Friday, December 30, 2011

Reading for the Nigerian Progressive

I recently mentioned an interest in getting more Nigerians to read books detailing the history of the nation in a bid to help them understand the hidden and not-so-hidden issues that continue to stifle growth in the country. A couple of people responded with requests for books that I would recommend, hence this blog.
It is my belief that only in understanding our past - the good, the bad and the ugly - can we develop the lessons learned required to improve our present and secure our future. Unfortunately, our present leaders don't read or read without understanding. If this were not the case, we would not have rigged elections, a flawed judiciary, a comatose legislature and an impotent executive arm of government.
This incompetence in government is highlighted by short memories in the polity, and that complex African tendency to "respect" those who lead us. Let us step away from these mental shackles and start using our intellect to challenge those who have failed to earn the right to rule.

Others may have their own favorites, but I hope these 5 book selections juggle memories and re-awaken the fires of nationalism and progression that lie dormant in the hearts of many a Nigerian.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Doing Business in Nigeria

I was going to title the blog "doing business in Africa" till I recognized the fact that doing business in Nigeria is quite different from most other places on the continent, and for the wrong reasons.

We could discourse ad nauseum about the power situation, transportation network, security (or lack thereof) and the big grandaddy of all - corruption - but these are all common knowledge. Which begs the question - if we all know these are the problems, why aren't we doing anything about it? Why do we keep electing nincompoops to run the affairs of state? Why aren't our youth taking over the streets the way everyone else in the world is (for good or for ill)? 

Of course, there are many entrepreneurs on the Nigerian scene - and some who are quite successful (I know a few personally) - but even they agree that a guarantee of the basic necessities would make their lives and businesses a lot smoother. It's truly a sad state of affairs when the government cannot deliver on its basic responsibilities.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Turning Words into Action

As I write this quick blog (after a lengthy absence, although I've contributed articles to various media - Sahara Reporters and Think Africa Press - in that time), I'm on my way to Nigeria for what I am calling a "feasibility assessment". I've written a lot about the ills on the African continent, using Nigeria as a bit of a placeholder for all those issues. In my last few posts, I started talking about doing something. I have no idea where this trip will lead, but I'm keeping an open mind as I explore the terrain, seek out fertile ground and hopefully plant a seed or two. A bien tot.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Al Gore, Global Warming and Christianity

I read this article yesterday and found it indicative of how far Christianity (at least in the United States) is moving away from the Bible and immersing itself unnecessarily in scientific politics.

Al Gore's Global Warming Rant via Christian Post

Christians the world over - including myself - often complain about how the world gives us an unfair rap. We're laughed at for not accepting Darwinism at face value (even though there is no actual proof of his theory as I ably pointed out to my High School Biology teacher, much to her speechless consternation); for believing that there will be an end to this world (even though physical evidence supports our spiritual beliefs); for some modern variations to the Gospel where material wealth is obsessed over and seen as something to be gained on earth (even though the Bible doesn't encourage that tenet).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Waiting for Africa's Fifth Estate

Civil War.
Rigged Elections.

Sounds like the Africa of old, right? The Africa that you grew up learning about in elementary school history classes. The Africa that you were inspired to change as a teenager in a classroom where there were more students than desks/chairs for them. The Africa that as a young adult, you experienced in your daily struggle…pardon me, hustle…to make it.

Summary of my Europe Trip

High-speed train and plane trips in Europe have nothing on touring the region by road. By the numbers, 8 countries in 6 days and over 3000km traveled. It was also a major bucket list item of mine that I was able to cross off and in the process, I learned quite a bit about western Europe that even a European-born, self-confessed Europhile like myself didn't already know. From crawling at snail's pace through the streets of Luxembourg City's old town to hitting speeds of up to 160km/h on the A6 leading to Paris (the speed limit, i.e. slowest speed - insert smirk - was 130 km/h, so don't judge, s'il vous plait), traversing the glorious 30-plus kilometers on the Grand St.Bernard overpass/"open" tunnel that links Italy and Switzerland through a stunning tour of the Alps, driving through the Italian and French rivieras, it was a trip that promised much and delivered on its pleasures.

Euro Road Trip Day 5 - Paris to Amsterdam

My amazing road trip was coming to an end, but there was so much more to look forward to with a weekend in one of the most exciting cities in the world - Amsterdam. Driving from Paris to Amsterdam therefore paled in comparison to the potential of the coming weekend, however it was a lot of fun - especially driving through lesser traveled towns that were, nonetheless, famous during the World Wars. An example of this was Arras, a small town just south of Lens, where 240 French Resistance members were executed by the Gestapo during World War II. Another was Antwerp, which as a major Belgian port, was a strategic control point for both Allied and Axis troops during World War II. Being in the presence of that history was amazing - sometimes better than the sanitized view one gets in museums and history books.

The Van Gogh Museum

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Euro Road Trip Day 4 - Monaco to Paris

I didn't think it would take me a couple of weeks to continue recounting my Euro road trip, but c'est la vie. Monaco to Paris was the longest driving stretch of the trip. Almost 9 hours of pure driving, with added time for gas/rest stops - not to mention a side detour into the French town of Viviers, where I managed to pretend I was a native French speaker until the lady at the gas station got excited and let forth a steady stream of unintelligible French. Let's just say that she was disappointed with my patchy response...

I think the natural topography of Europe is what I like about driving there - never a sedate drive like through most of North America (which is comparatively flat), other than the Allegheny mountains in Pennsylvania, which may explain why I always enjoy driving to Washington, DC. The pictures below show some of that...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Euro Road Trip Day 3 - Lausanne to Monaco

This was probably - no, definitely - the best drive I've ever taken. It was the sort of the drive where you literally missed something if you blinked. At the start of the trip, I wasn't sure if my route would take me through the Alps, or as a lot of modern highways do, route around them for a quicker journey. Looks like the Swiss have no qualms about constructing fast-moving highways and tunnels - all 100+ of them that I drove through - up, over and under the Alps. It makes for a stunning drive, but one that's at relatively high speed, so I had to watch those corners!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Euro Road Trip Day 2 - Luxembourg to Lausanne

One of the reasons why I picked Luxembourg as a destination on this trip was its relative lack of popularity. This isn't because it's not a fun place - on the contrary, it's phenomenally underrated - but because it's not filled with the tourist traps of London, Barcelona, Rome and yes, Amsterdam. 
It was for largely the same reasons that I picked Lausanne, Switzerland as my second pit stop. Long in the shadow of Zurich, Geneva, Berne and Basel; I was curious to see this jewel on Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and she didn't disappoint me.

Euro Road Trip Day 1 - Amsterdam to Luxembourg

I flew into Schipol Airport via Frankfurt, Lufthansa being my airline of choice these days. Technically, I didn't hit the ground in Germany - being in transit only - but as the first Schengen country I entered, my passport was stamped there, so I've added it to the list of countries visited. A small cheat, but who's counting? :-)
The funniest thing that happened was the German immigration officer looking at my Canadian passport and asking if I lived in Italy (I was born in Milano). Seriously, dude...if I lived in Italy, wouldn't I have flashed an Italian passport and wouldn't I have been in the line for Schengen citizens? 

Flying into Amsterdam was short and brisk, other than having to check in my second piece of hand luggage because the flight was "full". That completely defeated the purpose of my taking carry-on luggage only and forced me to wait an extra half hour at Schipol. Oh well - I was too excited about the trip to care about something that trivial.

I picked up this gorgeous Fiat 500 at Schipol. I didn't name "Claudia" until I hit a moment of inspiration while journeying through the Alps later that week, but she does look like a "Claudia", doesn't she? :-)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How my random, spontaneous Euro Road Trip came about

May has been quite the interesting month for me - filled with non-stop action, multi-time zones and an absolute ton of things to see and do. In retrospect, I'd do it all again - except for Air Canada canceling my flight from Fort McMurray to Toronto.

It started with work - formally met the boss's boss late in April and got some great feedback from both himself and my boss, which naturally has led to even more responsibilities at work: leading a rapid results project team, as well as being the designate for the boss when he's away; all this in addition to my normal duties as the Plant Engineer for the oldest primary upgrading unit in the world. Extremely busy and challenging, but as Nigerians are wont to say in such times "We thank God". Some have food but cannot eat, etc...(if you don't know the tune, don't worry).

Given the foregoing, you can understand why I needed a break, which the opportunity of my sister's wedding provided - technically, two weddings as is common in Nigeria: a traditional wedding on the 12th and the church wedding on the 14th. Shortly before the wedding, I also came up with the idea of a road trip through Europe. The stage was set for chaos, adrenalin and yes, fun.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Which African Union?

Sub-Saharan African leaders have continually shown undue deference to people with lighter skin than theirs, and in this day and age we see that trend continuing. Recent events in Ivory Coast and North Africa have only underlined this bold statement.
It's why our leaders sold off their people and historical artifacts for mere trinkets - most of which were worthless - to the Portuguese, French and English. The belief that the man with the white skin was a god that needed to be assuaged.
It's why our leaders allowed themselves to become colonial stooges (contrast that to the colonial experience in North Africa) and allowed what at the time were foreign gods and ways of living to become de jure.
It's why since "independence", our leaders spend billions of dollars yearly on foreign education, weaponry, goods and services, etc with very little care for developing the manufacturing industries in their respective countries.
It's why despite the turmoil currently surrounding North Africa - Libya in particular - the African Union has been relatively silent. After all, Libyans are our lighter skinned brothers, relatively wealthy and with a demagogue ruling the stable - the very recipe for the AU adopting a hands-off approach.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Do we have a revolutionary temperament?

I've listened and read with growing amusement the articles, interviews, tweets and blog posts about the uprisings in the Middle East and how they are a portend for what was to come in Africa, in particular. It was only until I happened upon this article - that I said "finally, someone who understands the differences between black Africa and North Africa.

Now, before you crucify me, let me state without equivocation that I am a full believer in the need for a true revolution to remove the retrogressive and corrupt elements in African governments. Akin to what Jerry J. Rawlings did in Ghana in 1979, the benefits of which that country is now reaping. Also akin to Jehu in ancient Israel, as recounted in the 1st Book of Kings for those who know their Bible. Good? Great.

How ethical is renewable energy?

As I tweet more, I blog less.

I've noticed this to be true of many of my friends who actively tweet and own blogs, especially those of the sporting and socio-political variety. I guess twitter is doing to blogging what facebook did to instant messaging. Not quite eliminating it (a la e-mail to letter-writing), but making it the second option.

I've also been tied up with the rigorous demands of drilling for oil in one of the largest reserves in the world - yes, I'm proud to be linked with the oil sands of Alberta, as "dirty" as some environmentalists claim it is. I guess no one has told these environmentalists that there is some good being done here - reclamation of settling ponds into veritable wildlife preserves, the carbon offsets companies here are involved in, the wind power and ethanol generation that some led by Suncor (shameless plug for my company) are engaged in, or how rigorous their safety standards are.
Or while we wait for the hydrogen-powered cars of the future, does no one think of the socio-political issues around drilling in the Middle East? Sure, you can suck up oil from the ground using a straw in those places, but at what cost to the people there? At what cost to generation X of the United States and its allies, who aren't fighting a war for world peace or to bring down a tyrant - as was the case in the first two world wars, respectively - but who are fighting instead so that the West can have oil at $70 per barrel?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Redefining Africa's Investment Potential

My good friend, Anne Griffin sent me a link to this interesting article from the Wall Street Journal - A Continent of New Consumers Beckons. She wanted my opinion on the article and if I felt it was an accurate depiction of the continent. I'll start with a caveat - any article that generalizes the experiences of individual African countries and regions for the sake of expediency or due to ignorance of the many fissures (geographic, tribal and social) within the African continent is suspect. However, since that's the context in which the article was written, I crave the reader's indulgence in the generality of my response and analysis of the article. It's a good article, and factual. There's no doubt that the middle class of Africa (as a whole) is beginning to "take off" and exert some influence in the global market, especially where it concerns consumer goods. I believe the mobile phone market in Africa is bigger than that of the Indian subcontinent, for example - or very comparable. Considering where the continent was 10 years ago, that's nothing short of a miracle. Highlighting this surprising statistic is that the poorest of the poor in India or Pakistan hardly posseses a mobile phone, while his/her counterpart in subSaharan Africa has at least one...ironic, but we'll get to that. In addition, there's a high demand for personal totems of status - cars, designer clothing, latest handheld devices, etc as material possessions are often seen as the only indicator of wealth in traditional African societies. The article also highlights some of the issues that can/will prevent explosive growth - corruption, lack of social services, poor (albeit improved from before) government, etc. Therein lies my problem with the otherwise well-documented piece - not enough attention was paid to this non-consumeric aspect. I'm of the school that believes that the African middle-class, despite what African governments and economists would have us believe, is nothing but a phantom idea. There can be no sustainable middle class, nor can it become a major player in the global economy, until some of those base (read, social) issues are addressed. Across the continent (and certainly in Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana), there are many people who would rather have enough credit to finance their phone bill than eat 3 square meals a day. This is where the gray area comes in to play - how many people know that the fancy clothes, fancy phone and fancy car are masking someone who can only afford to eat 1 or 2 square meals daily? In the eyes of the world, and because this individual partakes in economic activities, s/he is middle class. It's more complex than that. In basic economics, a middle class inidividual/family is defined as one that after paying for all their needs, has some extra money to take care of a few wants. In terms of disposable income, there isn't much - even among African professionals who are gainfully employed.

The article also seems focused on the urban centers of the countries it mentions, not realizing that the continent only has a 30% (at most) urban population. In addition, even in major cities, only a very small percentage of the population (about 5% in Nigeria; slightly more in countries like Ghana and Kenya; less in Francophone Africa) has a relatively high quality of life (i.e. one that could qualify at least as "lower middle class" in Western countries). Who is measuring the economic indices of the 70% who don't have any functional means of livelihood, given that the main economic thrusts of rural areas - farming, herding, fishing and resource exploitation - are either in decline or don't provide many benefits for their host population? Of course, economies like those of Botswana and South Africa are some exceptions to the rule - and again we run into the problem of generalizing African problems and successes, but even these countries aren't anywhere close to the BRIC nations.

Lastly, the article doesn't mention the gross lack of basic infrastructure, the dying - or dead - manufacturing/agricultural base, the increasingly worse security situation (likely liked to high unemployment) and the over-dependence on diminishing natural resources (with a resultant lack of economic diversification). In other words, the very things that could curb the future growth they are projecting. That being said, it's hard to go against the article seeing as it is a WSJ piece. From the standpoint of attracting investors to the continent and exposing the potential for consumer-based growth, it is on point. I just worry that this sort of focus could result in another spate of unsustainable growth without any solid, conservative foundations to fall back on in lean times (social security, taxation, infrastructure development, healthcare, etc) and let's face it, investors only care about those things when they aren't making money - at which point they split town! The type of investors African countries need are those who are willing to be social, not just financial entrepreneurs. Investors who are willing to refuse giving a bribe at the risk of losing a contract, because they know that they are laying a foundation for the total growth of their countries of interest, not just boosting the foreign exchange kitty for local, state and federal governments to share among themselves. It's why I've often advocated for investors to have historical or direct links to the continent, because only then can true ownership be implemented. If anything, I feel this article is a wake-up call to African and diasporic Africans (both those who left the continent willingly within the last few decades and those who were forced to leave a few centuries ago) to invest in the continent and take ownership of OUR opportunities. Otherwise, the vultures will come in to feed (as they have in the past and as they continue to do) and we'll be singing the same old song when this new - and potentially great - economic wave has passed.