! Read your Orwell and understand the times we are living in!

New chocolate discoveries

My one addiction is chocolate and I find it downright difficult to turn down good chocolate, especially when it produced entirely in areas that traditionally produce the raw beans. Check out this island beauty, that island gem and this royal treasure from the motherland.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Equitrade - an overdue concept

I am currently evaluating investment opportunites in Ghana and came across this organization that is doing something very opportune. One of the evaluation criteria I have is: how does one profitably value-add for an export-based business in Ghana? Yes, it is more difficult, more risky, but it also has the greatest potential. I personally find it difficult to stomach the fact that Ghana does not offer world-class chocolate brands (and yes I am a chocaholic, know my chocolate,and sorry to say, but Golden Tree doesn't cut it). There is one contender I just discoved that I will be checking out; I will let you know what I think of their product. But that is about it! Take heart though, our island friends have raised flag in this respect. We should folllow.

Cheaper hardware coming

There is quite a lot of activity centering on getting cheaper computing hardware to the vast majority of the world's population not living in the West. The most buzz (see above) belongs to Negroponte's $100 laptop. Other contenders for the role of globalizing computing access include Ncomputing who seem to have a presence already in Ghana and Novatium. Not to mention the folks in Redmond, who after initially scofing at the whole idea of such cheap hardware, are busy talking up their own efforts just in case this market segement actually begins to amount to something.

Finally, these guys are really doing something radically different. YouOS's web operating system aims to liberate software from hardware so that you don't have to own a dedicated computer in order to enjoy the rich desktop functionality we are used to. Just get to a web browser and your "desktop" is right on tap.

All of this is good, but the bigger constraint in my mind is the typically expensive network bandwidth found in developing countries. Without cheap bandwidth, cheap computing hardware will not attain its full potential. Take a look at cell phones today. Yes, everyone has a cellphone in Ghana, but how many people actually buy airtime on a regular basis?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kenyatta & Nkrumah United?

What do you get when you couple Jomo Kenyatta with Kwame Nkrumah?

You get a leading Malaysian developmental theorist

who led me to this somewhat dated but still useful blueprint for African development. In case you are not inclined to wade through all 31+ pages of that document, I will quote the key findings from it here:

-> Empower competent technocratic policymakers to manage macroeconomic and development policies with strong political support.
-> Create a climate in which all ethnic groups, especially entrepreneurially talented minorities, can participate in development with low risk.
-> Design strategies that build on existing comparative advantage in agriculture and laborintensive industry while investing in education that will create a more skilled workforce for a gradual transition to new industrial and service exports.
-> Adhere strictly to sound macroeconomic policies including a realistic and flexible exchange rate, small budget deficits or preferably small surpluses and appropriately tight monetary policies; currency convertibility is a credible guarantor of these policies.
-> Keep labor markets flexible, so that market forces determine wages and employers are free to hire and dismiss with a minimum of government regulation.
-> Reform financial markets, permitting market forces to determine credit allocations and interest rates and, along with currency convertibility, creating a welcoming climate for foreign investors.
-> Undertake trade reforms that will open economies increasingly to world markets; while the vestiges of protection remain in place, create mechanisms by which export producers can obtain inputs at world prices, free of duties and free from import controls.

In short, do the basic things right and good things will follow. The most interesting takeaway for me from Michael Roemer's document is his optimistic belief that Africa can still make it. Yup, my sentiments exactly. As he puts it, Korea and Taiwan were once considered to be dead-enders!