Okay. Second Wave Feminism in Ghana is the new in-thing.

I haven’t really gathered my thoughts on the trend.

But on one aspect of the matter, I have a view.

Labels shape perception, but they can also determine the substance.

It appears many see those trying to rebuild a classical feminism project in the country and steer the narrative away from retro- and neo-feminist thinking as being part of an “advocacy movement”.

If however the movement is either “radical” or “activist” by deed and/or self-perception, then that would explain some of the audience confusion.

An advocacy movement needs high favourable public opinion to claim success. Some would say upwards of 40%.

For a quick gauge, take the US IRS requirement that to qualify for ‘public charity status’, an organisation must pass the ‘public support test’, in which a minimum of 33% of funding must come from the public as a way of confirming true “public support”. This is an interesting ‘starting number’ to consider. 33%.

But we all know that public opinion is also a Pareto phenomenon, 20% of voices determine the views of 80% of the majority. Effective publicity is thus easily attainable with 40% approval ratings for any advocacy or lobbying project. Perhaps the reason also why many global politicians see their approval ratings over time hover over that mark (the Putins of this world excluded).

Someone should check the literature on lobbying and sentiment analysis/measurement and chip in.

But the assumption that 40% favourable ratings is necessary for success in changing the status quo through advocacy assumes that a particular cause is an “advocacy project” by default.

If, on the other hand, it is a radical or activist cause, then an approval rating of 40% won’t just be ridiculous but actually dangerous!

To my mind, an activist or radical movement needs about 15% approval or favourabie perception to be effective. Anything above that would begin to suggest ‘capture’ into the establishment and the redundancy of activism or radicalism. What can be achieved from dialogue with the establishment doesn’t require activism.

True, many once activist causes have graduated to advocacy. Knowing which is which is however usually necessary in order to even detect that such a transition if it is occurring.

To sum it all up, if the second wave feminism project in Ghana is activist in its stance then it will be silly to judge its evolution by mass affection.

Which is why I find it rather suspicious when folks seem to be soliciting mass feminism even when their own professed diagnosis of the problem apparently call for radical solutions.

Postscript: But all movements – whether advocacy, radical or activist – need attention. It is the currency. In that light a radical movement may as a matter of deliberate strategy actually engage in extreme public-alienating behavior since the trade-off between attention and affection sits closer to the optimal point of their “goal curve” than it does for an advocacy movement.

This is also why it is also almost impossible to mix the two strategies of status quo changing. In fact, the majority of public campaigns eventually flame out because the majority cannot over time resist the very strong urge to mix the two approaches.

In the unlikely event that you are not already bored stiff with all this chattering about Ghana’s digital addressing system (DAS), let’s play an empathy game.
 
Supposing you were some kind of Big Shot and your decisions mattered hugely as to where this DAS system goes from here.
 
You look left and then right and see that in the midst of all the chatter there is actually just one fork in the path to a policy decision, leading to diametrically opposed destinations.
 
Some folks want you to immediately integrate the DAS into every other major IT system in place or planned – national ID, NHIS, Pensions, IRS etc etc. Some others want you to wait for it to grow for a year or two and then to run a major, independent, statistical validation exercise, and only if it passes a 95% accuracy test should you go ahead. What would you do?
 
Firstly, if you have any capacity for judgement, you would immediately mute 99% of the chatter so that you can sieve out the different types of truly coherent arguments on each side.
 
No sooner have you done that and you would realise that the operational concerns are not of the same make as the conceptual ones, and that it is best not to mix them up.
 
Every one knows that every computer program can be ‘iterated’ to stability. Bugs can be fixed quickly. User interface defects can be addressed relatively smoothly. And infrastructural gaps can be plugged. That’s exactly what programmers do for a living.
 
Conceptual and architectural flaws, on the other hand, requires a completely different attitude. They are NOT programming problems. They require subject matter expertise that normally lie outside the field of information technology properly speaking. But sometimes they even go beyond subject matter expertise and reside in a delicate grey zone between raw cognition and creativity.
 
Any policymaker would want to quickly test if they have got a “conceptual bug” on their hands.
 
The first order of day when making such a determination is to eliminate the defects that on first sight seem fundamental but on inspection can be shown to be operational rather than conceptual.
 
In the case of DAS, there are a lot of them. One such one is the concern, frequently spouted in the chatter that has greeted the launch of the DAS, that multiple grid-cells in an address would necessarily lead to multiple addresses.
 
Whether or not multiple grid cells lead to multiple addresses is actually a matter of user administration. So long as *an address maps to a user account*, multiple grid cells can in fact be allocated to the same address. What is important is how to fix the user registration and administration problem such that when two accounts “lay claim” to the same grid cell, that grid cell is simply removed from both accounts. To obtain an address therefore would require logging of a minimum number of unique, unclaimed, grid cells.
 
This is mere bagatelle, per se, from a programming point of view.
 
In fact, had Ghana Post done any focus group testing ahead of their rushed launch of the platform and then commissioned a UX review of the application, all these minor details would have been sorted out without hassle.
 
Having thus eliminated the operational issues, your approach to the “problem” as a, to use a favoured Ghanaian adjective, “seasoned” policymaker would then be to take a very close look at the conceptual and architectural issues. Indeed, only the clear confirmation of these would warrant a suspension of plans to immediately integrate the DAS into multiple, critical, government services in the short term.
 
Yes, it is true that there has been a good deal of theorising why the DAS requires conceptual retooling. My big mouth and frisky fingers plead guilty. The big mouth of Maximus Ametorgoh pleads guilty. And the frisky fingers of Elvis Kumordzie plead guilty.
 
Is that enough though? Yes, it can be mathematically demonstrated with ease that based on the current construction an 80% accuracy rate is practically impossible. Even though we are on the equator, where grid cells approximate amazingly well to true squares, the problem is one of the underlying topography. With zero validation of the actual address information and two sources of GPS errors: satellite and the transmitters/receivers in the many China and high-end smartphones around, the prospect of mismatching grid-cells across neighbouring addresses cannot be mitigated by clever tweaking of UX alone. Fundamental error correction is required. But this is still theory.
 
A crack policymaker would want more. They would want to know: what are the actual, practical, experiences of other societies in implementing postal geolocation systems identical to Ghana’s DAS?
 
If perchance they have assistants with some time on their hands, they could immediately review the record of the following projects in order to gain a quick first feel of the “localisation” methods that have been used elsewhere to accommodate this, admittedly, alien technology to suit the addressing needs of host societies:
 
1. What3Words implementation of grid-cell addressing in Djibouti.
 
2. What3Words implementation of grid-cell addressing in Mongolia.
 
3. What3Words implementation of grid-cell addressing in Ivory Coast.
 
4. MapMyIndia implementation of grid-cell addressing in the National Capital Region of New Delhi and environs in India.
 
5. What3Words franchising of grid-cell naming toolkit to the Local Government Association of Poland.
 
6. The S42 postal project in Trinidad and Tobago.
 
7. Nigeria’s NIPOST-What3Words  combo deployment of grid-cell based postal codes (MEHI).
 
8. The Lebanon’s implementation of Natgeo’s UAS grid-cell mapping technology for their postal codes revamping project.
 
The first thing that should leap up from these various assessments should be the phased rollout of these postal initiatives (all of them entirely identical to what we have started), the separation of concerns between the geolocation system and the municipal addressing layer, and, note carefully, NO short-term integration of these geocodes into the national ID programs and other critical services.
 
The next line of inquiry must then be focused on practical insights in respect of some of the shortfalls that prevent the use of grid-cell geolocation technology as an immediate source of truth in identity management (which is how we want to use the technology in Ghana).
 
The following quick mini case studies might be useful.
 
1. Ireland’s Eircode and how it spurred the Open Postcode project.
 
In 2015, Ireland decided to digitise its postal code system and introduced the Eircode project. As a result of what is widely accepted to be lackluster performance, Eircode has failed to replace the legacy system. (read an early assessment here: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/consumer/six-months-on-people-still-confounded-by-eircode-system-1.2476492). A major gap in the conceptual design is the use of arbitrary numbering.
 
This then drove enthusiasm for the Open Postcode project: http://www.openpostcode.org/
 
Open Postcode has tried to make considerable architectural leaps such as “resolution elasticity” etc.
 
Studying Ireland to understand the organic improvement pathway for digital postcode technologies would seem an obvious thing for the policy maker in our empathy thought experiment.
 
2. US National Grid and Military Grid Reference System
 
These were some of the earliest implementations of the grid-cell concept approach to postal code generation (the idea that latitudes and longitudes based on WGS are hard to remember and must thus be replaced by square grid notation).
 
This system was supposed to provide a one-core, nationwide, emergency response coordination layer (based on the USNG-NAD83 standard). Yet, since being proposed for this role in 2001, accuracy and uptake issues have not allowed that degree of entrenchment to happen.
 
3. And my personal favourite: a framework paper evaluating a proposal to implement a grid-cell plotting system to improve agro-surveying statistics by the United States Department of Agriculture. This paper raises very interesting issues about resolution enhancement when using grid-cell technologies that converges closely with my own perceptions, albeit from a different angle.
 
 
 
Our hypothetical big shot policymaker having studied all this material should now recognise that there is indeed an architectural and conceptual gap in the current implementation of grid-cell postal code digitisation technology by Ghana Post. In fact, she would realise that the several dozens of such project worldwide continue to be phased in and iterated step by step to remove these conceptual defects.
 
No where in the world has there been a rush to inject grid-cell data forcefully and aggressively into national ID systems and other critical services.
 
Thus, despite reassuring herself that grid-cell technology is clearly a very powerful approach to postal address modernisation that definitely has a major role to play in improving our current model, she can only prudently take one course:
 
Suspend plans to embed the Digital Addressing System data into the NIA’s database and other critical, low error tolerance, databases, and immediately instruct Ghana Post to begin preparations for large-scale, independent, statistical testing once uptake has reached 500,000 addresses.
 
Now, that wasn’t such a useless thought experiment after all, yes?
 

Why exactly has it proven difficult for African countries like Ghana to become as technically sophisticated as South Korea and those other countries like Finland that have built serious national capacity despite having started out on their “development journey” with similar challenges around the same time as we did.

‘Technical sophistication’ is closely related to ‘economic development’ but the two are not completely identical.

The Eastern Bloc nations, for instance, developed a very high level of technical sophistication without ever matching the material wealth of the Western, capitalist, countries.

Technical sophistication also appears to be more cohabitable with a wider range of political, social and cultural conditions.

China has serious institutional limitations, which it has addressed much more slowly than it has its technical constraints. As many have pointed out, South Korea was for many decades politically chaotic.

Nor is geopolitics as strong a determinative factor for technical sophistication as it is for economic development.

North Korea continues to make strange progress in a wide range of national defence objectives despite a very hostile geopolitical environment.

In that respect, most of the usual explanations we give in Africa for our lagging economic development (American aid to South Korea, for instance) are rather less impressive when it comes to explaining our bumbling attempts at building national capacity in various technical domains.

My own view is that our situation is best explained by one word. Meritocracy. We only pay lip service to meritocracy.

In my experience a Ghanaian (the African I know the most) will always flow with the person, team, institution or arrangement that makes him or her feel ‘comfortable’ and least threatens his or her ego, as opposed to the individual, team or arrangement that challenges him/her and compels him/her to improve his/her craft.

That is the key differentiator. We prize psychic comfort. The more technically advanced cultures prize ‘improvement’ and are extremely keen to deepen their self-capacity. We are not. We need constant assurance that we are okay.

This attitude creates a spiral towards ‘degeneration’ in the words of Max Nordau.

It makes ‘apprenticeship’ next to impossible. It makes ‘schools of thought’ next to impossible as no one is keen to hone a craft for years by following a ‘master’ who is also honing her craft every day, and participating in a peer group that challenges his/her thinking and forces upon him or her high standards of exactitude.

Everyone needs only enough to assuage their ego-anxieties. That’s all. One learns quickly in such a culture not to cast one’s pearls before the trough. If you have ever wondered why there are almost no “schools of thought” in Ghanaian academia for any major area of enquiry, consider this explanation carefully.

A school of thought requires ‘ego subjection’. It requires a high degree of tolerance for psychic discomfort. One has to continually justify every new ‘step’ in the expansion of the subject area for which the school has emerged, and one must do so in the context of sharp scrutiny by a critical peer group. This requires a good tolerance for cognitive stress.

To use a more contemporary example, take a look at open-source computer projects or the development of protocols, new frameworks and utilities.

Your first instinct might be to say that poverty is the reason, until you observe how Indian, Ukranian, and other post-Soviet space technologists aggressively participate in such projects. The average monthly salary in urban Philippines is not that different from urban Nigeria or Ghana or Kenya. And yet, I often see a lot more Philippino involvement in such projects and activities. We must clearly look to psychocultural factors, specifically to the issue of “psychic comfort”.

Our love for psychic comfort also makes delayed gratification difficult. Why care when no one rewards the attention to detail that is often the result of what one might call: “the masochism of thoroughness”?

When I was in secondary school in Ghana, we had a word, ‘posse’. A naive take on it might lead to a conflation with the term, ‘cool’, widely used elsewhere.

But to be ‘posse’ in fact was not really about being ‘cool’. It was about not compelling people to want to examine themselves too much and seek to improve on what they have and what they do.

A posse in the camp meant that no one would ever feel ‘inadequate’.

We reward those who leave us feeling adequate. We give them promotions and accelerate their advancement. Those who assure us that we deserve the best without extra effort win our loyalty. Those who comfort us with the notion that we are ‘valuable’ and ‘precious’ just for being us get our votes.

We believe that if something feels difficult to grasp or deal with, then there is a flaw in the source and not in us. That we don’t have to spend days chewing over something difficult. Because in our current state we are fine, so if something we are working on keeps foundering then the problem must be in some other domain, natural or supernatural.

If one observes carefully, one would conclude that the corruption we complain about so much is often mere scaffolding for deeper problems of the type described in this short piece. The confidence a public official has in awarding a large contract to a completely inexperienced contractor comes from certain knowledge that a meritocratic debate would be incoherent. The culture simply does not exist to host such a debate properly. It will rub off badly on many people.

A civilisation that prizes its psychic comforts cannot create complex things. And the truth is: moving from one phase of development to the next is INDEED a complex thing; there is no silver bullet. It takes ‘deep’ penetration into discovery on multiple fronts. It takes insatiable LEARNING and IMPROVING.

Learning and improving, unfortunately, CANNOT happen in one’s comfort zone. Any society or civilisation that prizes comfort cannot build technical capacity fast enough to make a difference.

This simple fact has the force of a universal law.

Whenever I look at the charismatic churches in Ghana and Africa I am reminded of the “modernisation theories” I read long ago. The most poignant were by Samuel P. Huntington.
 
He theorised, and based on theory predicted, that the military in Africa would be forced to convert their ‘latent power’ into ‘overt power’ (I’m summarising crudely in my own phrases).
 
The reason for this inevitability was the fundamental nature of military culture itself. Any kind of military develops organisational cohesion. If it grows in size and resources the cohesion becomes ‘heft’.
 
In an environment where little is organised and most things are under threat of erosion, the military becomes ‘exceptional’ and their ‘manifest destiny’ as natural ‘dominants’ become so obvious as to become self-actualising and self-fulfilling. In short, the military ‘couldn’t help themselves’ but take power.
 
Half a century later, I look at an Africa where political parties, after the brief surge in capacity following democratic liberalisation, have begun to stagnate. In the more advanced states in Africa, like Kenya and Nigeria, we already see a ‘post-partisan’ big-boy politics, where the parties are merely instruments for trade-offs among personality blocs grounded on very loose and non-ideological ethnic coalitions.
 
The trade unions are barely ghosts of their former power. Outside South Africa, and even there COSATU is in the sunset of its career, the unions no longer represent a growing force for ‘counter-positional’ politics.
 
The academic movements have long dissolved into a vat of permanent nostalgia.
 
Civil society has professionalised and shrank on purpose, into compact organisational units that use branding rather than mobilisation to project relevance.
 
Only the Churches continue to maintain cohesion as they grow in size and resources. Only the churches have a rendezvous with destiny.
 
Only the Churches have the luxury of courting the overreach that finally shackled the African military into its current state of ordinariness.
 
Because only the Churches have reached a certain ‘peak’ from which point latent power has to burst forth into overt power or the container itself will be consumed from within.

Myth: Great businesses start with a ‘great purpose’.

Fact: Great businesses start with a ‘big latent market’.

Example: John Kellogg. What was his ‘purpose’ for inventing corn flakes? To suppress runaway libidos and lust, which he blamed on eggs, sausages, and other protein-rich breakfasts (he believed that the world’s biggest problem is ‘self pleasuring’). In the first year the business went commercial, 1 in 500 Americans bought the stuff. Last year, 1 in 5 Americans did same. Nearly none of them have a clue why corn flakes came to be. And they really couldn’t care less. They just love the fact that it is sexier and more instant than porridge.

One hears often that engineers and entrepreneurs must practice “human-centered design”.
 
The problem is that this is often presented as an “attitude” that they must adopt and never as a deep and broad field of knowledge they must be immersed in.
 
This almost certainly stems from the increasing disrespect for the humanities.
 
Hello, “human centered design” is simply about respecting anthropology as a discipline with relevant things to say about modern life!
 
Take for example my recent observation about hotel bathroom showers and sinks, which happened merely through a fluke of curiosity. I went further to contact a number of other frequent hotel stayers and humbly pleaded with them to record their observations.
 
We discovered, as a collective, that when the handle of a faucet requires a screwing rather than lifting/pressing action to open and shut the tap, we invariably left the water running during our various ablutions five times longer.
 
Furthermore, whenever the shower had a temperature calibrator with visible numbers, the vast majority of us left the dial at 40 Degrees Celsius and rarely tampered with it. When it lacked a dial, we frequently overheated the water.
 
Both experiments proved that hotels could save millions of liters of water and cubic feet of gas simply through the deliberate selection of certain faucet handles and temperature dials over others.
 
Can anyone deny that such a didactic approach can grow the knowledge base for sound environmental engineering, and by so doing actually *generate impact*? Bear in mind, that none of us were particularly environmentally conscious about these matters upon the onset of the experiment.
 
In matters of design, knowledge trumps attitude.

Firstly, congratulations definitely are in order. A small Ghanaian university has joined the Space Race by participating in the ongoing CubeSat launch trend.

A CubeSat costs nearly $100,000 to put in orbit (rocket launch costs are significant), and getting JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) and others to back your university project requires showing some seriousness.

In this particular June deployment from Florida, universities from only five countries leveraged JAXA’s backing to deploy CubeSats, of which only two were from Africa, Ghana’s All Nations University at Koforidua, and Nigeria’s Federal University of Technology at Akure.

Kenya’s earlier project (1Kuns) was also backed by JAXA but with the apparent intermediation of the Italian Space Agency. It did precede the efforts of the Nigerians and the Ghanaians within the KiboCube framework (the JAXA-UN effort pushing universities around the world to deploy CubeSats) but it seems to have garnered precious little coverage, compared with the latter.

Ethiopia’s CubeSat project, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have won KiboCube’s support. At any rate it was in the ‘mini’ rather than the pico-nano range that CubeSats fall within.

It is intriguing to see that the bigger Engineering universities in Sub-Saharan Africa haven’t jumped on the CubeSat bandwagon at all. Which is all the more reason ANU needs to be seriously commended for this effort.

What does CubeSat signify though, and why is the UN pushing it?

Maybe I should first explain what it is.

Think of it as the Raspberry Pi of space technology. The first ‘readymade kit’ for building a satellite the size of a box of Papaye’s rice and chicken.

The specifications were developed by CalPoly and Stanford in California, USA, around 1999. Since then it has become the platform of choice for universities in getting space science students practically immersed in the engineering of satellite technology.

As a U-class sateLlite, CubeSat platforms are awesomely miniaturised.

They represent the culmination of several generations of space technology advances in terms of reduced cost, simplicity and shrunk size.

In short they can do for the space industry what wireless has done for global telecommunications: democratise, decentralise and distribute it.

Even if only a few countries can launch rockets to put satellites in space, the fact that the satellites post-launch can be radically differentiated creates serious room for innovation.

So where does that leave GhanaSat-1, the ANU CubeSat (which was originally scheduled for 2020 but appears to have been fast-tracked)?

Firstly, the race is still open to transform CubeSats from educational kits into real commercial applications. Which is hard to do when they are so tiny, degrade so quickly and have too few specialised payloads in today’s commercial arena to transport. But that is precisely where the opportunities for innovation lie!

As for the mechanical contraptions themselves, Planet Labs (the startup in San Francisco which dominates the CubeSat commercial world), CalPoly, Stanford, and assorted Californians have ringfenced them with patents and sucked much of the joy out.

The real contest is for the gadgetry that can be put on these spacefaring devices; in modifications of their propulsion systems; and in fuel unit redesign. Can we come up with breakthroughs in any of these dimensions?

Think of it this way: cell phones didn’t become as revolutionary as they are today just because they became smaller. Their radical contributions stem from the digital applications ecosystems they have enabled.

So whichever country develops the most awesome mini-gadgets that can sit on top of something the size of a takeaway box, survive the harsh conditions of Space, and offer clear benefits from hundreds of kilometers above the Earth’s surface wins.

Here is where, despite having been fulsome in praise for ANU, I still have to do what I always do: find a bit of fault with their approach. When I listened to the project leads, they appeared to be emphasising aerial imaging and measurement of microelectronic degradation due to ablation.

I don’t see what competitive advantage ANU’s spin-off companies (if they manage to crack the commercialisation) or Ghana can gain from those two focuses. Near as I can tell, atmospheric drones have conquered the aerial photography space.

And in general communications I simply don’t see how pico/nano satellites can compete with the beasts of Eutelsat.

ANU will clearly need to think much harder, and their collaborators in government, in addition to upping support, need to dig more creatively into potential nano-applications in which tiny satellites are considerably superior to bigger satellites and drones in delivering.

One approach that is beginning to gain attention is the use of such satellites in ‘swarm’ and ‘constellation’ formations to achieve data-gathering objectives in a way that a single platform, whatever its size and sophistication, cannot achieve.

Another vision of the future is one in which the cost of deploying these satellites drop to the price of a small car more quickly than anticipated, and tens of thousands of them get launched. The ‘cloud-centric’ and IoT (“internet of things”) possibilities generated by these tiny space robots distributing work among themselves in a specialised way may lead to innovations too awesome to fully contemplate now. Just as we have seen on the terrestrial level.

ANU, please start cranking out those patents.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-40538471?ocid=socialflow_facebook