Thursday, 25 March 2010

Democratizing Africa

My opinion on democracy in Africa is complicated, having written a major (and poorly reviewed) university piece about it. My general sense is that democracy in the Western sense is misplaced in different cultural contexts, and we should build upon modern forms of local governance traditions. Associations, which govern nearly every professional avenue in Nigeria and remind me a bit of Western guilds, may be one of these.

Nevertheless, its interesting to see efforts to drive interest and make democracy work. Electionnaire.com is a striking example of this out of Sudan. Big up the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the foundation of the German Social Democrats, for supporting this initiative. I only have two questions
  1. How many people have access to the internet in Sudan and would actually make use of this tool?
  2. Where can I get this for the upcoming UK elections?
Hat tip: Texas in Africa

Water: The battle of the future?

Remember that fad, a couple of years ago, when everybody was talking about how Coca Cola was buying up the worlds water supply? Or WaterWorld? Or hundreds of other books, movies, comics, stories, blogs and articles that have all talked about how our thirst for water was going to become the next battleground.

One of the only things I share with Americans, apart from a common bloodline, is a belief in human ingenuity. I have always thought that it would show in the search for new drinkable water sources. Desalination is an obvious source, seeing that more than 71% of the earths surface is covered by it, against only 3% freshwater, and more every day. Price, energy requirement, space etc are some of the barriers that need to be addressed, and I get excited about every possible solution to these problems. One of these comes out of MIT: 1,600 of the new desalination chips they have developed (pictured) can produce up to 15 liters of drinkable water an hour at 99% purity. I'd be interested to see how it can scale and become commercially viable!

MIT via PSFK

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Cost of doing business

We all know about the additional burdens weak infrastructure, bad regulation, corruption, and high cost of imported goods, can place on entrepreneurs and MNCs operating in developing countries. But at times practical examples make a striking point of just how deep the problem runs: Jumoke, one of the MDs of Alitheia, recently complained about her broken laptop screen - why, i wondered, would she (a) not replace it, or at least (b) get an external screen in the meantime.

Answer:
  (a) There is no Sony repair centre repairing laptops in Nigeria. I was suprised by this and did the research, and true, in a country of 150mn people the only Sony service centre will only start accepting laptops from May. Even if she were to get hold of the spare part from elsehwere, there would be no guarantee that there's anybody in the country that can help install it.
  (b) The computer guy seems incapable of attaching a temporary external screen, which feeds into the other bit about nobody having the skill to help out.

Result:
The only alternative to sending it out of the country, which would cause whole other set of problems, is to buy a new computer. Imagine - instead of a relatively cheap, routine maintenance she has to go out and splash out $$$s on a new computer even though hers works fine. Crazy

Monday, 22 March 2010

Men who stare at (fighting) goats

Well, Ram's actually. The annual National Ram Fighting competition, organized by the Ram Lover's Association of Nigeria, is currently in progress near the national stadium in Lagos. Very excited to have been a part of the Semi Finals, which saw the likes of AK47 take on Sledgehammer. Obama, the winner of the last two years, was not around any more. I've been told by the Grandfather of Ram Fighting that he has since been retired.

Ram fighting, when you see it, seems perfectly natural. There are no red colours or jeers to get the beasts excited. They see each other and want to run at each other; simple. The winner is the one who intimidates his opponent most - who then runs away. If he has not been able to do so for 40 headbangs, the match is a draw.

The finals are to be held on April 11th. The day will also see other traditional African sports. In discussion with the Grandfather it turns out that none of those sports, which include local varieties of wrestling and one-legged running, are conducted during the African Games, which see only Olympic disciplines. Seems to me that despite all the quirkiness of this particular events this kind of activity carries more significance if viewed in the general context of a threatened African culture.

 Ram's locking heads

Sledgehammer on the way to the court

Stewards of the Ram Lover's Association

UPDATE: Will published this piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Development Finance: SMEs, Finance, Growth

This post has some interesting findings in the development economics/SME realm – in particular the impact of lack of finance for SMEs on exports and thus employment, innovation and growth. As in microfinance, the micro-level, anecdotal evidence differs from statistical analysis; Thorsten Beck et al previously found that although there is a correlation between SMEs and growth they cannot say that one causes the other.

Other interesting subjects include the benefits of diversified conglomerates in emerging economies – which they say is derived from internal capital markets, a phrasing which does not necessarily highlight their primary advantage; that of helping the company weather shocks.

In the same vein, but not mentioned in the blog, is the phenomena of clustering in emerging economies. Why do all the TV, scooter, book etc sellers in Hyderabad group together? Couldn’t they make more money by serving customers closer to their home and raising prices for the convenience? Surely, some entrepreneurial trader would have discovered the profit, so the answer is not only in tradition. Why does it take big corporate building malls to realize underlying value? Answers anybody?

Sangodare

The Adunni Olorisha Trust, the organization that is trying to maintain and promote the legacy of Suzanne Wenger, and in doing so protect the Sacred Groves of Osogbo (one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nigeria), is at work. We've organized an exhibition of Sangodare's work - one of the adopted children of Suzanne and the most promising artist amongst the New Sacred Art movement. The event's on Saturday in Lagos - email me if you want to come.

I help the Trust out as much as I can and am up there quite often as a result. If you're in Lagos and would like to come to Osogbo sometime, let me know.

Voyeurism in the news

Voyeurism and exhibitionism hit the news in different ways recently. One way struck me when I was scanning the BBC website today (see pic). I don't know if this widget was intentional or not but it sure came out funny/strange. How twisted to you have to be to (a) want to watch somebody get electrocuted (b) electrocute somebody (c) be electrocuted on live TV. The latter made me think of a piece on psychopathy and reward, which I guess we all knew about. But even so - aren't all those seeking recognition on Big Brother & Co. just psychopaths in their own little way?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Femi

High time I let Femi Kuti leave his mark on this site. I've been to the New Shrine a couple of times now (the dancers have got to be seen to be believed), and his latest grammy-nominated album has been on repeat in the car for a while. Gotta say that I though Seun, his younger half-brother, was stronger but he's blown it of late with poor performances, empty words and an arrogant attitude. Plus, Let's Make History (called Day by Day elsewhere) has really pulled through for me. Check out the intro on this:


(Artist: Femi Kuti; Title: Tell me; Album: Let's Make History [Nigeria])

Finally Digging, or: Mr. T's magical musical wonderland

Finally got to hang out with Mr. T, a record collecting legend in Lagos. Tony has been collecting records around Lagos for decades, and has built a massive collection. Scavengers like me have been to his Afrobeat section before me, so there's only a couple of hundred left, but that's still pure gold. As are his high-life, jazz, funk and "sentimental" sections.

Tony's business has seen better times. Formerly a DJ, he now sells rips of his records after leaving the party business to one of his apprentices because, he says, the young guys don't understand music and he doesn't have the time for the new stuff. After being kicked out as a resident DJ at an Ikoyi hotel that's now been replaced by the Southern Sun, he set up shop in a central market. Now his landlady there has kicked him out he's back to the "ghetto" (his words), the village on the outskirts of Lagos where he's been building a house for the last 20 years. I think the house may need another 10 or so, but he's got an amazing garden, and more than enough room to stack all the music (see photo, with Mr. T).

Spent a good couple of hours digging around, and as a start I've asked him to make a list of what he's got. The good man doesn't even know how many records he has (I reckon 6 to 10 thousand). He's also given me the names, numbers and addresses of most of the other big music oga's in Lagos, so I should be set digging wise for the next few months. Amazing!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

New Technology

Ever get the feeling, standing in front of something really cool that's going to change how we're going to live, work and play, and think that "I should have seen this coming?". Not far off with Penguin's new interpretation of the book on IPad. Astonishing:



Hat Tip: PSFK