Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Why Paypal ignored Ghana ?

In the early 2000's in most west African countries including Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal when the internet cafe was a new phenomenon, many youngsters spent most of their time at the cyber cafe surfing the internet. There was however a worrying trend that began to take wave in most of these internet cafes. The young men found darknet websites that gave them unlimited access to credit and mastercard details of people in Europe and America. They used this details to shop for clothing , gadgets from ecommerce websites like Ebay and Amazon. When shipping of the goods were not allowed directly to Africa the fraudsters would use their family and friends abroad as middle men / passage routes to receive the products and further ship it to them in Ghana and their respective countries. Most of these poor and disadvantaged youth found a gold mine in this trade and they spent almost 24 hours shopping and fishing for credit card details to scam. Others went as far as using the paypal accounts of vulnerable account holders to orchestrate this dubious activity.

Somewhere around 2004 after thousands of legitimate users of Paypal , amazon and ebay complained about unusual purchases and huge sums of money were getting lost in their accounts. These technology giants decided it was time to curb this fraudulent activity of credit card fraud. They simultaneously decided to blacklist so many West African countries from using the platform for their illicit activities. Some of the countries that were blacklisted included Ghana , Nigeria and many other African countries. Over the next decade that followed it was impossible for people resident in Ghana and the other blacklisted to make or receive payments on the PayPal platform. With many online merchants using PayPal, sometimes exclusively, to receive payments for products and services, Ghana's 24 million people, like many more in other blacklisted countries, were unable to transact business.

If you are wondering what Paypal is , paypal according to their official website was founded in 1998, they continue to be at the forefront of the digital payments revolution, processing almost 11.5 million payments for their customers per day. PayPal gives people better ways to connect to their money and to each other, helping them send money without sharing financial information and with the flexibility to pay using their PayPal account balances, bank accounts, PayPal Credit and credit cards. With about 162 million active digital wallets, they have created an open and secure payments ecosystem people and businesses choose to securely transact with each other online, in stores and on mobile devices. PayPal is a truly global payments platform that is available to people in 203 markets, allowing customers to get paid in more than 100 currencies, withdraw funds to their bank accounts in 57 currencies and hold balances in their PayPal accounts in 26 currencies.

Fast forward to 2015, the year of the digital revolution where smart phones are not seen by many Ghanaians as a luxury but instead a necessity. You should by now understand the immense role paypal would play in our cashless society. We live in a time that many Ghanaian entrepreneurs with innovative products and services would offer real value to buyers around the world and contribute to economic development locally, are now been cut off from much of the world where PayPal is a major platform for receiving payments. This is anti-business. Similarly, there are lots of social enterprises and charities that are working to improve lives and communities in Ghana and around Africa that are unable to accept donations via PayPal. All over world, online donations have powered a variety of social innovations and charity projects. Being blacklisted means many innovative social enterprises and charities in Ghana are deprived access to potential donors. This isn't progressive. This are the words of Samuel Darko, a District Rotaract Representative.


In 2013 many African youth decided to use social media and other mediums to gain the attention of Paypal. I will name two of the notable campaigns whose aim was for paypal to be brought to their respective countries. One of them is the outspoken change maker Samuel Darko whom I mentioned earlier on. He started an online petition here https://www.change.org/p/rupert-keeley-enable-paypal-in-ghana to make it impossible for people resident in Ghana to make or receive payments on the PayPal platform. His target was 5,000 signatures and was able to get about 2,486 signatures and a lot of social media buzz. The second campaign was started by a Nigerian company called Creativity Kills , founded by Neo Ighodaro and they were also able to gain 597 supporters. These initiatives were very essential proving that the new African is able to take the necessary steps for them to be heard.

These campaigns gained a lot of recognition but paypal was unresponsive for a long while until they finally decided to hear the plea of certain countries. According to Rupert Keeley, the executive in charge of the EMEA region of PayPal, as at Tuesday 17th of June, 2014 users from Nigeria and other countries from sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America were finally given access to be able to use the online payment platform. That meant that PayPal now is been used in 203 countries.

This came as a shock to the Ghanaian technology community since we also petitioned and were blacklisted along with Nigeria but they were given access to the platform but not us. It made a little sense since Nigeria now has the fastest economy in Africa and as well one of Africa biggest country with a population of 173.6 million as of 2013. Ghana on the other have a lesser population of about 25 million.


In my humble opinion the reason paypal ignored us was that we made a lot of noise internally on only our social networks especially our social circles about the petition and as a result the message did not get to the right desk at the Paypal offices. We should have instead made good use of institutions like the Ministry of foreign affairs to intervene on our behalf and as well went further on to get the message out there to the our networks in the Diaspora about the rise of young Ghanaian entrepreneurs who paypal will further enhance their work on a global platform.


FYI:A representative of Paypal, last week revealed that, apart from South Africa, Nigeria is the second largest market for their payment solution, followed by Kenya.

“We are happy to see that PayPal has been widely welcomed by Nigerians since the launch of the service in the country last year,” the Head of Business Development Sub-Saharan Africa, Malvina Goldfeld said. 

Till then some of us will use resources available to us to bring paypal back to Ghana.

This story appeared on yesterday's edition of the General Telegraph. 


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

INTRA - AFRICAN TECHNOLOGY TRADE

Most African countries and emerging economies over the last decade have used Information
Technology to transform their economies. A typical example is Kenya, Kenya in Africa is
leading the world in mobile money via M-Pesa. M-Pesa (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for
money) is a mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing service, launched in
2007 by Vodafone for Safaricom and Vodacom, the largest mobile network operators in
Kenya and Tanzania. ( Wikipedia ) One study found that in rural Kenyan households that
adopted M-PESA, incomes increased by 5-30%. In addition, the availability of a reliable
mobile-payments platform has spawned a host of technology start-ups in Nairobi that is
creating jobs for the youth, whose business models build on M-PESA’s foundations.
Information Technology alone cannot be used on it's own to solve our problems but it can be
integrated into other sectors like health, transportation and education to build solutions.


As a matter of fact African states have to critically look inward to bring down all barriers that in
one way or another hinder intra-Africa trade, before development can be achieved for the
continent. We need not herein reiterate that the activities of exploitative foreign companies
have rendered Africa poor and underdeveloped. In the greedy hunt for our resources, these
companies exploit our labour, our land and our minds. Most African governments spend
millions of dollars importing software and technologies for their ministries and other sectors
whereas if they gave the same opportunity to budding local firms , they will be able to build
and customize the system to suit their specifications at a cheaper cost. It is very important for
Africans to build technological solutions to solve our own problems.

We should embrace technology and new media as a way to preserve our rich heritage and
tell the African story our way. We are tired of Africa being labeled as a continent of war, AIDS
and now Ebola. Technology has the capacity to transform our story on the open web.

Africa has the youngest population in the world. The current trend indicates that this figure will
double by 2045, according to the 2012 African Economic Outlook report prepared by experts
from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the
UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the industrialized countries’ Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others. We should not neglect the
work of young entrepreneurs and small and medium scale enterprise (SME's) using
technologies like mobile phones and SMS/USSD to solve key problems. I want to highlight on
the work of some of these companies in Africa. Ushahidi is is a non-profit software company
that develops free and open-source software (LGPL) for information collection, visualization,
and interactive mapping. Ushahidi (Swahili for "testimony" or "witness") created a website in
the aftermath of Kenya's disputed 2007 presidential election that collected eyewitness reports
of violence reported by email and text message and placed them on a Google Maps map.
iROKOtv is a web platform that provides free and paid-for Nigerian films on-demand. It is one
of Africa’s first mainstream online movie steaming websites, giving free and instant access to
over 5,000 Nollywood film titles. Farmerline is a Ghanaian technology product company that
builds supply chain and value chain solutions to integrate agricultural outputs of rural farmers
in Africa/emerging markets. Mpedigree's Goldkeys brings a set of mobile and web tools
together in one platform to provide brand owners with complete, real-time, control of key
events in their supply chain, therefore shutting out counterfeiters, fakers, pilferers, thieves,
and leaches of all kind, seeking to prey on your brand equity and investments in developing a
channel to reach your customers. Finally AnansiPedia a Ghanaian innovation by Oasis
Websoft. Anansipedia is an educative platform that allows the seamless sharing of
educational resources to help less privileged students in environments with little Information
Technology infrastructure to have ubiquitous access to better quality academic content. This
will help students in remote areas in one part of the world meet or get free
access to an article written by another student/researcher/tutor in Harvard to enhance
their learning process.

African leaders should start investing in locally made software and technology because it is our terrain and we know the best way to innovate frugally. Intra-African trade can offer real opportunities to improve the quality of life in Africa. It is also
important to deepen our level of reflection on community dynamics and on the constraints
encountered when introducing and using Information Technology for development.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Do Africans Dream about electric sheep ?

Over the last decade successful technology brands have transformed businesses and industries. It has also created wealth for its shareholders, employees and founders. The two of the world's most valuable brands are both Information technology companies namely Apple and Microsoft with their brand revenues at 170.9 billion US Dollars and 86.7 billion US Dollars respectively according to Forbes. Many would attribute their success to their demographics, location , environment , government and other factors but the truth is both companies started out in a garage and they worked their way right from the bottom to the top.

Let me cast your minds back to when you were in Primary class four or five, a teacher walks up into the class and inquires from each and everyone to tell the class who they want to be in future. About 70 – 80 % will mention they want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, pilot , business men and women, you will rarely hear anyone say they want to be an astronaut, computer scientist or a neuroscientist. As youngsters our teachers and the elderly who society claim shape our culture and up-bring seldom introduce us to the possibilities of dreaming big and thinking outside the box. They believe this kinds of job description exist in Europe and the western world. You can't think of what you can't imagine - our creativity on the individual level is limited by the range of ideas we already have and understand, the scope of different experiences, the ability to draw on history to glean advice from dire times gone by. For societies such as those we have here in Africa, there is still much to be done to propagate knowledge and education, to fill the people's minds with dreams to fire their imaginations. Dreams of an end to hunger, for water and energy to be affordable and for the opportunity to live on an honest day's work. Dreams of a manifest destiny.

Ancient Chinese scientists, mathematicians and doctors made significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, and astronomy. Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture and herbal medicine were also developed through empirical observation and scientific experimentation. Among the earliest Chinese inventions were the abacus, the "shadow clock," and the first items such as Kongming lanterns. The Four Great Inventions: the compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing, were among the most important technological advances, only known to Europe by the end of the Middle Ages 1000 years later. The Tang Dynasty (AD 618 - 906) in particular, was a time of great innovation. ( Wikipedia ) A good deal of exchange occurred between Western and Chinese discoveries up to the Qing Dynasty. There are few things we can learn from this Chinese history here, one is that they started from inventing smaller things and moved gradually until all the goods we now import into our dear continent are fueled by them. They invested a lot into into science and technology. Africa should encourage and find unprecedented ways of teaching science and technology that the newer generation will find much interest in it.

Societies which were built on the results of the scientific revolution, where the free and unfettered flow of information, publishing of results, replication of results and the absence of the profit motive changed the lives of billions, have now created obstacles to the flow and ownership of knowledge.

I have been in contact with a 16 year old student in one of our senior high schools in Ghana. He sent me an email expressing interest for me to be his mentor. He has managed to teach himself computer programming. He has skills in website and software development. I was surprised when he told me ICT is being discourage in Senior High schools and it is an optional elective that at the end of your three years SHS program does not fall part of the WASSCE exams. Apparently most lecturers advice their students not to take ICT because it will be a “waste of time” ( in terms of learning ) that will not be a part of their final examination. I am wondering if this so called teachers have email addresses or even study online to find contemporary ways of impacting knowledge to the student or if they understand the benefits of Google, wikipedia and the internet an a whole.

This young man who contacted me comes from the cheetah generation as Prof. George Ayittey a renowned Ghanaian economist will call. A cheetah generation is the fast-moving, entrepreneurial leaders and citizens who will rebuild Africa in the next century. Every week I receive up to 3 emails from different people who have amazing ideas but need a technical person/company to bring their ideas to life. Imagine if all these people had the logical skills to build the innovative ideas they have: Ghana would change rapidly. After-all no body understands your ideas like you do. I always say that if you want things to change, you can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen by themselves, you have to act. Computers don’t change human nature. ICT can catalyze and amplify real world change. There are no career paths in this world that doesn't have a tech back-end. Now kayaaye ( Street Hawkers ) use mobile phones. I am saddened technology is been discourage in Senior High Schools by Teachers. I wonder where Africa’s Gold is: In our earth or in our minds? This kind of behavior is replicated in most African societies where people are discourage to adopt technology. It is clear to me that there are compelling reasons to use technology in the African context.

If you are still wondering what an electric is ? An Electric Sheep is a distributed computing project for animating and evolving fractal flames, which are in turn distributed to the networked computers, which display them as a screensaver.

BY RAINDOLF OWUSU
FOUNDER OF WWW.OASISWEBSOFT.COM


The above article was published today in the General telegraph newspaper - Monday the 24th of November. I am now a technology columnist with the General telegraph and my articles on technology are published every Monday. You can find my column on page 22. Dont forget to grab a copy each and every Monday from the nearest newspaper stand. Cheers. 

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
― Mark Twain

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Touching base.....

It's been a while since my last log post. I have been busy working on new projects like Anansipedia is an educative platform that would bring students, scholars, lecturers and everyone who seeks education or information together, and also it allows the sharing of educational resources to help less privileged students around the world to also have access to world class educational resources. Go to www.anansipedia.com for more. I also joined fellow techies and health professionals to build and deploy http://ebolaghanaalert.org/  It's a platform that aims to provide people in Ghana with a reliable and easy-to-use application for the tracking, training and disseminating of information to the general public about the Ebola virus.  Our official USSD dial for the Ebola Ghana Alert (EBA) has been set up:Kindly type *713*444# currently available on MTN and Airtel. Tentatively, there are three (3) live menus with content for quick facts, diagnosis, and daily updates. Go to http://ebolaghanaalert.org/  for more or you can view the source code here https://github.com/egha .



On the 8th of October was my birthday and I spent my birthday morning @ TV Africa on the Day Break tv show for an interview. I talked about technology adoption , OasisWebSoft , made in Ghana technology , ICT and many more. See below the interview. I spent the rest of the day with my family ! A big thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday via facebook , sms and email etc. Thanks for the continuous support !



Wednesday, 9 April 2014

My article "AGONY OF AN AFRICAN PROGRAMMER" goes viral online.

In October 2012, I wrote an article about the challenges of most African coders which is loosely based on my own journey. Almost two years later a South African journalist Tefo Mohapi chanced upon it and decided to repost it online. His website has received about 6,000 unique visitors. Now the article is out there and has been featured on the prestigious Hacker News and iAfrican ,  Geek Time Trending.co.ke  , TheNewAfrica , Daily Newz plus many more blogs  .

It has received both positive feedback and constructive criticisms.







Plus many more tweets here.

I wrote this article in 2012 and would have loved to make so many changes to it, since I have learnt a lot through my entrepreneurial journey. The bottom line is as African coders we are faced with so many challenges from the onset but we must hunker down and build something awesome that will make sense to the users and solve key problems.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Stepping down from Oasis to join Microsoft on windows 9 project



Sorry guys I am still the founder of  Oasis Websoft and we turn 3 in July :) Add me up here and lets solve Africa's problem one byte at a time. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Ghana lags behind in Open Source Development

Usage of Open Source software in Ghana, while growing constantly and rapidly, is still very much in its infancy. This is perfectly normal and characteristic of the adoption patterns of Open Source software all over the world. Open Source comes like a thief in the night and before you know it, it's all over the place. A typical example is the android operating system. Isolated programmers and system administrators, small, medium and large companies as well as students and hobbyists are the primary users of Open Source software in Ghana.

Ask the CEO of a large multinational organization in Ghana whether his company uses Open Source software and his answer will most likely be, No. Ask the techies at the same organization whether they use any Open Source software and from time to time, you'll hear, Yes!However, even though Ghana's usage of Open Source software follows the pattern that is seen in many other places there is a distinct lack of adoption of Open Source from within the developer community in Ghana. 

In February 2014, Edem Kumodzi and myself paired to give a presentation on Django Programming framework at Google Developer Day. The plan was to spend about 30 minutes on the slides talking about the advantages of django , features , popularity of python and a short demo on a site I built with Django then spend the remaining one hour on a practical hands on session with the participants. Our first part of the presentation went really well but the practical session was an interesting one. Before getting our hands dirty with the codes, we first had to make sure our participants had installed all the prerequisites eg python and to our surprise about 85% of the developers were running windows operating system and the remaining 15% running linux ( eg Ubuntu , Fedora , MACOS ). We spent about 50 minutes of the one hour trying to set up the machines of the windows users for django development. As for the linux users it was quite easy since they had python pre-installed. This is normal i guess ? Yes it is normal for everybody else to use windows but for software developers it is not. Linux operating systems are the best when it comes to advanced web and software development.  After the event i came to the realization that there is a big problem and we have to go back to the drawing board and get everyone interested in free software and open source development.

 Why Open source ?

The first benefit and the one that is most often cited, is that Open Source software is free. This follows from the fact that the software is freely distributable. Strangely enough, this has not prevented people from charging for free software and the ability to charge for free software is specifically allowed in the most common Open Source license, known as, the General Public License. This suggests that free software is free in the sense that there are no restrictions being imposed on it as opposed to the situation where no money is charged for the software.

Another benefit of Open Source is a side effect of the availability of the source code. Other people are free to improve the source code as they see fit. It has been empirically shown, with the Linux operating system source code, that the availability of source code leads to more rapid development, more robust source code that crashes less often, quicker turnaround time for fixing bugs, fewer security holes and vastly increased customizability. If, for example, the Ghanaian government wanted a standard word processor ( MS word widely used now) which could be used by all government officials that has been tailored for each government department, an Open Source word processor could be modified to suit the exact needs of the government. In fact, this is exactly what the German government has done with regard to a program that will replace Microsoft Outlook in the German government.
The particular reasoning behind the German government funding development of an Open Source project can be explained as follows: Open Source is a way of cutting costs from software licensing; a capacity-building strategy whereby the German software industry can grow, in terms of manpower and expertise; and lastly, a means to ensure national security by eliminating opportunities for foreign governments to introduce backdoors into software that will be used to conduct espionage. Munich says the move to open source has saved it more than €10million Euros and thats how they kicked microsoft out of the city. Read more here Now you can imagine the amount of money African governments will be saving if they choose to go open source.

Jon “Maddog” Hall (In the picture on your left) Executive Director of Linux International also said there are many good reasons for governments to be running open source software, the primary reason being security. He cautioned, however, that “security is about more than just keeping secrets safe. We have to ask the question ‘can our government systems survive if our software systems collapse?’ If you’re depending on a particular company to run your government and you don’t have access to the source code you don’t have security.”

There have been major setbacks in the open source movement here in Africa , late last year South African Department of Basic Education banned Free and Open Source Software in SA Schools and mandates programming an ancient, moribund language in contradiction of government's own policy. A good friend and mentor of mine Derek Keats (On my left hand in the second picture) spoke out against it and you can read it here  Two of the many interesting points he raised in his own words were "The decision to allow only a single office suite from a single license rental company (Microsoft) is anti-competitive, and denies school learners exposure to a variety of viable alternative office suites that could indeed run even on said operating system, and also denies other companies access to the school environment. " The directive locks school children to a particular company's product, hiding from them that there are viable alternatives that they can have full control over, and that does not lock them into being customers of a particular license rental company (indeed that do not extract rents from artificial scarcity at all and that respects their freedom). "

In Ghana's case it is even worse since we do not have any open source policy that I know of and also in  schools students are introduced to Windows, Microsoft Suits and other proprietary systems. When it comes to programming Visual Basic , Microsoft dot net etc Most of the I.T lecturers themselves are running windows so  I keep asking myself this question Where is Ghana’s Gold: In our earth or in our minds? 

Somewhere in July 2012 , as a move for me to get most people interested in linux here in Ghana. I was so ambitious to launch a linux based operating system in other words another linux distro called Anansi OS. The idea was for it to come pre-installed with the basic software we use in Africa like office , media players etc and in the future with the help of more code contributors add a bundle of educational tools targeting our educational system in Africa and possibly with a local language  ( Swahili and twi etc. ) keyboard layout and localisation of some of these educational tools. This project was faced with a massive backlash from the Ghanaian developer community. People raised both constructive criticism and also others simply lambasted the project. It created one of the longest threads on our Ghanaian developer mailing lists people raised questions on the tools i chose , if it had any unique selling point etc I finally decided to put the source code on Git for other devs to contribute to make the software evolve and till date not a single developer has followed up on the project or contributed code as you can see here https://github.com/raindolf/Anansi  This tells you the problem with the dev community. More talk and less action. There is no spirit of collaboration. As a result I hardly attend dev meetups and also opted out from the linux user group.

Open source development is limited in Ghana because programmers are too busy trying to earn a basic living than to donate their time to creating open source code. The main carriers of open source in Ghana will be senior devs like Alfred Rowe  ( Senior Ruby dev ) , Saya guys ( Robert and Badu ) and many more starups building software on complete open source technology stack. The Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE), Ghana's first Advanced Information Technology Institute is the only institute that runs open source operating systems completely ,from their administrator computer to the students and in this way they do microsoft a big disservice.  

I continuously put my money where my mouth is. I have open sourced each and every project I have worked on personally. Open this link to view my repositories.  My believe is that to get more people to adapt to open source we have to start from the grass roots. The absence of many viable community of FOSS developers in Africa is the biggest weakness of the FOSS movement in Africa. This is because the availability of a pool of developers, testers, documenters, translators etc is drawn from the community. I have also presented on how Africa can be an open source society. 

Lets start from introducing the younger generation to open source and the benefits. I would finally want progressive people to join me to start a movement here in Ghana. Our mission will be at least once or twice every month we will choose and go to a random Junior High School or Senior high school and for about 3 hours on a saturday introduce them to the linux shell or open source programming. In the near future we will partner with major stakeholders to introduce open source policies into the Educational curriculum. Send me an email here iraindolf [ at ] gmail.com if you want to become a part of this new linux movement. 

"We want knowledge, we want information, we want freedom. Hinder us not and aid us if you will. But dare not call yourselves civilized while we remain where we are." - Guido Sohne