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Chinese trade with Africa – good or bad news?

I’m a firm believer that a positive transformation of the African continent will come from increased trade, both between African nations and with other continents. But it’s hard not to have mixed feelings about the news that trade between China and Africa has increased 39% over the last year.

Much of the China/Africa trade involves Sudanese oil. Now the world’s second-largest consumer of petroleum, China has been investing heavily in oil infrastructure around the world. This includes a pipeline that brings oil from Sudanese oilfields to a terminal in the Red Sea, representing 10% of China’s total oil imports. Peter Goodman of the Washington Post reports that Sudanese troops have been given rifles, tanks, helicopters and other weapons by the Chinese government to protect this pipeline, and that Chinese assistance has helped Khartoum build three munitions factories. It’s highly likely that these weapons have been used in the government’s struggles against rebel groups in Darfur. When free trade advocates suggested that African nations trade more widely, they probably weren’t advocating trade that included transfers of arms to a genocidal regime.

While countries like the US have accompanied trade and aid to African nations with economic advice and policy prescriptions, the Chinese government has been content to stick to trade issues in many of their negotiations. From Goodman’s story:

In an interview in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, Energy and Mining Minister Awad Ahmed Jaz praised his Chinese partners for sticking to trade issues.

“The Chinese are very nice,” he said. “They don’t have anything to do with any politics or problems. Things move smoothly, successfully. They are very hard workers looking for business, not politics.”

As Abe McLaughlin of the Christian Science Monitor has pointed out in his reporting about China’s influence in Africa, this willingness to stick to business issues has made China a popular trading partner with nations like Zimbabwe, which experience strong human rights pressures in other trade relationships.

Chad, Sudan’s neighbor to the west, has also seen its economy transformed by the discovery of oil. Exporting this oil required a pipeline to Cameroon, which the World Bank financed with a loan in 1999. Attempting to ensure that oil revenues would be used for education and health projects, not for military expansion, the World Bank required that 10% of all revenues be put into a fund that could be used only for human development. At the time of the deal, it was hailed a “new model for natural resource development” in Africa.

Now facing increasingly tense border skirmishes with Sudan, the Chadian government has changed its policy and is now allocating some of the reserved money towards “other priorities”, which include defense spending. The World Bank has responded by suspending all lending to Chad, attempting to pressure President Idriss Déby to honor the original agreement. (VOA has a good story on Chadian reactions to the World Bank decision.)

It’s admirable that the World Bank is attempting to ensure their investment has the social impacts it was intented to have… though it’s worth noting that lots of smart people doubted the efforts to sequester oil profits into this account would work. But it’s worth asking this question: What happens when African leaders are faced with the choice between doing business with a partner that asks no questions versus one that uses investment to create pressure for social change? If Déby were building a pipeline now, rather than in 1999, it’s reasonable to speculate that he might have looked to China, not to the World Bank and IMF for funding.

If you’re interested in this topic, please see my earlier post “Haier, Huawei and the new Scramble for Africa”.

17 thoughts on “Chinese trade with Africa – good or bad news?”

  1. The answers are pretty obvious, no governement wants outsiders to ‘interfere’ with ‘internal’ politics. African governments are no different, but the US/EU/World Bank carrot/stick policies in Africa have miserably failed. Why? Because no amount of economic pressure can topple an African governement, for they have (almost) all weathered the worst of crisis be it famine or civil war. And none of the big powers want to go through what the US saw in Somalia (or the french in cote d’ivoire), military intervention is simply out of the question for all but the UN at this point.

    This status-quo until now only helped corrupt African regimes maintain while humanitarian aid organizations flourish.

    The chinese simply saw a pie that no other big power could touch, and along with that a way to reduce their dependance on oil from the middle east (hence the US).

    No doubt this new world order for Africa is a disaster in the making, the stakes are too high for all powers involved, the west needs the chinese as much as the chinese need Africa. And once again, it’ll be the poor african farmer who’ll be left holding the bag, waiting for the next airdrop from monsanto.

  2. Monsanto doesn’t do airdrops of food the last time I checked, but they do teach farmers in Africa and around the world how to better manage and protect their crops and increase yields (yes, this includes the use of the latest bio-engineering science).

    A very good and timely question re: increased Chinese government and private sector investments in Africa. In addition to some of the references used above in your post, I would also recommend reading Dr. Chris Alden’s March 1, 2005 article for eAfrica (SAIIA) titled “Leveraging the Dragon: Toward an Africa That Can Say No”. The article can also be found at Yale University’s Yale Global Online site. Do a Google search of the terms China Investment Africa and just start reading. Don’t miss Mongabay.com’s “Timber Hungry China moves into Africa” (April 19, 2005) or the U.K.’s Channel 4 News Special Report “The Chinese in Africa” (July 4, 2005)

    China’s “no questions asked, no interference” investment policies and practices in some African nations should be very disturbing for many people, especially for African business owners and civil society (workers). China’s support of rogue government leaders and repressive regimes, corrupt politicians and civic leaders, and a variety of other crooks and lowlife scum that suck the blood out of the continent is indicative of China’s intent in Africa. This newfound Chinese Goodwill toward Africa makes a loud sucking noise like a giant Hoover.

    Dr. Chris Alden’s (London School of Economics) advice for Africa’s (and China’s) political and business leaders should be well heeded, but I doubt that it will be. Enter the Dragon: Greed is Good.

  3. Ethan – Your excellent post highlights the difficulties that the World Bank in particular, and the West in general, in bringing pressure to ensure that oil revenue in poor countries really does benefit poor people. As you note, increasingly if the West does not want to play others (especially China) will.

    But I suspect that even China could be encouraged to play by the rules if the rich countries could get together and agree on some. It’s not enough to have the World Bank set the conditions, the rich countries that run the Bank and buy most of the world’s oil should insist that their multinationals fully disclose their financial transactions with developing country oil exporters.

    Nancy Birdsall has written an good Op-Ed for the LA Times suggesting this and some other common-sense steps for overcoming the oil curse. It’s featured this week on the home page at the Center for Global Development (CGD — http://www.cgdev.org )

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  5. Twenty years ago, I wrote an essay about Chinese interests in Africa. You need to understand the historical perspective starting in 1953 of China’s involvement in Africa. You may be surprised to know that unlike the US, France and Britain, where security concerns, and geo power politics where the motivating factors, China does see Africa as an equal partner. Many of the commentators or countries that complain today, do so because they see a decline in their once traditional monopoly on African countries.

  6. Africans can only benefit from more trade and exchange with anyone that is willing to be business partners, not to colonise.
    Lighten up and give China a chance. After all, the West has had theirs for 150 years, and they hadn’t learn to be civilised and not exploit their poorer brothers.
    So far, China’s past 50 years record is on balance much better. Africans like me would rather not base on ideological conjecture of morality, but on hard factual results of improved lives. And on this count, CHina is doing so far so good.
    Less sour graping is my sincere advice to the West. Redeem your past misdeeds by joining in to help Africans, instead of withdrawing as in the last 5 years. Aid and enggement has been cut since then from the West. Africa is open to all, including the West. Only don’t expect special treatment. Competition from China is good for your businesses and soul!

  7. There is an irony here. An irony that clearly connect the destiny of the African people with that of the Chinese. An irony that clearly shows that Africans will benefit from the paradigm shift.

    Why not the Chinese? Why Europe and America are still busy punishing Africa with the image of a child with bone in his nose syndrome, while people of African descents are being told that their past were so bad it’s un repairable, while Europe and America continued to plant into the minds of their peoples that Africa is nothing but war-like areas with hyena and lions roaring around the street, the Chinese has found a new love and a virgin place for development. Areas that the US and other European countries thought to be inhabitable and unfriendly to development are now the new heaven. Whatever is the intention of the Chinese—this is not 1940’s but 2007—Africans now know better. Some day Africa people will be able to look Europe and America in the face and say ‘I think I told you’

  8. hey black people,no one gives a shit about us blacks!
    they are all the same.you are leting them take over?
    because of penuts? watchout!!!!we are the most hated and underlooked race on this planet!! no one likes
    us!! wakeup!! they are going to take everything..



  10. The patronizing and demeaning way in which the western leaders, media and istituitions lecture africans as if they are small children or stupid is both counterproductive and regressive. Africa is not one country, neither is it riddled with 900 million starving, AIDS ridden malnourished helpless souls as the western media like to portray. Yes there are big challenges, but there are also multiple successes. There are many countries whose economies are growing at rates comparable with those in Asia. Countries like kenya, botswana, south africa to name but a few are now democratically run.

    The west has in the last two hundrend years done alot of damage in africa, starting with slavery, colonialism, support of dictators like mobutu in congo who was installed and maintained by the C.I.A during the east west rivarly etc etc. Did you know for example that Idi amin was appointed and trained by the british colonial authorities to fight in kenya to suppress the popular african uprising against the brutal colonial regime? Indeeed the tactics he learnt were the ones he would use later in Uganda. Jonas savimbi, the slain guerilla leader in angola was armed by the Americans and the apartheid regime. The french in their so called francophone africa fared even worse.

    After this , the west dictated through IMF structural reforms which heve failed miserably and have been abandoned.

    The future of Africa lies with Africans. Leave them alone to determine who they may choose to trade with or not. It is their resources. After all, the west does not invest in Africa like the chineese are doing. All they sing about in their Davos meeting is just Aid. Africans are tired of being treated as beggars. China invests in infrastructure to help africans help themselves and also to help the chineese.

  11. It is amazing that Blacks all over the world are still treated as a subrace and hated by all other cultures! Since the African Slave trade, that everyone wants to negate, or forget like it never happened. ‘Even we Blacks with bling and finacial clot in America, are still to busy trying to reach some white euro/american dream?Wake-up! Now is the time to forget about these false illusion of a world of deception, deciet ,and foolsih folley.The only redemption for us Blacks now is to stop the second wave of colonialization’s of the Motherland’Because the Chinese want to use a different stradgey but its all the same;the explotation of the African people who are the true land owner’s. Lets unite and protest to our leader’s and stop the raping of the natural resources that the Chinese are coming for the benifit of there own people.This time its not the bible in one hand, and the gun in the other’! But it’s the deguise of investment and fast cash, with their eye on the Gold, Diamond’s and all other natural resouces, and the entire Contient of our Great Africa land! Stop this Dragon’s varcious crime. If not,you will never know Africa as it is, it will be a Chinese outpost!!!! Wake-Up!!!!!

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  13. China is not a partner of Africa. There only exists a buyer-seller relation. Dictators in Africa do not want long-term development in African countries; they only want total controls. The dictator is China is also very short-sighted. It only wants natural resources, not the manpower of Africa, cause China already has too much of the latter.

    What if the natural resources of Africa become exhausted one day? What happen to common African people? Is Africa industrialized? Do Africans have sufficient education and skills to survive without any natural resources or foreign aids?

    A good China-Africa relation only means exploitation of common Africans and natural enviroment of the planet. Such distorted economic development from the trade of natural resources will only speed up the collapse of Africa as the only place on earth that can still host a large variety of animals and plants. This will be followed by the collapse of planet earth as a unique planet that can host living organisms, including human beings!

  14. When will the westeners learn that because of thier history with Africa. That the Africans simply do not trust them(the west), it doesn’t take a genuis to work that out. A lot of Westerners cannot get to grips with this uncomfortable reality but it is the truth. So saying to the Africans that China is going to exploit them coming from nations that have done the same for centuries wears a bit thin

  15. china is doing better than any who want develop African it doesnt mater how good is western policy in Africa is disaster thy want African always dependent on them thy want to tell you what to do even if you go by their rules they will give you gift not investment in the other hand chines thy don’t force you what to do why thy understand democracy didn’t come from out side like gift it comes from inside

  16. Who gives a shit about 300 years ago anyway? The way to address the African situation is to pray for selfless leaders across African that have ideas. Like the case of Nigeria, a mere good intention from Obasanjo and the current Yar’dua is not enough. We need bold leaders that understand that localizing power supply is the best way forward, localizing water supply, telecomm, transportation and allowing or empowring individuals to provide these services is better than having a govt run NEPA with headquarter in Lagos attempting to provide electricity to Maiduguri—a thousand mile away.
    So, Nigeria is the size of Texas…how do you think they run infrastructure in Texas? By localizing it and empowering individuals to run it…only because it has been proven over and over that govt…anywhere in the world is incapable of running any services effectively.
    As soon as you have your infrastructure properly in place, then you will begin to attract the likes of AT&T, GE, Ford, Pacific Life, IBM, Microsoft and these company will hire Africans, build a middle class and increase standard of living.
    The question is: Is good intention all that we need in Nigeria or Africa. Good intention has to be cummed with ideas. Ask questions such as what are we doing wrong? Why does power stays on in Holland and Denmark and not Abuja. Can we at least develop Nigeria to the level of Holland or Denmark?

  17. An Open Letter to Nigerian President Umaru Yar Adua:
    To Make Nigeria Competitive With the Rest of the Word: Build Fiber Across the Country:
    Authored by: Luther Ismaila, Manager of Technology, Cox Communications Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

    Do you think that the 21st Century developing nations such as Taiwan, Hong-Kong, South Korea, India, Singapore, and Sweden achieved progress through luck or chance? You can bet your bottom naira Mr. President that it’s not. These countries made progress through hard-work based on leadership & vision. Some of these countries have long figured out that – fiber optic technology is the infrastructure they need in order to make a quantum leap and compete favorably with the rest of the world.

    No matter how great your presidential administration ended in the long run, it is virtually impossible for you to cater to the needs of all Nigeria. Nigeria can only become a great nation through the efforts of her people and your job is to empower them with fiber technology. If you think about it, Mr. President, despite the availability of fiber technologies in the USA, President Obama is asking Congress to spend 6 billion dollars to help mend the “digital divide,” so that every American villages and towns can compete with China, India, Singapore, Hong Kong etc.
    European nations are building fiber networks every where with more open access. Cities across the United States are laying fibers and getting ready for the next playground. For example, an Atlanta-GA company – City Links is planning to deploy fiber to residential homes in Nashville, Tennessee, Verizon has signed an agreements with the Trump Organization to bring FIOS services (another form of fiber–video, data, & Voice) to the building Trump manages so that large-to-medium sized companies can use Web office, a collaborative Web-based too for enabling employees to work with their mobile peers, suppliers or vendors. This is happening across the world, Mr. President.
    Further example: A Dublin based company has won a contract to run fiber-to-the-home sand businesses in Sweden. The city of Manchester in England has planned to lay fiber across the city by the end of 2010.

    China is spending a significant amount of her Gross Domestic Products on Fiber-to the-home networks. Private companies in South Africa are meeting with the SA government to request tax based assistances so they could expand fiber connections across the country. In Ghana, West Africa, the government is planning to connect the city of Accra to the Kwahu Plateau and into the Ashanti regions and the list goes on and on Mr. President.That leads me to one question: What is Nigeria – the self proclaimed giant of African doing? Do we really have a technology minister in Nigeria? Not sure!

    Current Fiber Development in Nigeria: I am aware that some companies including “Glo Network” is currently laying fibers in Nigeria, but that is not the fiber revolution that I am calling for, Mr. President. It’s much more than that. The current internet cafes scattered around the country most in the Southern Nigeria will not do it. We need a “true fiber optic backbone” that will support the country for decades to come. Over 1000 strands of fiber could be laid in Nigeria from coast-to-coast in two years. Why not? After all Nigeria is a small country compared to India, China, Brazil etc.

    With 1000 strands of fibers laid across the country from coast-to-coast, multinational companies in the USA will be knocking down on our doors asking to invest in Nigeria because we have the in-built markets hungry for technology. Don’t get me wrong. These multinational companies understands that we have electric problems in Nigeria, but they’ll be willing to invest in electricity-power generation as well – just because we have fiber optic technology.

    Vision 2020: Simply put: Nigeria will not become one of the top 20 developed countries in the world by 2020 and perhaps– will not maintain its competitive edge in the African continent without a fiber-based broadband technology. The reason I said that is because, bandwidth is the currency of the new economy and I have never seen, read or heard anything of that nature that your administration is doing regarding fiber revolution in Nigeria. With broadband or fiber optic technology, Nigeria can overcome so many obstacles. With fiber optic technology, the Nigerian economy will be driven in most part by the Nigerian people’s ingenuity and not any federal or state governments. The optic technology is so important that I urge you to make yourself the Chief operating officer of the project.

    The person to head this national priority must be someone who has done similar projects in Europe and or America before and not another untrained and unaccountable Nigerian politician. You will be responsible for setting the goal, the commencement dates, the completion dates and as well as the accountability, – which should include consequences for failures in terms of financial loss to the bidding company or companies.

    Vision 2020 Without Fiber? There is no lucky magic for achieving your vision 2020 objective without hard work and proper planning. We cannot be that lucky as a nation to have other country do for us –what we ought to do for ourselves.

    Fiber will make Nigerian economy compete and accessible to the world: Not only are countries around the world deploying fast, reliable fiber-based networks, but, today, many are far ahead of Nigeria in terms of both broadband penetration and broadband speeds including Libya and Ghana. Fiber optic is the cheapest and reliable way for a businessman in Okene, Kogi state to link up with a supplier in Germany. Nigerian people and the small businesses need “true broadband” in order to be at par with the rest of the world as well as have access to real-time business data and capital. Nigerian needs to have true telecommunication systems and the way to achieve that is through fiber based backbone. Enough of the “bullshit.”True telecom is when a petty Lagos trader selling puff-puff off a small Web site, or a yam seller in the city of Benin can communicate effectively or when the governor of Kogi State is able to communicate government services and information with his/her people in different languages off a video conferencing technology made possible by fiber.

    Quantum Leap: As an information technology professional, I recommend that you: Build fiber optic networks to connect every Nigerian homes and business to the Internet before the end of your presidency. Fiber optic is the single most essential ingredients that can help to even the plain field for our people and allow Nigeria to make a quantum leap into the 21st Century. Fiber optic technology will allow small to medium sized Nigerian companies to build IT infrastructure without regard to distance. Banks and Insurance companies in Nigeria will be able to create true “WAN” engineered through fiber optic as well as take advantage of ATM technologies. My younger brother recounted the number of times he spent looking for an ATM-Bank machine that truly worked in Abuja as well as in Lagos.

    May I remind you Mr. President that, the third bullets in your “Vision 2020” planning said and I quote: “Develop a comprehensive plan which will ensure that Nigeria joins the top 20 league of developed countries by the year 2020.” If there is any one single road to achieving your “Vision 2020” objective, it is through fiber networks connections to the homes and offices.

    As a high-level telecommunications executive in the state of Florida with over 15years of experience, I know this is possible and can be done in two years. After-all, Nigeria is only the size of Texas, and a share size smaller than Brazil. If the state of Texas and the country Brazil can do it, we obviously can–if the right people are put in charge.

    A National Director of Infrastructure Development: And that lead me to another point Mr. President. Notice that I said if you put the right people in charge. When people asked me why Nigerian politicians are not doing for Nigerian people what they’ve seen abroad, I answer them this way. Most of the ruling class in Nigeria studied overseas on government scholarships in the 60’s, 70’sand early 80’s. All they did was drive to the Nigerian embassy to collect their scholarship funds (thanks to General Yakubu Gowon). In most cases, they even rioted in front of the Nigerian embassy if the scholarship funds were delayed.

    Furthermore, I have long theorized that Nigeria will one day become a great nation –when a Nigerian that went abroad in the late 80’s and into the 90’s becomes the President. Those are the tough times – when Nigerians were hated and still hated around the world. And those are the Nigerians who worked the degrading jobs, cleaned the toilet (myself included), worked at McDonald restaurants for $3.00 an hours, washed dishes, ran from the police and immigration (as we did in Canada in 1986)for fear of being deported back home, married women old enough to be their grandmother – only to enable them stay in the country.

    My theory is that Nigeria will become truly great when on of these Nigerians that suffered humiliations abroad becomes the President; but we cannot wait that long. I urge you Mr. President to please, select a Project Manager to direct this laudable venture from the list of those late 80’s Nigerians that traveled overseas – just because they suffered, worked hard, they are smart, educated, and intelligent and above all – really do appreciate to have a great Nigeria. Circumstances forced them to be patriotic. I have lived 20 years of good life in both Canada and the United States only to realize that I need to go home and build my own country. There are other Nigerian professionals living a good life in Europe and America that feels the same.

    Capable Nigerian Engineers: There are many Nigerians capable of making the fiber optic project a reality. Personally, I have met so many Nigerians that worked for the “big fours” in America – including Cisco Systems that will proudly do this job for Nigeria. We have Melvin Ejiogu – a CCIE holder, highest level in Cisco certifications and was lead engineer for the defunct Anderson Consulting, we have Olanrewaju Ogunkoya– CCNP and currently working for Accenture – America’s largest tele-networking company, we have Adeniyi Ogunsua, the smartest Nigerian programmer that I have ever met and currently working for Deloitte & Touché an IT– Consulting company, we have Muhammed Ayuba – CCNP and working for Atlanta, GA firm, we have Thomas Ogan–a Cross River State born telecom expert – taught me traffic engineering at a University in Canada and many more Nigerians that I don’t know. All you have to do Mr. President is start this project today and call on these Nigerians to help their fatherland.

    The Country India: Does anyone remember how poor the country India used to be? Does anyone remember that Indians used to come to Nigeria to work, mostly teachers, and doctors because Nigeria was a better country than India economically– at that time? I remember my Physic teacher – Mr. Chand from an Indian city Bombay now called Mumbai – I used followed him to the Ilorin market and he will purchase Omo, Joy soap, foods like rice and or beans when visiting India during the holidays. Not any more folks! The situation has been reversed with fiber optic technology culmed with computer science education. The Indians revolutionaries their country with fiber technology which exploded their economy over night.

    I apologize if I sound too simplistic, demanding and rude Mr. President, but I have seen what fiber optic technology can do to a country or a state or a city. If you love Nigeria as those of us living abroad does –, those of us who worked the night shift as dish-washers, cleaned the gardens, clean the toilets in Europe and America in 80’s and 90’s, married women older than our mothers just to survive, went through degradation simply because our country has no place for us, please, go ahead and revise your “Vision 2020” project to include a serious and well funded Fiber optic technology – because the urgency is now. As Barack Obama, the newly elected US President puts it; “we are the one we are waiting for and this is time to act.”

    Nigerian Unity: Connecting Nigeria from Uyo to Minna, from Benin to Owerri and to Sokoto and then from Maiduguri to Lagos is a sure path to a sustainable and inclusive society as well as make us a true united people of different tribes, religion and cultures. It is one element that has helped and is still helping to shape the world into a global village. Why else will you not begin this project as a matter of urgency Mr. President?

    The fiber optic project will in the future help to offer the Nigerian citizens access to health and educational resources, to capital, to entrepreneurial and job opportunities, and to full participation in government, regardless of where they live. This project will erase distance without requiring travel, and it will help reduce traffic problems in major Nigerian cities such as Lagos, Porthacourt, Abuja and Kaduna. This project will help the environment because Nigerians will travel less and use less fusil fuel, and most importantly, this project is the key to modernizing the electric grid –the reliable and energy-efficient “smart” grid Nigerians have been dreaming of for years. This is what is happening all over the world and I can’t believe that your minister of technology is not urging you to do the same. This project Mr. President: will enable Nigerians to embrace new ways of living, our children will be able to work, play and be at par with children in Hong-Kong, India, Sweden, Singapore, South Korea and China.

    Lagos Bridges: Just think about the Lagos bridges constructed by the then President Yakubu Gowon many years ago. What those bridges have done for the people of Lagos –from the mainland to the island, the fiber optic technology that I am talking about will create and diffuse wealth in ways we can barely imagine. I understand that we have one or two fiber initiatives across the country, but that is not the type of fiber projects that I am asking you to initiate. I am asking that you make this a national priority as well as make yourself the “Chief Operating Officer” of the project. That alone will encourage the US and European telecom companies to want to participate in the constructions.

    I swear in Allah’s name Mr. President: that the fiber we put into the ground today from coast-to-coast will continue to meet our telecommunications needs for decades to come. Its capacity will be virtually limitless for more than half a century and it will help us grow the ever shrinking Nigeria’s GDP through the enterprising nature and willingness of the Nigerian people.

    Other Benefits: Fiber optic is the way the rest of the world do business today and tomorrow. How then can Nigeria become one of the 20th largest economies if our small businesses and market women cannot compete in a global economy with access to– for example – the Chinese markets which is rumored to become the largest economy in 5 years time?

    Mr. President: you cannot make Nigeria great single handedly; no one can. Only Nigerian people could do that. And to do so, every aspect of the Nigeria geopolitical is important if we are to become great, and that include the lady frying “kuse” or“akara” on the street of Ahmadu Bello Way in Kaduna, the woman selling gari or fufu in a “small joint” restaurant in Owerri, the enterprising Onitsha markets men and women, the man selling yams, cassava in Kano city, the cocoa plantation farmers in Ondo state, – unless all of these national economic contributors can use (at comparable, competitive prices) the productivity and collaboration tools that are standard in Europe, America and Asia and at a lesser extent South America, we will continue to lag behind.

    Government Programs: I was project manager for an e-government project in Cleveland, Ohio and it’s amazing how much government can do with fiber optic. With fiber optic, government agencies in Nigeria will be wired to communicate in real-time and serve the citizens better. You will be shock in the long run Mr. President as to the deepness of the Nigerian’s ingenuity as fiber optic technology will unleash the minds of the Nigerian peoples and many software companies will spring up from Kebbi to Lafiagi-through Ilorin to Ibadan and reaching back to Bauchi and then crossing into Enugu from Calabar and back to Maiduguri through Sokoto. Why?

    This is because the fiber optic technology that I am talking about would have provided the needed links for the Nigerian people with their counterparts in Silicon-Valley –California, Dublin Ireland, Chengen China, Mumbai India, Cape-town South Africa, Rio de-Janeiro Brazil, Brussels Belgium, Hamburg Germany and that is all we need now.

    Nigeria as Call Center: It’s already happening in Accra and Kumasi – Ghana today. Connecting home and businesses in Nigeria will allow company giants such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems to open call centers in Nigerian cities that could hire thousands of locally trained computer science professionals. Also, back-office IT functions can be outsourced to Nigeria because of the low production costs. Home based employees (a $10 billions a yea rventure in the USA) will be triggered in Nigeria because of this fiber optic connections across the cities and virtual offices will become a reality. As it is happening in India and China today, Nigeria will began to create knowledge workers. Customer-service and customer-support reps will develop as well so that a small business women selling “gari” in Okene –Kogi State will be able to communicate in real-time with those selling cassava in Ondo State or other isolated communities around the country to grow their businesses by selling their products and services nationwide, or even worldwide, over the internet that is empowered by fiber-optic. That is how the people of Nigeria can create wealth for themselves and increase standard of living.

    Quality Health Care & Education: Ghana is currently practicing free-health care for her people and Libya has always had it for years. All of the G7 countries except the USA are now practicing free and affordable heath care delivery system for their people. With fiber optic technologies and the amount of resources we are blessed with in Nigeria, perhaps we can begin to think about providing affordable health care delivery for all our people twenty years from now.

    With fiber optic technology, Nigerian teachers and educators will have access to high quality video conferencing with other teachers and specialized doctors around the world in real-time. Remote diagnostic devices enabled by fiber optic technology will provide faster, more accurate road maps for treatments, especially in our sub-Sahara countries with so many tropical diseases. Also, in education, remote instrumentation will give primary and secondary school students’ access to specialized scientific data in real time. Think about music and art education that will become possible again with Web-based study and virtual museum tours and concerts so that we can showcase Nigeria’s lost cultures to the rest of the world.

    Electricity in Nigeria: Fiber will help electricity production in Nigeria – that is if we ever decided to get serious about electricity. As the CEO of Cleveland Public Power, the largest municipal electric company in the state of Ohio, USA once told me, “Broadband is electric power plant,” because fiber to the electric meter lets electric company such as NEPA implements“ a Smart Grid” demand response programs that yield enormous energy savings, predictions and shave peak loads, reducing the need for investment in generating plants. Fiber optic will also help Nigerian building engineers to design and develop smart building controls that will improve security in a country that urgently need security for both residential and commercial buildings.

    Fiber is “true Broadband.” We support your call for Nigeria to become one of the 20th leading nations in infrastructure and service delivery to its citizens in “2020”. However, we must lead by examples by leading Africa in both broadband penetration and internet access.

    So, Mr. President: You must pledge after reading this open letter to bring “true broadband” to every homes, offices, community in Nigeria. The current slow internet access provided by some European and African Satellite companies at a speed slower than the internet access provided to high school students in America is unacceptable. You must raise the bar by declaring and defining the speeds demanded by the 21st-century Nigerian businesses and household needs so they can compete favorably.

    Exactly what will be the 21st-century speed mean for Nigeria? In the short term, I think the answer is 100 Mbps of symmetric bandwidth – other nations of the world such as China and India are using the same measurement and some are already exceeding that speed.

    In the long term, Mr. President, we can expect bandwidth needs in Nigeria to continue to grow exponentially. The crappy NITEL’s copper wire infrastructure (that never works since I was born and before I left Nigeria) cannot not provide these speeds, nor provide the reliability of fiber optic and neither can the wireless MTN Towers. I am glad that MTN made wireless phones a reality in Nigeria, but that is not based on a fiber optic technology, Mr. President. The foundation is faulty and the Nigerian people will loose in the long run if the foundation of technology infrastructure is not well defined.

    MTN, Vodafone and the rest of them should have built a fiber backbone for Nigeria first and then began their wireless Cell Towers, but they made a business decision not to. I am not “hating” on the MTN company, but they did their work backward – so they could make quick money. I said that because, the greatest advantages of fiber optics is that you can create wireless access points, cables video transmissions, landline phone and an then Cell Towers from a fiber based backbone.

    Today, Fiber optic connections are available(few providers here and there) to less than 1 percent of Nigerian households and businesses, but we urgently need fiber networks that can deliver 100 Mbps as well as higher speed in the future.

    We need to bring fiber to the homes and offices or premises and the wireless broadband needed for mobility, both compliments fiber and relies on it to carry traffic back to the Internet), which means farmers in the remote towns of Ondo State as well as those in Benue States will be able to communicate with each other via cell phones, or internet or video conferencing or email, or advertise their products off an Ecommerce website and or any other handheld devices, irrespective where they within in the farmland.

    Costs: We have a long way to go Mr. President, but we can make a quantum leap with fiber optic technology alone. Not counting the employment opportunities and the excitement this project will cause in Europe and America to companies such as Cox, AT&T, Verizon, Timer-Warner, etc that will be willing to extend their services to Nigeria as well. If you agree with the analysis I have provided so far you will also agree that no amount is too much for such a project. Government could ask all the Nigerian banks and oil companies to contribute or tax them separately so that we can raise the money or sell a percentage of the revenues to them if they participate financially. So, a public and private investment on the order of $2 billion dollars will be required to connect Nigerian homes and offices through a fiber based backbone, but the near-term return on that investment will be many times greater and that is one way Nigeria can join the league of developed nations.

    For the next three years, a significant amount of public funding should be directed to fiber optic networks, and not to the less-robust copper or wireless broadband or Cell Tower networks that MTN has erected across the country that will be obsolete from the day they are built. Increasingly, Mr. President, fiber optic is the locus of computing power and advanced application – and this is now called “cloud computing” in both Europe and America.

    Lack of Funds: If we don’t have the money, please, go ahead and borrow the money from the World Bank. If you do, Mr. President, history will place you in the right pedigree with the likes of General Murtala Muhammed and other Nigerian heroes dead or alive. In my years as a computer science instructor, an engineer, an internet service provider (IS) and an application developer, I have met too many Nigerians that can help us achieve this objective. I alluded to this point earlier on Mr. President, we have Nigerians experts working for the “Big Fours” in the United States and for the major telecom providers such as AT&T,Verizon, Cox, Time-Warner, Comcast etc. And these experts Mr. President – just so happened to be the Nigerians that suffered abroad in the late 70’s and late 80’s. It just so happened that these Nigerians were so lucky to travel abroad with the General Yakubu Gowon’s scholarship funds and these Nigerians are dreaming to get a chance to change their homeland so that we can all come back home for good.

    As a Nigerian, I offer these guidelines for your consideration in the name of God and for the benefits of those who fought for Nigeria’s independence. The day you begin this venture is the day the Nigerian independent fighters such as Tafawa Balewa, Zik of Africa, Awolowo and the Sadauna will further relax in their graves.

    Luther Ismaila, BA, MBA, PMP, CCNA: Response to this email can send to my public email. E-mail me publicly at lismaila@yahoo.com. Please leave comments about this article on this weblog.
    Posted by Dr. Joseph Ozigis Akomodi at Friday, January 30, 2009
    Labels: This article by Luther Ismaila A member of Ebira Vonya International is a must read article.
    Dr. Joseph Ozigis Akomodi said…
    Dr. Joseph Ozigis Akomodi
    President of Ebira Vonya International.

    This article is a must read, by all Nigerians. This article should be forwarded not only to the President of Nigeria, it must be sent to all Nigerians. If you are able to get hold of any Nigerians e-mails. We should and must encouraged those who are in power to push this proposal that has been put forward by Luther Ismaila residing in the State of Florida. I urge President Umaru Yara’Dua to make Luther Ismaila in charge of this venture. I am completely in support of this proposal.

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