Sunday, 31 January 2010

U.S.A and the Giant Of Africa

Recently I'm beginning to get more and more worried about how our government is blowing it's own trumpet too loud. Agreed that we are ahead of many African countries in some sectors of development, but I think it's a bad idea to keep telling ourselves that we are the giant of Africa. The United States also have that mentality, but there phrase is "No. 1" instead of "Giant".
The Americans are ahead of us in that craze because not only the government promotes that concept but even the citizens do. I do not want us to follow the footsteps of U.S.A in self delusion given some disturbing statistics I came across about the United States. Just take time to go through the following

America No. 1? America by the numbers by Michael Ventura 02/03/05 "ICH" - - No concept lies more firmly embedded in our national character than the notion that the USA is "No. 1," "the greatest." Our broadcast media are, in essence, continuous advertisements for the brand name "America Is No. 1." Any office seeker saying otherwise would be committing political suicide. In fact, anyone saying otherwise will be labeled "un-American." We're an "empire," ain't we? Sure we are. An empire without a manufacturing base. An empire that must borrow $2 billion a day from its competitors in order to function. Yet the delusion is ineradicable. We're No. 1. Well...this is the country you really live in:

* The United States is 49th in the world in
literacy (the New York Times, Dec. 12, 2004).

* The United States ranked 28th out of 40 countries in mathematical literacy (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

* Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day (The Week, Jan. 7, 2005).

* "The International Adult Literacy Survey...found that Americans with less than nine years of education 'score worse than virtually all of the other countries'" (Jeremy Rifkin's superbly documented book The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, p.78).

* Our workers are so ignorant and lack so many basic skills that American businesses spend $30 billion a year on remedial training (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004). No wonder they relocate elsewhere!

* "The European Union leads the U.S. in...the number of science and engineering graduates; public research and development (R&D) expenditures; and new capital raised" (The European Dream, p.70).

* "Europe surpassed the United States in the mid-1990s as the largest producer of scientific literature" (The European Dream, p.70).

* Nevertheless, Congress cut funds to the National Science Foundation. The agency will issue 1,000 fewer research grants this year (NYT, Dec. 21, 2004).

* Foreign applications to U.S. grad schools declined 28 percent last year. Foreign student enrollment on all levels fell for the first time in three decades, but increased greatly in Europe and China. Last year Chinese grad-school graduates in the U.S. dropped 56 percent, Indians 51 percent, South Koreans 28 percent (NYT, Dec. 21, 2004). We're not the place to be anymore.

* The World Health Organization "ranked the countries of the world in terms of overall health performance, and the U.S. [was]...37th." In the fairness of health care, we're 54th. "The irony is that the United States spends more per capita for health care than any other nation in the world" (The European Dream, pp.79-80). Pay more, get lots, lots less.

* "The U.S. and South Africa are the only two developed countries in the world that do not provide health care for all their citizens" (The European Dream, p.80). Excuse me, but since when is South Africa a "developed" country? Anyway, that's the company we're keeping.

* Lack of health insurance coverage causes 18,000 unnecessary American deaths a year. (That's six times the number of people killed on 9/11.) (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005.)

* "U.S. childhood poverty now ranks 22nd, or second to last, among the developed nations. Only Mexico scores lower" (The European Dream, p.81). Been to Mexico lately? Does it look "developed" to you? Yet it's the only "developed" country to score lower in childhood poverty.

* Twelve million American families--more than 10 percent of all U.S. households--"continue to struggle, and not always successfully, to feed themselves." Families that "had members who actually went hungry at some point last year" numbered 3.9 million (NYT, Nov. 22, 2004).

* The United States is 41st in the world in infant mortality. Cuba scores higher (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005).

* Women are 70 percent more likely to die in childbirth in America than in Europe (NYT, Jan. 12, 2005).

* The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is murder (CNN, Dec. 14, 2004).

* "Of the 20 most developed countries in the world, the U.S. was dead last in the growth rate of total compensation to its workforce in the 1980s.... In the 1990s, the U.S. average compensation growth rate grew only slightly, at an annual rate of about 0.1 percent" (The European Dream, p.39). Yet Americans work longer hours per year than any other industrialized country, and get less vacation time.

* "Sixty-one of the 140 biggest companies on the Global Fortune 500 rankings are European, while only 50 are U.S. companies" (The European Dream, p.66). "In a recent survey of the world's 50 best companies, conducted by Global Finance, all but one were European" (The European Dream, p.69).

* "Fourteen of the 20 largest commercial banks in the world today are European.... In the chemical industry, the European company BASF is the world's leader, and three of the top six players are European. In engineering and construction, three of the top five companies are European.... The two others are Japanese. Not a single American engineering and construction company is included among the world's top nine competitors. In food and consumer products, Nestlé and Unilever, two European giants, rank first and second, respectively, in the world. In the food and drugstore retail trade, two European companies...are first and second, and European companies make up five of the top ten. Only four U.S. companies are on the list" (The European Dream, p.68).

* The United States has lost 1.3 million jobs to China in the last decade (CNN, Jan. 12, 2005).

* U.S. employers eliminated 1 million jobs in 2004 (The Week, Jan. 14, 2005).

* Three million six hundred thousand Americans ran out of unemployment insurance last year; 1.8 million--one in five--unemployed workers are jobless for more than six months (NYT, Jan. 9, 2005).

* Japan, China, Taiwan, and South Korea hold 40 percent of our government debt. (That's why we talk nice to them.) "By helping keep mortgage rates from rising, China has come to play an enormous and little-noticed role in sustaining the American housing boom" (NYT, Dec. 4, 2004). Read that twice. We owe our housing boom to China, because they want us to keep buying all that stuff they manufacture.

* Sometime in the next 10 years Brazil will probably pass the U.S. as the world's largest agricultural producer. Brazil is now the world's largest exporter of chickens, orange juice, sugar, coffee, and tobacco. Last year, Brazil passed the U.S. as the world's largest beef producer. (Hear that, you poor deluded cowboys?) As a result, while we bear record trade deficits, Brazil boasts a $30 billion trade surplus (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

* As of last June, the U.S. imported more food than it exported (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

* Bush: 62,027,582 votes. Kerry: 59,026,003 votes. Number of eligible voters who didn't show up: 79,279,000 (NYT, Dec. 26, 2004). That's more than a third. Way more. If more than a third of Iraqis don't show for their election, no country in the world will think that election legitimate.

* One-third of all U.S. children are born out of wedlock. One-half of all U.S. children will live in a one-parent house (CNN, Dec. 10, 2004).

* "Americans are now spending more money on gambling than on movies, videos, DVDs, music, and books combined" (The European Dream, p.28).

* "Nearly one out of four Americans [believe] that using violence to get what they want is acceptable" (The European Dream, p.32).

* Forty-three percent of Americans think torture is sometimes justified, according to a PEW Poll (Associated Press, Aug. 19, 2004).

* "Nearly 900,000 children were abused or neglected in 2002, the last year for which such data are available" (USA Today, Dec. 21, 2004).

* "The International Association of Chiefs of Police said that cuts by the [Bush] administration in federal aid to local police agencies have left the nation more vulnerable than ever" (USA Today, Nov. 17, 2004).

No. 1? In most important categories we're not even in
the Top 10 anymore. Not even close. The USA is "No. 1" in nothing but weaponry, consumer spending, debt, and delusion.

Despite the fact that I think the article's comparison of U.S.A and Europe is unfair given the fact that Europe is not a single country, I still don't want us to end up becoming another U.S.A.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Tech Parks And Forced Innovation

The Nigerian government at the all tiers must be commended for their awakening to the importance of information technology in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. Despite the fact that it is easy to point out where things are being done wrong, I am inclined to believe that the mistakes are a result of ignorance of both ICT and entrepreneurship. Another factor is the text-book approach the governments are applying to the whole process.
One particular trend that caught my attention is the love for technology parks by governments. Kano state for example has reached advanced stages of setting up their proposed IT park. I also know that Lagos state has a similar project and the FCT has a plan for a technology park. Other states like Cross Rivers and Akwa-Ibom have similar projects. These are all steps in the right direction but are not a guarantee of creating innovation and entrepreneurship.
Innovation and entrepreneurship can only be encouraged but not forced. This is because innovators and entrepreneurs move naturally to the best place that favor their growth and that place doesn't have to be a government built tech park. A perfect example is the Ikeja computer village which is the largest IT market in Africa. This market didn't come to existence through conscious government effort but grew naturally because of several factors that favoured it's growth.
So what should the government do?, I say give us stable electricity and broadband Internet across the country and we'll take it from there.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Nigerian Online Payment Systems

For some time we've been looking for an on-line payment gateway to integrate to a web project we are developing. So I embarked on a search for a good one that meets our requirements. The most important requirement is that it has to be Nigerian, one might say "Why?". Well, we trust Nigerian because unlike foreign companies we believe they won't freeze our account simply because we are Nigerians.

My search led me to discover some payment systems which I list below.

from a company called websoft. SurePay is a service which I cannot tell weather I like or not because it is so shrouded in secrecy. The website tells me that as a merchant I can accept interswitch, visa, Mastercard and Etranzact cards payment but refused to show me how. I couldn't get access to their API. They say I need some kind of certification to integrate it to my site and that costs N75,000 plus an activation fee of N50,000. A total of N125,000 before I can integrate or even see the API. So what happens if after paying I discovered that the API is crap ? Moreover both interswitch and Etranzact web payment service costs roughly N150,000 each. I'd rather go for one them since they provide a full online merchant account. So I moved on passing SurePay.

PayLive365 from iDevWorks: I had a lot of hope on this service because I've seen like two products from iDevWorks that impressed me. It's like the engineers over there know their onions. But the problem is that the service is still in Beta and I couldn't even create an account. So I came back after a few days and it's still in Beta, then a few weeks, then a few months and still Beta. The last time I checked, their ssl certificate has expired.

NetNaira from goattale: The first time I came across NetNaira, I fell in love with it, I checked out their API and loved it. This is despite the fact that my customers need a NetNaira account to pay me. So I registered a merchant account and started integration work on our site. They even have a sandbox url that you can use for development and testing. So everything was Ok and we were ready to go live. Suddenly we discovered that you have to pay N10,000 to get activated. Well, that's not too bad we thought. But there is a new rule on NetNaira, you can't have a transaction that's worth more than N40,000. Too bad what we want to sell costs a bit more than that. I still couldn't understand the logic behind that restriction. Netnaira charges commissions per transaction, I'll expect them to welcome high value transactions because it will lead to bigger commissions. Well, maybe it's not for me to understand. So I left Netnaira with a broken heart. We could have had a great relationship.

SoftPurse from SoftCom: The first impression SoftPurse gave was of a service that is well designed and developed. There website design was also cool. Though a merchant only get paid by a client with a SoftPurse account, they allow clients to fund accounts with Interswitch or Etranzact cards. There API is available once you register a merchant account which is free. My only reservation is their choice of API design. They used XML webservices. I personally prefer an API that's based on HTTP POST parameters. That way integration will be a matter minutes instead of days. We went ahead and tried integrating with the existing API but not without some hitches. But we are not giving up on SoftPurse so I got in touch with their lead engineer, Ezra Olubi. Ezra is a great guy that seems to be receptive to ideas. He even accepted our input and made a correction on their integration example. We have now postponed integrating softpurse but we did not shelve it. I think Ezra is one of the reasons why we are carrying on with SoftPurse.

CashEnvoy: I am not going to waste too much time on them cos they've hidden all integration info and require me to send them an e-mail to get it. Sometimes it's annoying how companies scare away potential customers by being unnecessarily secretive.

FasteCash by TechClick Limited: This is also an e-wallet. Meaning customers need to have an account before they can pay merchants. FasteCash seems to be at lost about their actual business model, one minute you get the impression they are an online payment system and the next minute they are a bulk sms service. if you don't believe me, go through their FAQ. But the real problem here is that you need some kind of scratch card to load your account. All the scratch card resellers are either in Lagos, Port-Harcourt or Warri and our lab is in Maiduguri. If you don't understand my point then I suggest you get a map of Nigeria and check the distance between Maiduguri and any of the three cities I mentioned. I know Maiduguri is far but at least get a reseller in Abuja. I have more reasons to go to Abuja than to go to Warri. Though one can load via bank payment, I still say no thanks. We don't want to put our customers through that trouble. We can as well collect bank payments directly. On a positive note, I like the design of their homepage and they have quite a number of resellers but none across the Niger.

ChezolaPay : This is one payment system that got my attention because it got some reviews from blogs that I respect; Timbuktu Chronicles and White African. But the last time I checked, their site has vanished.

NairaPro: I am going to keep it short. No FAQ or API info. Maybe I'll have to register to get them. But at least give me a FAQ.

from LFR Communications: Virtual Terminal Network has all the problems you can get in all the payment systems we passed on. They also have the additional disadvantage of not accepting any of the popular payment cards used in Nigeria. To fund your account you have to load via their bank account. VTN has everything to scare us away, but we are not running, we are planning to integrate VTN as an option. This is for some reasons we took into consideration. VTN already has up to 3000 merchants, a hunch tells us that there are even more non-merchant accounts than that. So there maybe potential customers that already have VTN accounts. Secondly VTN seems to be a mature payment platform judging by the company's experience in online payment even before creating VTN. The same company owns GraphCard. Thirdly, their API is not secret and you do not pay anything for a merchant account.

There are other payment systems I came across during my search but I believe only the ones above deserve any mention. Many are just crap some of the sites are filled with broken links, while some don't seem to understand what a payment system is suppose to be.
I think I must make it clear that the above review was largely based on my personal opinion and the opinion of my team members. So don't just take my word, go check out their sites and judge for yourself.