Can Ghana Lead The World With Technology?
That was the question on the lips of everyone in the packed auditorium of the Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in ICT on the 17th of July, 2008 when the Center in partnership with the mPedigree Network held a Technology Transformation Seminar under the theme: World-Class Innovation Made in Ghana.
In a rousing opening address, the moderator of the occasion Kafui Prebbie, an ICT Educator at the University of Winneba who has consulted for several international organisations, described the challenge that faced in Ghana in the following terms: "We Must Innovate or We will Die". Echoing the sentiment, the Chairman of the event Professor Emmanuel Owusu Bennoah, Director-General of the Center for Scientific & Industrial Research, bemoaned the lack of awareness about intellectual property protection in Ghanaian industry, and admonished a change of attitude to enable Ghanaian innovators impact more substantially on economic development in the country.
According to Bright B. Simons of the mPedigree Network and Sarata Adams of the Kofi Annan Center for Excellence in ICT, coordinators of the event, the seminar sought to kindle a national debate about innovation and excellence in Ghana in the context of a highly competitive global marketplace and the challenges facing Ghana as it strives to transition from a third-world country to a medium-income one by 2015. It prompts the question whether even this vision can be topped, so that Ghana actually becomes a first-world country – the first African country to achieve such a feat – within our lifetimes. Stakeholders from all sections of Ghanaian society – ranging from Government to multilateral institutions to the leadership of the private sector - are involved in this all-important quest for solutions, strategies and insights. Multilateral organisations represented included, among others, the GTZ, the International Finance Corporation, and UNESCO. The Office of the President, and the Ministries of Trade and Industry, and Communications were also represented. The Presbyterian Boys Secondary School ([PRESEC) also sent a delegation to represent youth.
The seminar was conducted around three case studies. These were selected to frame the theme and were identified for their practicality, viability and growth potential, as well as for their prospects of attaining Global recognition as pacesetting innovations. Each one of them is a fully functional system past prototype stage. Mr. Ashifi Gogo of mPedigree set the ball rolling with an interesting powerpoint display about the public-private organisation's drug authentication system dubbed 1393. He stated that in West Africa, where mPedigree is focussing its medium-term attention, the fake drugs situation is near crisis-point: over 50,000 people in Niger were inoculated with fake meningitis vaccine in 1995 leading to thousands of fatalities. The WHO believes that 25% of drugs sold in the region is fake. MPedigree has begun tackling the problem of fake drugs, and eventually other consumables, in Ghana, and eventually elsewhere on the continent. With the support of the four main telecom operators in the country, it has implemented a uniform platform with one 4-digit access number for use by industry and the trade. Manufacturers who are convinced of the need are provided with special one-time codes for embossment on each product pack. Consumers at the point of purchase "text" these codes, at no cost, to the universal number to receive instant feedback from an automated register whether the product is genuine or not.
Mr. Kobina Jackson, Country Director of Omatek Computers Ltd. followed with a presentation about the Omatek business model. He said that Omatek Computers produces Africa's number one homegrown personal computer brand. While being a premium Partner for Compaq, Senior Partner for IBM, APPLE, MICROSOFT, etc, Omatek prides itself most on having laid the foundation for the emergence of a unified electronic industry in this part of the world covering components, assembly, value-added services and brand development. He mentioned partnerships with various tertiary institutions that have allowed Omatek computers to reach many needy students. Emphasising that Omatek only used components produced by East Asian factories that supplied global producers such as Dell, he made a case for a change of perception about made in Ghana products being inferior.
Mr. Herman Chinery Hesse, Chairman of Softtribe, the man some call "The Bill Gates of Africa" was the final presenter. He introduced to the gathering his new company, BSL International's, MX platform, which is an SMS-driven tele-commerce & micropayments infrastructure that has begun serving poor people in rural areas who currently have no access to facilities to send or receive remote payments. Unlike some other tele-commerce platforms, the MX is carrier-agnostic as it can operate independently of the telecommunication operators via various peer-to-peer models. The MX application also uses a new world-first trading model, the Nii Tettay Protocol, to coordinate purchase and delivery of goods in and from environments where comprehensive physical and financial services have been unavailable to the masses, in a manner designed to enhance trade and enable efficient mobile phone and Internet payments for African goods, even by people without bank accounts.
In the open forum that followed the presentations, various submissions were made by partcipants who ranged from CEOs of technology companies to Government officials. Mr. Desmond Boateng, an Assistant Director of the Ministry of Communications informed the gathering that it is because of government's wish to see increased innovation that it is promoting the concept of Technology Parks. Dr. Robert Woode, a crusading engineer, joined the call for a concerted national agenda towards technological self-sufficiency. Mr. Seth Adjei-Baah, Vice President of the Ghana National Chamber of Mines & Industry, pledged the readiness of private sector financiers to support innovators and entrepreneurs in Ghana. The same view was expressed by one of the IFC participants, Nana Yare.
The program closed at 5pm, with submissions by Dorothy Gordon, Director General of the AITI-KACE, and Professor Owusu Bennoah, for more of such forums to highlight Ghanaian innovation.