The history of African underdevelopment, in a modern sense, is purely and simply the history of Africa’s structural isolation from what became the wellspring of certain modern institutions, virtually all of them centered around what is today West Asia and North Africa.
 
Every society that was estranged from this hotspot became underdeveloped in a modern sense to the extent of, and over the period, of their isolation.
 
These institutions were primarily focused on dominating nature rather than submitting to its rhythms.
 
A simple validation of this truth can be found in this simple thought experiment.
 
Supposing most of Europe had been populated by its so called ‘indigenous groups’, these being peoples of very identical ethnic stock to the rest of the European family but considerably more isolated from the imported West Asianism that defined Europe, would the continent of Europe be this ‘developed’?
 
And in answering this question, one might simply examine the history of Finland, for many centuries among the poorest countries in Europe, and conclude that the high proportion of its population made up of such groups and its colonial experience, which compounded the isolation, mirrors the underdevelopment of Africa until the early 20th Century.
 
The inevitable conclusion one would have to draw is that if such ‘traditional societies’ had been as dominant in Europe as they were in Africa, ‘traditional’ in this sense being defined primarily by distance from the West Asian wellspring, the European industrial project would have been similarly delayed.
 
In fact, I am very doubtful whether Scandinavia as we know it today would have been this advanced had the forebears of the Vikings and others in their fold not moved further down into Saxon and other geographies closer to the West Asian sources of the dominant themes of westernisation, such as Christendom, advanced feudalism, money, etc.
 
Today, the traditional societies of Europe, be they Mari, Vepsian, Abkhazian, Goral or Skolt, continue to be marginalised and in some cases even exploited just as many African societies were.
 
The only puzzle about African underdevelopment has a very recent origin: its post-independence leadership crisis, a crisis not that dissimilar from what we saw in Greece and Portugal throughout the 60s and 70s.
 
It is completely understandable that Africa was underdeveloped and non-industrialised until the 1960s and even the 1970s, just as it is completely understandable that pre-Nokia Finland until the first world war was very poor. One does not require any special explanations to account for this anymore than the facts related to a confluence of historical accidents.
 
Africa’s failure to rapidly modernise since the 60s and 70s, however, is particularly worrying and requires special explanation.

Marine Le Pen shakes the French Establishment.

Nigel Farage crushes Establishment forces, triggering BREXIT.

Donald Trump makes mincemeat of the combined power of the American media and policy elite.

The rise of isolationism. The worship of barriers. The decline of Western internationalism etc.

Some say that these walls shall keep fresh ideas and energies from flowing into the west.

Some say that it is merely a phase and a good thing because if people can’t flee then they will stay and fight, fight bad governments and cultures that breed poverty and despair that is.

And then there are those who advise that we focus on the human lives at the center of this drama, the migrants and the dismembered families, the people in the boats, the human flotsam tossed up by all these cockfights of the powerful and the megalomaniacal.

I think that as usual the world misses the subtle countercurrents that gather in the seams whilst we are focused on the canvas.

There are many Westerners slowly growing disenchanted with the West. In a way that is different from the anomie of the 60s. They are tired of the culture wars because they’ve never really been all that ideological to begin with. They’ve had enough of the drama and pointless circling of old dung. They have become emotionally estranged.

Behold, I give you the phenomenon of “emotional refugees” and “emotional migration”.
These “heart exiles” may not be willing to put their feet to where their heart is yet, but they are detaching from the civic anchors that tie them to the West and as a result are becoming more “globally opportunistic” not less.

In this sense, there is definitely a countercurrent of renewed globalisation amidst all the doom and gloom mongering of a new ultranationalism in the west.

That is about all we can say for now. Will this lead to an export of talent away from the West, in a less imperious way than has been the case in the old “expatriate” model?

Will the internet exarcebate/accelerate the trend? Will it pose new risks for African and other third world interests as better resourced Westerners swoop in looking for greener material and emotional pastures.

We are already seeing a surge of “African startups” managed from New York and London.

Or is this the melting pot of world dreams the likes of John Lennon sang about?

Time will tell.

The idea that new technologies provide us with all the tools we need to literally create “new geographies” has always fascinated me, and I once did a short paper for DLD about it (cf. http://dld-conference.com/users/bright-simons).

Nonetheless, I have always had this nagging feeling that I was missing something, a secret sauce that can make it all very practical. Something that can make it possible to create a “cross-frontier geographic entity” to advance certain economic goals that traditional African countries acting within their normal territories or using the standard inter-national regimes cannot achieve.

At dawn, it came to me. Remember how Adama Barrow was sworn in during the confrontation with Jammeh? That’s the clue: mixing diplomatic real estate with technology and priming it for business!

It may involve some creative re-wiring of the Vienna Convention norms, but the truth is that if the Ghanaian embassy in London in indeed Ghanaian territory, so many fascinating possibilities we have never contemplated become *practical* all of a sudden.

More in due course. All good things come to those who wait.

If you grew up as a boy in urban Ghana a few decades ago, you were likely weaned on a diet of American b-movies.
 
You probably recall that some of the lead actors were referred to by their nicknames rather than their real names.
 
The schema was fairly consistent. Some were named after their biggest blockbusters (as far as we were concerned). So Schwarzenegger became ‘Commando’ and Dolph Lundgren became ‘Red Scorpion’. Some were named after major characters they played. So Roger Moore was always called ‘James Bond’, even when he was in Wild Geese. Stallone was always ‘Rambo’ and Dhamendra Seol was always Shakar. Occasionally, we just went with some striking feature of the actor and stayed with it. Which method gave us such lovable names as “I trus my leg”, “Guy Jesus”, “Bodam Bodam” and “Yellow Man”.
 
You might think that this was because we simply were too lazy to look at movie credits and find the real names. Not so. For some actors we exclusively used their real names. Bruce Lee was always Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris was always Chuck Norris (no, “One Man Thousand” was another guy).
 
The abiding mystery for me was how these nicknames came to enjoy such widespread use, sometimes right across urban Ghana, in multiple cities.
 
Then I paused to reflect on the matter and concluded that Ghanaians are actually quite “cooperative” where nicknames are concerned. We welcome, comply with, and even proceed to actively promote whenever a good one pops up. Look at how enthusiastically we use ‘JJ’, ‘Kofi Wayo’, ‘Alan Cash’, ‘Super OD’, ‘Maame Dokono’ etc.
 
I have had the good fortune to travel around a fair bit, and I don’t see the same degree of delight in using and promoting nick names as terms of endearment.
 
I wonder why.

I have this nagging feeling that because of the constant focus on trivia, many observers of the ongoing vetting proceedings of incoming Ghanaian Ministers miss moments of importance when they occur.
One such fine moment was when the MP for Asawase engaged the President’s nominee for the post of Minister of Energy over Ghana’s FRSU policy. Curiously, minutes before the MP began to engage the nominee on the subject I had just taken to Facebook to express my own reservations about the latter’s remarks.
As far as I’m concerned such encounters between the official opposition and the government of the day (incoming or established) marks the high point of our democratic culture. Both gentlemen in facing off against each other did their duty, with exemplary passion and vigour,
If you are one of those who didn’t really catch the essence of the exchange, let me try and sketch a brief outline of the essentials.
1. You probably know already that generating power using the Akosombo dam costs this country far less than doing so using the various thermal plants (think of them as huge generators).
2. Note that this is not because there is some blanket fact of “hydro is cheaper than thermal” but rather that there are several specific factors that make such a cost differential *usually* so. For instance, Akosombo costs us only about 60% of what Kpong costs us to produce the same amount of hydro-power *most of the time*. But Kpong is still fairly cheap as it costs us about 75% on average to produce the same amount of power as the average thermal plant.
3. But things are not so simple. Though it is unlikely that any thermal plant can match Akosombo’s cost performance, there is still considerable variation among them, largely dependent on what fuel they use and how they are configured.
4. For example, Karpowership relies on really dirty, heavy, fuel which is likely to affect the health of residents in its catchment area down the line, but the stuff is cheap. Karpower’s fuel costs are less than 45% that of major rivals, Tapco, Tico and Sunon Asogli. Tapco and Tico use crude oil (the stuff we have been producing from Jubilee) and Sunon mostly uses gas.
5. Now, here is where it gets interesting. Due to cutting-edge engineering configuration, Tapco and Tico spend nearly the same amount as Sunon Asogli, even though the latter uses gas, whilst CENIT, which like Tapco and Tico uses crude oil, spends nearly 50% more than Tico.
6. Nonetheless, given similar levels of engineering sophistication (no point to get into the “combined cycle” and whatnots here), gas prices have *tended* to be cheaper than crude oil prices. Even with falling crude oil prices, gas can still manage an edge *depending on a number of factors*.
7. The MP for Tamale South asked a related question connected to this see-saw price movements between oil and gas. In simple terms, he wanted the nominee to admit that the notion that gas is *always cheaper* does not hold as a foundation for policy, because it depends on specific contracting methods (for example: did Ghana tie its gas contracts to spot crude prices in anyway?)
8. But assuming wise contracting, sound engineering policies, and sensible local spot market arrangements for electrical power, it always makes sense to favour gas for power, especially since it is also cleaner (better for health and the environment – a fact that can still hold even in a comparison with hydro, especially when flora-fauna impacts are factored into the evaluation).
9. Ghana has thus had a kind of general, sometimes incoherent, policy to favour the use of gas as a fuel.
10. Till date, we have relied on pipelines carrying gas from our own fields offshore, and from Nigeria, to feed the 3 or so thermal plants that rely mostly on gas.
11. The Nigerian suppliers are unreliable and frequently fail to honour their contractual obligations in respect of the volumes required.
12. The gas we have is “associated gas”; it therefore depends on the production level of crude oil. Due to FPSO engineering problems and other factors, this gas supply can also be erratic, though never as bad as the Nigerian supply.
13. So the question has always been: why not acquire the capability to import gas the same way that we can import crude oil to feed the thermal plants. Then and only then would it be correct to say that power supply in Ghana is exclusively a question of financing, since otherwise supply interruptions of gas supply would continue to make it, at least partly, a question of feedstock stability as well.
14. But how does one import gas from overseas? Would it require a pipeline to the Middle East, or Equatorial Guinea? No. The gas can be turned into liquid, and transported here like crude oil (in a form known in the trade as LNG). When it gets here, it can be gassified again and then fed through pipelines to serve the thermal plants (the platform that can receive the LNG, store, and turn it into gas is what is known as the ‘FSRU’). Of course, this is cheaper than requiring each plant to build its own LNG handling facility and gassifier.
15. It doesn’t take genius to realise that the cost of doing this may be higher than buying gas from Ghana or Nigeria, and with more gas coming on stream and the prospect, however dim, of stability in Nigeria, there is a real risk of a gas glut.
16. The question has thus arisen as to whether the country should have only one FSRU. The back and forth between the MP for Asawase and the nominee was over this point. The nominee claims to have sighted a document that affirms his argument that the country must have only one FSRU and yet the past administration is pursuing three concurrently. The MP sought through his questioning to challenge this view.
17. The fact of the matter is that there are three consortia seeking to build FSRUs in Ghana. There is a question of where to site these massive platforms, how much they will charge for storing the LNG and gassifying same, and whether the variation in terms are problematic.
18. As far as I can see the three platforms have different capacities and overall project designs. Generally (let me emphasise that these calculations are all crude) 1 million cubic feet of gas should produce about 4 MW of power. Ghana’s medium term plan is to produce 5000 MW, which is not really unreasonable.
19. To do so at a reasonable heat rate and reserve margin, we are thus talking about 1000 million cubic feet of gas (if pricing dynamics or policy fiat shift all our thermal facilities to gas) since it is intended for the bulk of this new load to be supported by thermal. With the country struggling to produce 70 million cubic feet, and the Nigerians struggling to send in 50 million cubic feet on a good day, there COULD be as much as 700 million cubic feet of latent demand even assuming that our new gas fields prove as fertile as the optimistic projections portend.
20. The funny thing is that all three FSRUs are planning a combined initial capacity of less than 750 million cubic feet.
21. Assuming a very sound 60% utilisation rate, the effective combined capacity of the three facilities would only be 500 million cubic feet, the maximal bound of the GNPC’s current medium-term projected need (that is ignoring the 5000 MW target and focusing solely on switching existing thermal plants to gas and assuming a resumption of consumption growth, which has fallen by 20% off its recent peak).
22. Simply put, there is no reason why all three FSRUs cannot compete in a sophisticated LNG market. When regional possibilities are considered, the issue becomes a no-brainer. In fact, a full appreciation of the regional opportunity must take into account the prospect of gas exports beyond the immediate sub-region as well, something for which LNG platforms (enhanced with liquefaction modules) would also be required.
23. I acknowledge the concerns around the government being expected to put up security for LNG and thus guaranteeing certain minimum output thresholds, but this is a matter of negotiation, surely? It is strictly a question of minimum utlisation rate, and government guaranteeing uptake only to a rational threshold. Nothing more.
24. It is vital in strategic analysis not to downplay the importance of redundancy and market competition when planning for the security of any commodity, be it light-crop cocoa beans or, indeed, natural gas. In respect of strategic analysis, there is also the issue of the geopolitics of all this. Which geoeconomic interests is the nominee most eager to confront? The Israeli billionaires with their deep tentacles into the GNPC bureaucracy? The Nigerians, whose gas and crude we so desperately need? Or the French and Americans arrayed like a rock behind the mighty GE, and its Ghanaian scheming allies? Alas, these are the forces backing the three consortia.
25. That is why I am baffled by the nominee for the energy portfolio’s insistence that Ghana should have only one FRSU as a matter of policy fiat. And why I believe the clash with the MP for Asawase (and Majority Chief Whip) was a seminal moment for policy debate in this country.
Long may rational debate prevail.

Ghanaian elections have been relatively peaceful for decades. But in 2012, the country saw its most disputed elections in two decades. What is worse, the alleged irregularities were showcased on live TV for all Ghanaians to see, courtesy of a decision by the Ghanaian Opposition to challenge the results of the elections in the Ghanaian Supreme Court.

Some have wondered whether the profusion of recorded irregularities were merely the effect of the additional scrutiny enabled by the legal process, but few have bothered to look into the data for hints of another theory.

In the 2008 elections, turnout in the country was a little less than 70% and the average number of voters per polling station was 376. There was no biometric based voter verification. Average voting time is estimated at about 5.5 minutes. The lower rate of urbanisation meant that the skew of polling stations with more than 1000 voters was, say β.

Fast forward to 2012, the turnout had turboed to 80%, and the average number of voters per polling station was now 432. The addition of biometrics to PVT did not only imply increased voting time but it added another layer on top (i.e. if biometric fails, switch to manual), with the combined effect that voting time is estimated to have hit 10 minutes. The overall impact was thus not a mere 30% in the “time-congestion rate” but a potential 40% due to heightened probability of conflict. The perverse outcome was less time for administrative activities such as filling forms properly etc.

In the wake of these problems the Electoral Commission (EC) resolved to increase polling stations to 34,000. This was later revised to 30,000. And finally 29,000. In fact, we currently have a little less than 29000. Meanwhile urbanisation has now hit 54%, the result of a 3.4% annual positive rate change. β must now be at least (β + 0.4β).

Should we see a continued growth in the turnout rate, to say 85%. Then the overall increase in this variable we are calling the “time-congestion factor” should be at least 60% compared to 2004 levels, meaning that we cannot expect a higher quality election than what was observed in 2012. Simple.

At this stage, it seems the best hope for a relatively congestion-free polls in Ghana, and therefore for fewer irregularities overall, is for a lower growth in turnout rate plus a higher voter arrivals rate in the early half of the day on December 7th.

ghana_elections_congestion_2004-2016

This 2014 study (http://scitation.aip.org/…/jou…/jasa/135/4/10.1121/1.4865269) by Kardous and Shaw validates the use smartphone apps for the accurate measurement of ambient noise levels.

This 2013 study (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11524-013-9843-6…) by Pujol et al grounded a long-held suspicion that certain levels of ambient noise are detrimental to the school performance of pupils.

A preliminary scoping of school locations in Accra, cross-referenced with rudimentary smartphone-charted “noise maps”, indicates a high concentration of school sites in “extreme-noise zones”, characterised by all-day, continuous, high decibel, exposure.

A hypothesis is proposed that the failure to perform routine noise audits when siting new schools and the failure to enforce anti noise pollution regulations, especially in school vicinities, account for a perceptible part of the worsening “educational performance to public education expenditure ratio”.

Whilst longterm institutional research and consequential reforms are vital in addressing the potential damage posed by this state of affairs, an interim solution is proposed.

Affordable noise-muffling and soundproofing innovations may be developed at low cost by schools to mitigate the degree of noise impact on the classroom environment.

Due to the absence of airconditioning, the chief design constraint for soundproofing Accra schools is the need to blend effective ventilation with noise-muffling objectives.

Luckily, new, low cost, windows technologies allow the creation of sound diffraction ‘bubbles’ that sucks in air but repels as much as 25 decibels of unwanted noise, more or less insulating the classroom from much of the surrounding din.

Whilst the implementation of such technologies would be brilliant, the authorities may consider, at the very least, a ranking index of schools based on ambient decibel levels. Such an index (the “Schools Noise Impact Measurement & Evaluation” – SNIME – index) could, for instance, be configured to further gauge the correlation between noise pollution and BECE performance.

For effective advocacy, visualisation of the underlying data should help tremendously, something for which the same smartphone apps alluded to earlier can be most useful.

#LungulunguSociology