Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hurricane Dean news from Kingston

News from Kingston - Power Going Down
Sunday, August 19, 2007, 9:00 am
By fwade - moving back to ja
In an hour or so (10am Jamaica time) we are supposed to lose power -- an intentional shut down for safety reasons. There is also a 48 hour curfew that is in place. So you might not be hearing from this part of the world in a few minutes, for what could be a while. What we will have is decent cell phone coverage, however. So, here we are, sitting and watching and waiting for Dean...

Power 106 News - Dean tracking south
Sunday, August 19, 2007 at 1 pm
From go-jamaica : storm news
The Meteorological Services of Jamaica is reporting that Hurricane Dean is now located 90 miles south east of Morant Point. Duty Forecaster at the Met Office Viola Jones says the system remains a powerful category 4 system. Meanwhile meteorologists from the weather channel say the system could be very destructive.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bloglines - Incremental infrastructure, or how mobile phones might wire Africa

Bloglines user mdorn ( has sent this item to you, with the following personal message:

Does the expansion of cell phone use in countries like Jamaica offer any insights into development strategies more generally? Power blogger Ethan Zuckerman shares his thoughts. Mike

...My heart's in Accra
EthanZ's musings on Africa, media and international development

Incremental infrastructure, or how mobile phones might wire Africa

By Ethan on TEDGlobal

One of the consequences (intended or otherwise) of the TED Global conferencein Arusha, Tanzania last month is that many of the bloggers I read regularly are spending a good deal of time thinking about the classic questions of development economics: What makes some countries rich and others poor? What's the critical missing ingredient in development: more aid? better governance? infrastructure? entrepreneurship?

This second question is getting a workout as a wide range of commentators respond to the Bono-edited Africa edition of Vanity Fair. Several writers have pointed out that the issue falls squarely in the "more aid first" camp, featuring a largely uncritical portrait of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs's Millenium Villages project, a project designed to demonstrate what could be accomplished with massive infusions of aid into rural communities. The governance-first camp gets widely discussed in World Bank and USAID circles, in my experience. And TED Global gave some good introductions to the infrastructure-first argument, with former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala pointing out that China's path to development has relied heavily on infrastructure investment.

I've been thinking a great deal about the "entrepreneurship-first" path - possibly best exemplified by financier Idris Mohammed's statement, "If you make Africans rich, they'll be less poor. That's my poverty reduction strategy." Almost every discussion of business opportunity in Africa focused on the amazing growth of the mobile phone industry. That growth has been astounding, but it's hard to know whether that growth will be replicable in other sectors. There's a couple of circumstances that I think are critical to understand in the rise of mobile networks on the continent:

- You can build a mobile phone network one piece at a time. With a GSM license and a single tower, a company can begin earning revenue and start using this revenue to finance future expansion. An investment in the single-digit millions can turn into a multi-billion dollar business through reinvestment of revenues. That just isn't true for creating container ports, major roads or large power generating facilities… or, at least, I'm not smart enough to figure out a model that allows me to build container ports a few million dollars at a time.

- Users financed a great deal of the infrastructure behind the mobile phone boom - specifically, they purchased the handsets, which represent the lion's share of investment. (Thanks to Reuben Abraham for this important insight.)

- Sheer government incompetence helped the mobile industry by ensuring that most phone buyers weren't replacing land lines with mobiles, but purchasing their first phones. It's easier to sell someone a new, useful service rather than an improvement on an existing service, as mobile companies did in higher development nations.

I'm trying to figure out whether these criteria lead to an infrastructure investment strategy for Africa based on incremental infrastructure development. For-profit companies, many founded by expatriate Africans with a few million dollars, would provide the sorts of resources we've traditionally expected governments and parastatals to provide. Ideally, governments would work with these providers to bring services to areas of their countries not able to pay for them; given the mixed record of African governments in creating infrastructure, perhaps we're better off hoping that most governments stay out of the way of innovative infrastructure providers.

Russell Southwood, the dean of African telecoms analysis, publisher of the indispensible Balancing Act newsletter, has evidently been doing some thinking along similar lines. In this week's letter (not a permalink, unfortunately - I'll try to fix that when the piece enters the archives), he points out that African mobile phone companies are being forced to become power companies. In urban areas, phone companies have to equip every tower with diesel generators because of frequent power cuts. In more rural areas, where companies can't rely on grid power, providers need to put in two generators - one to power the station, the second as backup. The cost of delivering diesel fuel to these locations is substantial - Southwood calculates that a grid and road-connected base station costs $2,500 a month to maintain, while a very rural station might cost $20,000.

It's worth considering those figures for a moment - mobile providers have been expanding aggresively into lower-density parts of African nations. Sometimes they're making these investments because their licenses require them to provide a certain level of coverage throughout the country; more often, they're expanding because there's money to make in these markets. That suggests that mobile telephony is so important to rural Africa that operators are able to make five-digit sums per month in fairly rural areas and recover the costs associated with providing this connectivity… talk about "bottom of the pyramid revenue"…

Southwood suggests that universal service funds - a tax on telephony revenue designed to subsidize deployment of telephone service in rural areas - could be used to build electric power networks, not just phone networks. He points out that these funds have raised $6.5 billion (on the continent, I assume), but that only $1.7 billion has been spent, leaving a large amount "in the pot" which could be redeployed.

If mobile phone companies - or a similarly entrepreneurial entity - could begin building larger, more efficient power generating facilities, they could service local communities with power as well as with telephony. If there were sufficient success for this model, it might start to resemble the "electranet" that some have suggested might alleviate African power problems.

Southwood isn't proposing something quite so emergent - he's basically suggesting that the Universal Service revenues could subsidize creations of private power operators. I think Russell's really onto something here. His closing paragraph is a compact statement of a potentially transformative idea:

In a nutshell, the mobile operators appoint a private company to build and operate a power transmission network. This company would have as its anchor customers at least two mobile companies. Whatever surplus power it generated would either be sold to the national grid operator or be sold on to retail customers. There are private investors in Africa wanting to put money into private power generation and perhaps they might also come in as investors. The mobile operators have shown that it is possible to get things done on the continent and to make money doing it. Perhaps they should now pick up the gauntlet that will allow them to address their high operating costs and get lower taxes at the same time.

In the meantime, mobile phone networks are turning to other creative solutions to power their towers in the absence of reliable grid power. Afrigadget reports that Winafrique Technologies in Nairobi is designing windmills that power remote mobile towers as a complement to diesel power, cutting fuel costs by 70-95% a year. These are relatively small windmills - 7.5 kWatts - but may serve as proof positive of the utility of wind for power in rural Africa. Helius Energy, a UK-based biomass energy company, is looking at the same market, building small power generation facilities that could power a mobile phone tower with excess capacity for local energy users.

Wouldn't it be remarkable if innovative wireless phone companies ended up as the key force to wire Africa for electric power?


Saturday, June 16, 2007

how do you get there? Cunha Cunha Pass Trail

As you can see from the photographs I've posted on Flickr ( 'maroon country' photoset ), one of my favorite places to take photographs in Jamaica is a Blue Mountain cultural treasure: the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail (CCPT). The trail runs between Maroon communities of Hayfield in the Parish of St. Thomas and Millbank in Portland. Local historians have traced the origins of the CCPT back the indigenous Arawaks. The Maroons (fugitives from slavery that established their own independent society in the mountains) built an elaborate system of trails that took off east and west of the main trail. Some of these trails are still used by farmers and hunters today. If you stay up there for a few days, you get to check out many of the local dishes. Two years ago Linette Wilks, leader of the Bowden Pen Farmers Assocation, prepared me and my guide Shaggy a meal of wild boar.

Ms. Wilks has been involved in youth development activities in Kingston for many years, and spends her 'retirement' in Millbank (although there is nothing retiring about Linette!) If you are driving up the valley of the Rio Grande River from Port Antonia the eco-tourist cabins are a few miles past Millbank. I must warn you, however: that road from Port Antonio is notorious and brutal, particularly in the rainy season. David Kingsley has only driven it once, and will not drive it again. We hear various reports from others about its current condition.

If you wish to visit the Ambassabeth Cottages, send Ms. Wilks a call well in advance (876 395-5351; ask her for her email address as backup). She can arrange for a trail guide to meet you in Hayfield for the hike over. The guide books say that she can also arrange to pick you up in Port Antonio or Kingston. The farmers of Bowden Pen say the hike is five and a half miles, but it seems longer. If you are going to hike over, you might as well stay overnight, prepare for rain, and bring repellent with DEET. We left mosquito netting at Ambassabeth, so perhaps you will be able to us it! The accommodations are substantial (albeit rustic), the food is wonderful, and the mornings are exquisite - the best time to go out on hikes, before the rain sets in.

While I was taking the trail photos and meeting my wife in Hayfield on Sunday morning, the six Temple University study abroad students were visiting the Quaco River with an expert guide. I'm hoping they will share their digital photos, and that I can share one or two of them here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Jamaican news

Stamp to Mark 200th Anniversary of Abolition of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Launched
Sunday, June 10, 2007
The Postal Corporation of Jamaica has launched a commemorative stamp to mark the bicentenary anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans.
The stamp, which is available to the public at a cost of $30, bears the picture of a dove to symbolize peace, the map of Jamaica and a ship, in reference to the slaves' forced journey to this part of the world. Minister of State for Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce, Senator Kern Spencer, who was the guest speaker at the launching ceremony held recently at the Central Sorting Office in Kingston, expressed his pleasure at the creation of the stamp.

He said that as Jamaicans, "it is only fitting that we seek to commemorate this historic occasion and to heighten consciousness throughout the island about the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition 200 years ago", noting that estimates indicate that Jamaica accounted for approximately 1 million of the 15 million Africans forcefully brought to this part of the world during the period of slavery.
The stamp, he noted further "should serve as a reminder of our past and a tremendous moment in our history, with both negatives and positives."
For her part, Minister of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture, Aloun Assamba said that "the design and production of the commemorative stamp launched today is Jamaican property, which can stand up to any other in the world."
In the meantime, Professor Verene Shepherd, chairperson of the Jamaica National Bicentenary Committee, said that the move to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slavery trade should not be taken lightly and commended the "media houses, government agencies, institutions and private sector companies that are helping us to spread knowledge about our past and the struggles of our ancestors."
She informed that in addition to the postage stamp, commemorative T-shirts and mugs are also available to mark the bicentenary anniversary. The T-shirts cost $500.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Oprah's Leadership School for South African Girls

U.S. talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, right, shares a podium with former South African President Nelson Mandela, left, as students look on, during the official opening of Winfrey's Leadership Academy for Girls School at Henley-on-Klip, South Africa, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007....
(photo supplied by Harpo Productions Inc.)

This school, located in Midvaal Local Municipality southeast of Johannesburg (Gauteng Province), has generated equal amounts of acclaim and criticism in the blog world. Only time will tell, but no doubt the impact of the school will be immense. Oprah has fully committed to the project -- some are writing about the amount spent per student (over quarter million US dollars) but Oprah is clearly designing the school and shifting her own commitments for the long term. Time will tell - we want to know more about the teachers as well as the curriculum. It is very clear that this is a school for the elite, with only 4% of the applicants accepted in the first year.

In this way, the project presents a striking contast to the Baraka School, profiled in the excellent POV documentary "The Boys of Baraka." The initiative, proposed by the Baltimore Public Schools to the Abell Foundation back in 1996, offered to a select group of struggling Baltimore youth the chance to spend their middle school years at an alternative placement in rural Kenya. The article "Blessings from the Dark Continent: The Baraka School," The Black Perspective Online, offers an account of the back-to-basics approach.

Nestled on 150 acres, Baraka's campus has three horses, vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Students wear uniforms and live dorm-style, three to a room, in traditional African round houses with thatched roofs. Solar energy provides the power, and electricity is available only 6 hours a day. Nanyuki, reminiscent of the small towns of America's old west, is closest, approximately 45 minutes away on dirt roads, Nanyuki has a handful of restaurants, one hardware store and two hotels.
The Baraka School initiative fell victim to terror threats following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Worried about increased costs and the wellbeing of the youth in Kenya, the Abell Foundation pulled their funding. The documentary follows the lives of students expected to be able to benefit from two years at Baraka, only to learn that they would have to go back to mediocre Baltimore public schools after only one (intense) year in Kenya. For some of the youth, that one year was a great assist and they were able to find a place for themselves in their communities and in higher education. Others became demoralized and at last check-in with the filmmakers were still struggling. Students viewing this film have really felt for the boys and their families. Check out these sample comments from students to an article about the documentary in Baltimore's City Paper.

Adopting the philosophy that a change in outlook and improvements in performance can take place in Baltimore without having to resort to the African sojourn, other philanthropic foundations have invested in new schooling models. Check out KIPP Ujima Village on Greenspring Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. FYI: KIPP Schools, supported Fisher Foundation, have also been getting a good deal of attention from Oprah, Michael J. Petrilli of the Hoover Institution's Education Next Magazine, and from Jay Mathews, the education reporter for the Washington Post.

In the recent spate of stories about the opening Oprah's new African leadership school, we see a hands-on approach that is gratifying (in comparison to the abandonment of the Baraka experiment) but also a little over the top. I believe that Oprah views her project as the entry point for a far more massive intervention into South African, and African society more generally. As Marc Hill notes in his Barbershop Notebooks Blog, Oprah apparently feels a far more profound bond to African youth than to struggling African-Americans in urban Baltimore and Philadelphia who, in response to her question "What do you want or need" will say "an iPod or some sneakers." Oprah Winfrey plans to nest at Henley-on-Klip, building her own house on the property so she can keep a close eye on the school as it develops and evolves with time.

Read on for a few of the myriad accounts and opinions:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Upcoming trip to NYC - Chinatown and the LESTM

NYC - Chinatown: Manhattan Bridge Arch - Spirit of Commerce
Originally uploaded by wallyg.

I am looking forward to my trip to New York next weekend. Margot and Chris live in Brooklyn, and we are going to meet up earlier in the day to visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (LESTM). This is a really great social history museum that profiles the experiences of families that immigrated to the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. My goal for the afternoon is to learn some interesting facts and discuss strategies for teaching this immigration history so that it comes alive for the my Temple University students, many of whom are already from immigrant families.

I am already getting excited about the trip, and have been enjoying a virtual visit of the neigbhorhood. Wally G. has posted on Flickr a wonderful collection of photos taken from the mean streets of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. This photos, can be explored using Google Maps, allowing the user to map out their own itinerary. *Click* on the photo above, then *click* on the "map" link on the lower right in order to explore his collection in plan view!

Later that evening, we will all be attendng the reunion concert of the dB's and the Sneakers at the Bowery Ballroom. Sounds like fun, although I still haven't learned how to take satisfying concert pictures so you are just going to have to imagine the scene. Mike

Jamaica: Earning a quick dollar in the ghetto makeover

Linguist, journalist, blogger Ria Bacon shares a photo of women working on Barbican Road in Kingston, Jamaica as part of the annual city clean-up, spawned not so much by civic pride as by political clientelism. This item was brought to my attention by Global Voices.