I retract and apologize for my article

Thu, 6 Feb 2014 Source: Dowuona, Samuel Nii Narku

I retract and apologize for my article about Roland Agambire

By Samuel Dowuona, Feature Article

I believe in my country Ghana, particularly the enterprising youth. So when I see a young Ghanaian making exploits in whatever field I love to talk about it. There are several young Ghanaians doing great stuff in the area of technology and I have not failed to throw the spotlight on them once I get to know them. This was what drove me to write an article titled “RLG shows the way in mobile manufacturing in Africa” published on ghanaweb on October 14, 2010.

Since then, Africa, and indeed the world at large, has seen the exploits of the Agams Group, owners of RLG Communications, and its Chairman, Roland Agambire. He was only 38 years old then, so obviously, I was not far from wrong in my enthusiasm about an African young achiever. And I do not have any regrets for my intent in writing about Roland and RLG the way I did in 2010. But given what we all know now, I would like to eat humble pie and retract some of the things I said about RLG and Roland Agambire, and to apologize to my readers for misleading them. This is nothing person. It is my readers calling my attention to the contrast between what I wrote and what we all know now.

And talking about my readers, people actually read what I published four years ago. Some got angry and comment on ghanaweb that RLG owes them salary arrears. Now some are referring me to the article, and even accusing me, in private, of getting paid to write those words about RLG and Roland. But let me debunk that accusation even before I continue. The truth is, I am the only three-time winner of GJA Telecoms Report of the Year, and Roland is a ‘giant’ in the industry I write on but I have never met him one-on-one in my life – not before or even after I wrote the article. In fact I have only recently tried to meet him but his Corporate Affairs and Communications team have not given me an appointment yet. I do not push it that much because I noticed Roland loves to roll with entertainment broadcasters rather than communications industry journalists who would ask the critical questions and demand real answers. That is his choice and it may be working for him. I am not the one to advise him on his media relations

Again, I have never received any RLG garget/device from the company. I have one rlg Uhuru Laptop, which I received from the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) when I won Telecoms Reporter of the Year for the third time in 2012. I hardly even use that device. I do not want to give it away because I won it deservedly. But it is not a top of mind device for me.

So what is my point about retracting and apologizing? In my October 2010 article I stated that Roland and RLG for that matter were manufacturing mobile phones in Ghana. I said so because I spoke with the then Communications Director of RLG, Millicent Atuguba and she convinced me that what they do in Ghana was manufacturing and not just assembling. I stopped short of asking to see the manufacturing process. I allowed a spin doctor to convince me that RLG is actually manufacturing mobile phones in Ghana from scratch. You and I know that is not true, so I retract that statement and render an unqualified apology to my readers for not digging further and allowing a spin doctor to mislead me to mislead the public.

But that is what we have to go through with spin doctors in politics, corporate Ghana and everywhere. Everybody who knows me well knows I write a lot about Ghana’s telecom industry. I do not want to start recounting my experience with spin-doctoring in that industry. But let me say that industry players think I am too critical because when they issue their Press Releases with all the spin, I do my checks and find out some of the half truths and untruths and I either call their attention to it or remove them before I publish. Meanwhile, my other colleagues in other media houses publish the untruths and half truths. I learnt my lessons the hard way long ago.

Secondly, I made an emphatic statement in that 2010 article that Roland deserves to be congratulated for using “private funds” to do all the big things he was doing. And he was providing jobs for thousands of Ghanaians all through private funds. Millicent Atuguba read all that and said “thank you” to me then, even though she knew that was not the truth. If I had written something derogatory about Roland or RLG, she would definitely have called for a retraction and apology. In fact there were 24 comments on the article on ghanaweb, out of which some claimed RLG owed them salary arrears. Millicent debunked the claim when I called her. But given what we all know now, that was an absolute falsehood. I do not blame anyone for my failure to check. Maybe I was too excited about the achievement of a young Ghanaian so I glossed over lots of stuff. I retract and apologize.

Now we know that Roland’s Asongtaba Cottage Industries took GHC47milliion from SADA for “akonfem” and aforestation, which is now a spectacular failure. He took GHC25million to train 11,000 people various vocations but trained only 4,000. Now they are saying government failed to bring the extra people for the training so they (Agams) are not to blame. Roland also took some GHC54million interest-free loan from government for what, we still do not know. Manasseh Azure Awuni had documents to show that one of Roland’s companies tried to take GHC6million from GYEEDA as accommodation and transport fees for vocational trainees, who lived within the community they were being trained in. But that was discovered and stopped. Roland may have taken several other moneys for various projects under GYEEDA. But as we speak, his GYEEDA and SADA contracts have been cancelled. He has been asked to refund GHC55million to GYEEDA, and we are waiting to see how he will account for the GHC47million SADA money and the balance on the GHC25million for the training.

I did write in 2010 that when RLG launched their first line of G-Series phones, they promised to build a US$100million-worth manufacturing plant at the Spintex Industrial area the following year, 2011. We are in 2014 and nothing is being said about that US$100million plant. What we have rather seen is the NDC government trying to cajole all the international mobile phone manufacturers with presence in Ghana into coming to the country to collaborate with local companies (only one – RLG) to establish assembling plants in Ghana. So it is beginning to look like government wants to push other companies into collaborating with Roland to build his US$100million assembling plant. And Roland himself said it when he was interviewed about the 20% import tax on handsets; that it is an opportunity for the foreign handset giants to collaborate with local ones (being RLG) to build assembling plants here. Now government officials have become brand icons for RLG phones, flaunting RLG handsets in our faces everywhere they go, even though they cannot guarantee its reliability and durability.

Whereas that US$100million plant continues to remain in Roland’s head (which is a good vision), years after the deadline he promised, he recently rocked this country with his US$10billion Hope City project launch. At the launch of that project, Roland flaunted some guys from Microsoft, whose interest in RLG may be entirely because RLG’s Uhuru runs on Microsoft Windows 8, and not because Microsoft is investing in the Hope City Project. The local media reported the story as if RLG is doing the project in collaboration with Microsoft. But CNN reported it correctly that Microsoft is not putting in a penny. No wonder, till date the project does not seem to find its clear path, except the location has been moved, for strange reasons, from Accra West to Accra East.

But pundits have raised questions about how a US$150million company could raise US$10billion for a project. I believe in possibilities. But it is a fair question, and in Ghana the media do not ask the critical questions. That is one of the questions I want to ask Roland if I get to meet him. And what happened to the US$100million assembling plant supposed to have been completed in 2011? We all know what happened to Nana Akufo-Addo when he was asked how intended to fund his Free SHS program. I hope Roland knows the answers off head.

Again, at the launch of RLG G-Series in 2010, Roland announced that his RLG phones already commanded 30% market share then, and that he was looking forward to capturing 80% of the market in five years. At least I quoted him on that one. But now I am wondering how he came up with that “akonfem” statistics? All the industry statistics I have seen on handsets market share do not even capture RLG. Nokia used to be on top in Ghana, but now Samsung is comfortably sitting at top. RLG phones market share is so insignificant, it does not even show on the table. The top among the locally-owned mobile handset franchise holders is Tenco, who sits at number three. So Roland should tell us how he got his 30% market share and what he is doing now to capture 80%.

I am aware RLG has spoken with Tecno (Mobile Zone) about helping to distribute RLG phones, but that has not yielded any result. Besides, we see a number of RLG phones commercials in the media from time to time, but as to where RLG phones really are, no one can tell. The company is now more into laptops because it got easy state money [not private money] to do One Laptop per Child Project. That was easy cash for the taking, because there was no pressure to deliver a high quality product. And those who use the product will tell you it freezes very often and messes up in no time. And yet Roland had enough money to throw away a million dollars to an American artiste who came to our country and disrespected our culture and laws in our faces.

But all that fits into what Roland himself said at the launch of the RLG G-Series phones, about his vision to be named among the billionaires of Africa in the Forbes Magazine. Here is what Roland said on that occasion: “In the next few years Africans will be named among the top five billionaires in the world - when that time comes I will be one of those Africans”.

It is not a bad dream to want to be a billionaire, but how you achieve that is the issue. If you have to take the taxpayer’s money for a purpose, fail to deliver on that purpose, and shortchange the whole country because you are on your way to be listed in some magazine as a billionaire; that is problematic. I don’t know how far Roland has come on his journey to the Forbes Magazine Billionaires List. But we all know he has moved a lot of his business to Dubai, where there exists a non-disclosure policy, which allows businesses not to declare their financial records. That speaks volumes for a private company which runs largely on public funds.

I did say in 2010 that “very soon Ghanaians around the world would have an additional reason why people will always remember Ghana. Anytime a Ghanaian introduces himself to a foreigner, the latter always mentioned names like Kwame Nkrumah, Kofi Annan, Azumah Nelson, Michael Essien, Asamoah Gyan, and most recently the late Komla Dumor.” But Roland’s name is also beginning to gain currency around the globe. I only wonder if that would be for the good reasons as is the case with those before him.

And I dared to fit Roland into the person of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. I said Roland’s exploits shows that the spirit of Osagyefo was here with us. I retract and apologize to the spirit of Osagyefo and to all Ghanaians. The GYEEDA and SADA mess are clear signs that there is no comparing Roland with the great Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. I was thinking Roland represented the face of economic independence, like Osagyefo represented political independence for us. But we all know too well that largely, the only people Roland might have probably provided economic independence for are his friends in government who kept doling out the taxpayers’ money to him, a few highly-paid workers at Agams and foreign partners.

My Bishop mustered the courage and spoke fearlessly that “Ghana is not being ruled by what is needed to make the country prosper, but by some people’s extreme love for money. Otherwise, why would they give GHC47million to one person for guinea fowl (akonfem) [and aforestation] and yet we can’t even see the ‘akonfem’ [and the forest].”

At least I have also mustered the courage to retract and apologize for my sins. We live to see what becomes of the millions of Ghana cedis that we gave to Roland, for which we have not seen clear accountability. This government will not remain in power forever. Even if the next government decides our money should go down the drain like that, it is just a matter of time and Ghanaians will demand their pound of flesh from the likes of Roland Agambire and his Agams Group.

Columnist: Dowuona, Samuel Nii Narku