Sunday, July 22, 2012

Africa and the Broadway vision - Fela! on Broadway

Last week we attended our first Broadway show (after living in New York city for many years!), to see the much-acclaimed Fela!
I was a fan of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's music well before I ever imagined living in Africa and marrying an African, to boot. French acquaintances introduced me to his music as a student in Paris, and I was immediately smitten.
In the late seventies and early eighties, when I met my future spouse and learned so much more about Africa, Nigeria seemed to be the shining star of the continent, with industry and close to 100 million inhabitants. Unfortunately, politics brought the country down; I still see it as a beacon, however, and I believe it is again on the rise, after I attended the recent African Economic Forum: it is now an even more populous country, with a plethora of highly educated people and oil revenue, I hope, being better routed, so as to serve a larger number of Nigerians.
The Fela! show recounts the stages of Fela's adult life, rendered quite faithfully when compared to the Wikipedia account: going to London to study medicine, and instead going into music; finding his own musical voice, back in Nigeria; discovering Black Power in the United States in the late sixties; returning to Nigeria and engaging in political activities; his wives; his mother's death; and finally, his own death in 1997.
Our expectation going to the show, was that we would relive Fela's music through the years as well as his life. As soon as we saw the female dancers' make-up--reminiscent of The Lion King--we should have understood that this would not exactly be the case. In fact, some elements made one specific African very uncomfortable.
The fact that Will and Jada Smith, and Jay-Z, were the producers, should have been a hint that this was Broadway's take on Africa, rather than Africa itself.
However--far from me the thought that the show is not excellent! It is fun, colorful, full of energy, and the cast is fantastic. The dancing was awe-inspiring, even if it might have been more inspired by West African dance than Nigerian. On the day we attended, Adesola Osakalumi played Fela--singing, acting, declaiming, dancing, and playing the saxophone. The rest of the cast was similarly incredibly talented and just plain fantastic.
I may be alone in my opinion--my friend Atim Oton, born and raised in Nigeria, wrote her very positive take in the Huffington Post.
Watching the show made me curious about additional elements of Fela's life, and the players: I found a few websites which are listed below.
The real Sandra:

If you want to see the show (if you haven't already), there are 19 performances left from today, July 22.... Please let me know your opinion!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

IBM in Africa

As I currently work in information technology, I came across an article about IBM's activities in Angola. This made me curious to find out more about IBM's activities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Not being on the ground, it was not easy to receive information. IBM's Growth Markets headquarters are based in Shanghai, China--a half-day of time zones away from New York, and where the staff appears to be incredibly busy and constantly globe-trotting. I reached out to Bruno Di Leo, General Manager, IBM Growth Markets, who put me in contact with Ms. Vera Rosauer. She provided me with the answers to my questions (listed below). 
I would have liked to have more details, and something akin to personal stories, however, IBM is an enormous organization, and corporate communications are tightly controlled--understandable, viewing the fact that information is often twisted in the media, but the result is that this blog post ends up sounding rather commercial, but it is absolutely not a sponsored post. 

IBM presence in Africa
 1. What Sub-Saharan African countries are covered by IBM?
Today we have a direct presence in more than 20 African countries, including Tanzania, Senegal, South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Mauritius. In late 2010, IBM signed a deal with Bharti airtel to transform the 16 different IT environments across airtel's African operations into an integrated IT system, and oversee the management of all applications, data center operations, servers, storage and desktop services (covering Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.)
 This has resulted in a significant extension of IBM's footprint across Africa and a strengthening of operations in sub-Saharan Africa. 
(Note from the blog author: As per IBM's press room: "With the recent opening of offices in Mauritius, Tanzania, Senegal and Angola and with established business hubs in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt, IBM today is present in more than 20 African countries." 

 2. What type of business does IBM do?
 We are offering our full portfolio of hardware, software and services in tandem with the growth on the continent and the emerging middle class. Our increased presence in Africa will strengthen IBM's ability to provide
solutions and services to a rapidly expanding base of customers and partners in the region.

 3. What are future plans for expansion?
 Geographic expansion is one of IBM's core growth strategies. We are expanding into new markets around the world where there is a significant opportunity for growth. IBM's geographic expansion programme includes many
 parts of the world including Africa, Brazil, India, China, Spanish-speaking South America, Russia, Turkey and ASEAN.
 Also important to our Geo Expansion strategy is co-ordinated investment across all parts of the business. This means having a robust and efficient management system, ensuring our team on the ground follows our IBM's
 strict ethical standards and putting strong leaders in place. Across Africa, we are focused on the industries with the highest potential for growth and in which we have proven experience in applying advanced
 technologies including telco, banking and government.. For example, in telecommunications --- according to analysts, Africa has approximately 400 million mobile subscribers, who are expected to generate between $12 billion to $15 billion in telecom revenue in the near future. 

 4. Who are the clients - private (local, foreign corporations, medium-sized businesses)? Government?
 IBM is engaged with hundreds of customers across Africa--for example:

  • In December 2011, IBM announced details of contracts with five of Kenya's leading banks: Credit Bank, Co-operative Bank, Family Bank, National Bank of Kenya and National Industrial Credit (NIC) Bank. The agreements are amongst more than 20 similar deals that IBM signed with banks across Africa in 2011 worth over $200M in line with the rapid growth of the financial services sector and as technology enables a wave of innovation in African banking.
  • IBM signed a milestone deal with Bharti airtel late 2010 to transform the 16 different IT environments across airtel's African operations into an integrated IT system, and oversee the management of all applications, data center operations, servers, storage and desktop services.
  •  In July 2011, we announced an additional 10-year agreement with airtel to provide comprehensive IT solutions to airtel's employees across 16 African countries. In terms of the agreement, IBM will provide a standard operating environment, help desk and desk side support to enhance employee efficiency and convenience.
  • IBM has signed an agreement with the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia to support the bank in a major program of modernization and business expansion. Under the terms of the agreement, IBM will provide hardware, software and IT services to support the bank in its rapid business growth and its shift from manual financial processes to real-time financial services.
  • IBM's business services consultants are working with the  government of Cross River State, Nigeria to assist with the implementation of two new social welfare and healthcare initiatives designed to help alleviate poverty and increase levels of literacy in the region.
  • The Cameroon Ministry of Finance has selected IBM mainframe and storage technologies to help modernize the payroll processes for government employees in the country. The new system will help to increase the security of the Ministry's payroll system and improve the efficiency of processes such as generating pay slips.
  • The Customs Directorate of the Senegal Ministry of Finance has selected IBM to provide two mainframe servers to help modernize the country's import and export processes.
  • First National Bank of Namibia has selected IBM System z to create a new core banking platform 
  • One of IBM's clients on the island is global textile industry leader Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile Ltée (CMT) which has over 12,000 employees and runs a 24-hour automated factory supplying the fashion  markets across the USA and Europe. CMT needed a solution to increase efficiencies and ensure timely delivery of its clothing products which are often manufactured to meet fast turn-around orders. IBM provided CMT with a new data storage system which has led to a 20% increase in the performance of its operations.
  • The International Card Processing Services (ICPS) of Mauritius is also using IBM solutions to support the modernization of the country's financial services sector. ICPS provides IT platforms for key banks in Mauritius including the Mauritius Commercial Bank. In line with its business expansion plans to provide similar services across Africa, ICPS selected IBM's Power Systems.
5. How many employees? Are they expats or local, and if expats, from where?
IBM does not disclose the number of employees in each country, but we are growing our presence in Africa and have an active hiring program in place to support that. 

6. What are the differences between working in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world?
Across Africa, we are noticing an increased growth within the middle class as well as a surge in using innovations in telecommunications including mobile money. Also the financial sector overall has embarked on a
modernisation strategy.

Additional IBM sources: 

Wake Up Madagascar tour

Razia Said is currently on a US tour, "Wake Up Madagascar". Information can be found on her Facebook page.
Next stop is Toronto on Tuesday, July 17, at Lula Lounge Toronto, Canada. The concert will be at Le Poisson Rouge in New York on Saturday, July 21.

As always, the main goal is to raise awareness of illegal logging in Madagascar. More information can be found at