Mondo Ghana: First Days in Accra

Greetings from Ghana!  Apparently, it’s a bit warmer here in Accra than it is in New York City.  I’m at the tail end of a 10-day working trip sponsored by Geekcorps, focusing on Internet and telecommunications policy and infrastructure issues.  My partner in crime is Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Geekcorps, co-fellow at the Berkman Center, and longtime Ghana hand.  For a few days last week, we were also joined by the indomitable Teresa Peters of Bridges.org


The visit started brilliantly, with successive waves of four-part harmony, dancing, drumming, and xylophonery.  First came the singing.  Geekcorps’s deputy country director, Sam Larmie, arranged for a friend’s a capella singing group to meet us at arrivals — they sang us an original welcome song just as we cleared customs and stepped into the warm, humid Accra air.  Ethan has posted a picture of the group


The next day, we travelled north of the city to the Dagara Bewaa School, the music and arts academy that was founded by Ethan’s old and dear friend Bernard Woma. The highlight of the day was the weekly performance/rehearsal by the Bewaa Culture Group, a high-energy Dagara dance troupe whose complex polyrhythmic routines will supply your full Recommended Daily Allowance of leaping, stomping, shaking, and bravado.  Ethan has a nice long post about it, including a highly unfortunate picture of me getting jiggy.


The rest of the week has been devoted to meetings, meetings, meetings:  from the ISPs to the Minister of Communications to Ghana Telecom.  So far, we have learned a ton, advocated for (what we think is) smart policy and regulatory reform, and eaten some very tasty meals.  At every meeting, we have had our expectations upended, usually in a good way.  Ghana is undergoing rapid transformation:  in the past five years, it has gone from virtually zero mobile phones to more than 800,000, far surpassing the paltry 280,000 wireline phone connections that Ghana Telecom has struggled to deploy over the past 40 years.  Internet technology portends an even more forceful explosion of connectivity and services in the next few years — but only if the government can do its job right.  The big question for the country’s information and communications technology sector is whether the laws and regulations (and regulators) can keep pace, or whether they will continue to act as an unecessary restraint on Ghana’s future.


More to come on the players, policies, and prospects for positive change.


 

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