28 December 2008

The Most Beautiful Picture Ever Taken

Memories may be ephemeral but photographs are not. Of all the photographs taken during my life, this picture is the most beautiful. It was taken in Giverny, France at the home of Claude Monet. The day started as a rainy, mostly overcast day before we got on the train then the short bus ride to his home. Once there, the sun came out and made it clear to me why Monet loved his home and made it the backdrop for many of his paintings. Every step provided a different view of the property and a potential painting. For those of you who have been there, you know what I mean and for the rest, I encourage you to go. If not for the freeway adjacent to Monet's property, it would have been exactly as it was way back when he lived there.

I have to admit that France is a country of beauty, and of the 95 countries I have been to, it is certainly one of the most amasing. Paris, not only the captial of France, but a world capital, may seem daunting at first, particularly so if you do not have a command of French, but eventually it becomes easy to explore. The Metro system could not be easier, especially if you are able to learn from your mistakes. Dining is to Paris what green and rain are to Ireland. My favourite section of Paris is Montmarte because it presents the greatest variety of shops, cuisine and things to see other than touristy views.

I remember feeling that I would not love Paris, or France before my first trip, but I was wrong - way wrong. From walking along the Seine; being at the top of the Eiffel Tower or sitting in Jardins et Palais du Luxembourg -- there is no one single place in the world which presents a greater array of beauty. I have been fortunate enough to have been to Paris at least ten times and to have seen a great deal of Paris during those visits. I don't know if I will ever return, but I will always have great memories. The best moments in my life.

12 November 2008

The Picture I love the Most!

{Click on photo to enlarge}

This picture was taken during the summer of 1960. Of all the pictures taken during my life, this one holds the greatest meaning and creates the most emotion for me. In the centre is my grandmother and behind her to the right is my grandfather. That's me seated on the paddles of my paternal grandmother's wheelchair, a place I often sat. Despite being 3 years old at the time, I remember everything about this picture as clearly as I can see the letters that I am typing into this screen. My mother is to the left in the picture, my father directly behind my grandmother whom my cousins (to her left in the picture) called "Yankee Mammaw." To the right side of this picture are my Uncle Dick, his two daughters Francy and Sally and my Aunt Sara (Aunt Beckie as everyone else calls her).

This homage is actually to her, but I must explain other things before I get there. According to everyone, my grandfather so loved his wife, that he wrote poems to her until the day she died. He loved her so much that the loss of her left him speechless for nearly a year. Today we would call it depression, but then the adults around me most likely considered it a condition brought on by the loss of his truly beloved wife. Her death came unexpectedly but if the true measure of anyone is the people who love them, then the fact that the church was filled with flowers and overflowing with visitors is illustrative of how much my grandmother added to lives of the people who knew her. She died in 1961.

My Cousin Francy, standing second from the right side of the picture, was the next person to die. She fell asleep while driving her car from Charleston to Columbia, South Carolina in 1969. I can remember the phone call and hearing my father telling my mother that Francy had died. My father headed for the airport to help his brother. My Aunt Sara and my Uncle Dick never overcame the pain of losing Francy. Her marriage imminent, her life under way, she was gone so suddenly and my aunt, to this day, still feels the pain.

My grandfather was the next to die in 1976. I have nothing but good memories of him and the his home we simply called Freeport. The home offered me refuge for reasons which my friends already know. My grandfather never seemed to know my name -- instead called me Sonny -- but that never bothered me. He taught me how to fish. I swam on one or the other of his two beaches. I had a boat, we had boats. Freeport offered me sanity in what was sometimes an otherwise insane world. Though my grandfather has been dead for 32 years, his jokes still remain with me and are retold as I meet new people. He loved to make people laugh. I have heard that he never took anything seriously, but, as a kid, what did I know.

The next to die was the person taking the picture, my Auntie May, my grandfather's sister. She died soon after my grandfather and she also loved to tell jokes and laugh. She is part of what made Freeport so wonderful.

The next to die was my mother. Her tombstone reads "She did it her way." That says just about all that need be said about her. Of her three sons, I have the harshest memories which differ from those of my siblings. Time has not yet healed the pain.

The next to die was my Uncle Dick, my grandparents' oldest son and someone with whom I shared a love of family history. He died in 2004, just before the Internet made tracing one's genealogy a simple process. He and my aunt traveled halfway around the world to gather family information while I did the same from my chair and entered the correct connections. He would have loved the Internet. He was a religious man. He won a silver star in World War II and remained in the military for a long time as a reservist. He loved his family -- all of us. I recall standing at his graveside as the riflemen fired three rounds of seven shots. No matter how much I anticipated the popping of the rifles, I still jumped. He is buried next to Francy, his daughter, in a beautiful church cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina.

My Aunt Sara, or Aunt Beckie as everyone except me calls her, is about to die. She is a tall woman and I remember how she towered over me as a child. Even in old age she is tall when she is able to stand, which has became more difficult over the past few years. She is a remarkable woman - highly educated with a PhD. Loves to read. Couldn't stop thanking me during the past few times that I have seen her for getting her a subscription to the New York Review of Books, not to be confused with the NY Times Book Review section. She would make lists of books and ask her daughter, my Cousin Sally, to purchase them before her next trip. It is not clear to me why I am the only person who calls her Aunt Sara but I was never able to convert to Aunt Beckie. Whenever I visited Aunt Sara, she would ask me all about my travels never seeming to grow tired of any of it. During our last visit I asked her if she was bored hearing my stories and she said "Glynn (southern accent added), no one here has very much to say which I haven't heard many times over, so it is such a pleasure to hear your stories of far away places." She is a southern woman, and, although polite to a fault, always willing to express her opinion.

I am on my way to see Aunt Sara who is in a semi-comatose state in Charleston, South Carolina. She may not know that I am there, but I will still talk to her, and perhaps even read the NY Review of Books to her. She has been on death's door before and recovered, but this time, we've been told, she may not. My Cousin Sara, the granddaughter of my Aunt Sara, is by her bedside and I will keep her company. She gave all us all so much in life. When she dies she will be laid to rest next to her husband and daughter.

So, just a few people in the photo remain and are growing old. Hard to believe that I have a memory of an event so clear in my mind that is 48 years old. I recall the heat of the day. I recall being called over to be in the picture. I recall it being snapped and I look at it now and know that, for that moment in time, we were a happy family. My cousins, brothers and I most likely jumped into the water afterward. My grandmother was rolled up the ramp into the house. That night we all ate dinner at the outside table.


Dr. Sara (Beckie) Lewis Strachan died peacefully at home after an extended illness. Dr. Strachan, who lived in Columbia for 67 years before moving to Summerville in 1997, was 86.

An avid educator for several decades, Dr. Strachan was Principal of Forest Lake Elementary School in Columbia for 16 years. She received her BA, MEd, and EdD degrees from the University of South Carolina. She was also organizational president of the Reading Association of S.C. Education Association.

During World War II, she interrupted her education to work for the Quartermaster Corps at Ft. Jackson, where she also wrote as the columnist “Suzie” for the Stars and Stripes U.S. military newspaper distributed overseas. It was during this time that she met and married her husband, Colonel Richard C. Strachan.

Dr. Strachan was a passionate story teller, Sunday School teacher, and Bible teacher, as well as an accomplished artist. After her retirement, she and her husband founded Thistledo, Inc., an educational initiative teaching history, art, and literature through the mediums of brass and gravestone rubbings. Their training included technical courses at Cambridge University, University of Durham, and several institutions in Belgium.

Dr. Strachan, a member of the Summerville Presbyterian Church, served as an elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church and as a deacon at the First Presbyterian Church, both in Columbia. She was a former member of the Board of Visitors of Columbia College, and a charter member of the Suzanna Smith Elliott Chapter of the DAR. In 1980, she was honored as the Volunteer of the Year by the United Way Midlands. She was also a founder and former president of the Robert Burns Society of the Midlands; a founder and former board member of The Women’s Shelter in Columbia; and a founder and board member of the Southeastern Section of the Zane Grey West Society.

Dr. Strachan was born on April 13, 1922, in Greenville, S.C. She was the daughter of Frances Lyles Brock of Newberry County and Edgar Brumitte Lewis of Ridgeway. Dr. Strachan was predeceased by her husband of 60 years and by her daughter, Frances Helen Strachan. She is survived by her daughter, Sally Strachan, her granddaughter, Sara Strachan, and her sister, Betty Sanders.

27 October 2008

Albania - A Return Engagement

I have been to Albania before; my arrival here is a combination of rekindling slightly less than 3 year old memories of Tirana and noticing changes since that time. The first startling difference is that the dilapidated airport has been upgraded and modernized, akin to the airport in Podgorica – perhaps the same person designed the two? The old airport building sits uselessly attached to the new structure and perhaps will eventually be destroyed since it is less useful than when it was in use. The most startling change is the road to and from the airport – it is basically STRAIGHT. Picture the most meandering river you can in the USA and then add gravel, sporadic patches of hardtop and potholes and you will have a rough image of the previous road. I am told that Hoxha built the airport to be circuitous to discourage its use and the same can be said for the airport itself. It was politically correct at the time to stymie the airport's access and use.To get a ticket out of Tirana during the “bad days” you had to leave your family behind to assure your timely return.

I made my way into town and found the apartment that my friend had located for me just slightly on the side of town but close enough to walk everywhere. In three years all the buildings which had been skeletons were now fully completed and mostly beautiful buildings. The streets are all paved, which was NOT the case three years ago either. The mayor of this town is a socialist, but a good socialist in the non-communist way – kinda like me. He wants the best for the people and he may soon become the Prime Minister. For now he is responsible for making people happy in Tirana. He is the mayor who bought bright coloured paint and encouraged residents to paint everything that stood, changing the gray scale into a Miami-ish styling. Unfortunately car pollution has grayed some of the brightest buildings but Tirana is certainly more colourful than, say, Podgorica, Belgrade and most certainly Bucarest or Skopje.

Internet is still in its infancy here with most people relying on cafes. I suppose if it were more advanced I wouldn’t be here – I am a wireless hitman. My job is to design a nationwide broadband solution to help Albania advance its development as a nation. The government wants the work completed in time for the elections in early 2010. What the government wants to accomplish in a such a short period of time is ambitious.

I will add more pictures and stories about Albania as I travel around the country.

Glenn in an Internet Cafe, Tirana, Albania

12 September 2008

My Orginal BLOG FOUND after 10 years

I wrote this 10 years ago for a company Intranet site - still relevant.


I have a confession to make – I am a passport “stamp-a-holic”. I’ve lived with this problem since early childhood, around the time I received my first passport. During those early days I was able to handle my obsession, but after High School, I was hooked. My behaviour manifest itself in strange bouts of purposeful trip manipulation. Travel agents would book me on direct flights and I would subvert their work by demanding the most stops possible. I actually booked a flight to Kathmandu on Biman Airways JUST so I could get a Bangladeshi stamp in my book with complete disregard for my own personal safety given the safety record of Biman Airways. I once bubbled over in pride the day I received a 20-page extension for my old passport while on a stopover in Bangkok. Even greater pride when I filled up those pages. I also tend to cherish my previous passports like some men cherish old T-shirts with which they are reluctant to part, despite gaping holes. I believe that in some ways I even molded my career around the attainment of passport stamps – International Development. One knows they are obsessed when they try to match stamp colours within their passport….no, I am not really that bad, but it does bring to mind another story.

Undesired Stamp…

I lied. As much as I like to accumulate stamps in my passport, I recently prayed that the great passport God would pass me by during my recent visit to Cuba. I have wanted to go to Cuba all my life driven by an almost weekly statement made to me by my Mother – “Cuba is one of the most interesting and beautiful places in the world”. She spent a good part of her early life there, and transferred her fixation with Cuba to me. I have been working on a project in Jamaica and became familiar with a package deal that flew you to Havana for the weekend. No fuss, no muss I thought. I went to the travel agent and she said that entry into Cuba was safe for Americans because they don’t stamp your passport. DON’T STAMP YOUR PASSPORT – THEN WHAT’S THE REASON FOR GOING? I don’t believe she heard my thoughts and she continued on. She explained to me that technically, Americans can enter Cuba, they just can’t spend any money when they are there. She pointed out that by purchasing their package deal I would avoid spending any money while in Cuba. Made sense to me, but I was still stuck on the Passport stamp thing. “Oh yes, you simply fill out a visa card which they stamp when you enter the country and your passport is safe”. Safe from what I asked? When you return to the United States they will never know you went to Cuba and you will avoid the risk of any penalty.

So off I went to Havana seeking the beauty my mother had spoken about. Upon entry I gave the Visa card instead of my passport and paid no attention to the clerk behind the counter. Within 30 seconds I was on my way to Old Havana. Suffice to say it was a beautiful place, which I will discuss more, at a later time. Sunday came quickly, and it was time to depart. I stood in front of the Immigration official and handed him my papers including my passport. He asked me something, and wrote a number on a piece of paper. I quickly determined that he had written the number ten and a $ sign preceded it. I momentarily asked myself what Fidel would think about such behaviour. I also did not have $10 in U.S. currency, so I shook my head in a negative manner. In less time than you can say $55,000 fine, he stamped page 16 of my U.S. passport. Let’s look on the bright side of this I thought – now I can show people my Cuban passport stamp but then my thoughts went to having to explain the stamp to Customs Officials in Miami. I spent the next few days pondering my fate.

I had it all worked out. If they questioned me in Miami I was going to tell them about how Jack Nicholson, Matt Dillon and Cameron Diaz were in Cuba at the same time. My theory was that I was just a small fish by comparison. My next idea was to place little papers between each page of my passport in an effort to distract the Customs person. I figured as they began paging towards the page number that matched the birth date of Jose Marti, the savoir of Cuba, (page 16) that a number of slips would fall out and they would simply pass over the Cuban stamp. That was the best thought I could come up with while flying towards Miami. The flight between Kingston and Miami is 585 miles or just over 1 hour in duration – too short for coming up with anything original. I decided to just face the music if caught and say I had a great time.

I arrived in Miami at 1:10 P.M. – so did seven other planes. The passage way to the Customs was jammed with a sea of humanity. I saw the blue line – you know that line that Americans are supposed to follow when they return to the U.S. I followed it until an official was yelling to every American the following advice – “If you have a Passport open to your picture – hold it up to your face – walk through the gates”.

Needless to say, I was the American with the smile that went from one ear to the other.

Has Anyone Seen My Passport???

The Meanderings of a Wayward Traveler – Part 2

I love airports!

There, I said it loud, and I said it proud. I realize that this probably places me in distinct minority group of perhaps 50 people in the entire world, but I just can’t help myself – I was raised to love airports.

When I was a young boy, let’s say 35-40 years ago, when flying was not as commonplace, my father was constantly going off to the airport to fly somewhere. At the time, all I knew was that this was a special place and that I enjoyed being there. I am the first to admit that traveling with my parents wasn’t the most enjoyable pursuit, but traveling on an airplane made up for it, and more.

As I grew older, and I began to fly on my own, I found myself looking forward to spending time in the airport before the flight. I still love finding a seat that permits me to watch people come, and go. I used to go to gates where the plane was scheduled to fly to some far flung destination – London, Delhi or Hong Kong – just to see the people getting on the plane and imagining going where they were going. To this day I enjoy seeing gateway reunions where everyone is genuinely happy. I also feel the pain of the people being departed from, as they strain for that last glance of a loved one.

Most of the time, I just enjoy doing NOTHING.

At this present point in life, I feel that I never have any free time – what with two young children, a full-time job – yada yada yada. So any opportunity for relaxation is a Godsend. As I write this, I am sitting on a plane bound for the West Coast. In my head I calculate 1.5 hours of airport time plus 7 hours of travel time. I know that this next line is going to seem odd, but that’s 8.5 hours to do whatever I want to do without feeling like I should be doing something else.

Oddly enough, there are people who hate airports for the exact reason I love them. They wait as long as possible before departing for the airport leaving just enough time to check in and board the plane. When on the plane, they can’t wait for the journey to be over. When they get off the plane they wait for the luggage to arrive on the carousel with the same level of patience that most people have sitting on the beltway during rush hour. After getting the bags they are ready to attack the rental car agent until finally they are seated in the car and the airport is but a fleeting image in the rear view mirror. I have embellished this characterization somewhat, but not by much.

I Love Flying Too

During the past 25 years I am certain that I have flown on at least 1000 flights, if not more. I once had a job that flew me to work at 6:10 a.m. in the morning and returned me the same day at 6:50 p.m.. I did that 3 days a week for 7 months. That totals at least 168 flights. I became so familiar to the flight crew that they called me by my first name. The airline had a 750 minimal frequent flyer mileage guarantee which for me garnered 126,000 miles with a whole bunch of double, and then triple mileage bonuses. Needless to say, I had a lot of flights courtesy of Continental Airlines. The point of all this minutiae is to point out that I am somewhat of an expert when it comes to airports.

I have also learned a few tricks that sometimes really do work.


One time I was standing behind someone in line who was totally angered by his travel experience. There was one attendant at the ticket counter, and this person went on for at least 15 minutes. When he left, I stepped forward, and began to console the ticket person. I pointed out that I am never in a rush and tend to take things as they come when I am at an airport. This person gave me a First Class upgrade without my even asking. You’re now asking, “Was this an isolated case?”. Next time you go to an airport, look at all the frenzied people around you. This condition becomes especially true when there is bad weather somewhere in the United States (9 months of the year). It is not rare to find yourself behind someone who is upset. A few kind words will go a long way – I know because I have been upgraded to First Class more times than you can imagine.

Free Tickets

When I travel I also stay close to the gate ticket counter. WHY? I want to be the first one in line when they announce that the flight has been overbooked and they are seeking volunteers to either take a later flight, or stay over another night and leave in the morning. In about a week I will be traveling for free, with my family, to Southern California using tickets provided to me by USAIR. Give it a try.

When will it be my turn?

It has been suggested that flying is far safer than driving in your own car. Let’s just say the odds are 20 million to 1 that you will be in a plane crash. Does this mean that every time I fly the odds remain the same, or should I divide 20 million by 1000?? There have been two times when I thought the odds had caught up with me.

Carriacou – this is a tiny little island just off the coast of Grenada, in the West Indies. While working in Grenada, I was required to fly to Carriacou at least once every two weeks. The only planes that flew to this island had either 4 or 6 seats. This day, I was on the 4 seater version and the weather was somewhat questionable. Soon after taking off, the weather became downright awful. The pilot decided to press on. Imagine the worst roller coaster ride in the world and then triple the feeling your stomach goes through when you have that weightless experience. I remember looking at the pilot and noticing that he was sweating – not a good sign. We finally sighted our objective and approached the landing strip. I had already exhausted all my prayers and entered into many bargains in exchange for not crashing. As the plane finally found itself over the landing strip, and about to put down, a wind shear dropped us, and the plane, the final 20 feet. We landed with a real thud, and ruined the landing gear but we were safe. The pilot turned to me and said “Welcome to Carriacou”. I stayed the night rather than return the same day. I later saw the Pilot hoisting a beer recounting is worst flight ever.

Chengdu – I once caught a flight from Shang Hai to Chengdu using CAAC, the domestic airline of China. As I boarded the plane I saw that it was a Boeing 707, the oldest commercial jet in service. Since I have never flown on a 707, I thought it would be fun. Little did I know.

In certain countries within Asia, unlike in America, people are allowed to bring anything on-board – and they do. On this flight, there were chickens, pigs and even a goat, bound by its legs. I could deal with the animals, but they were all located in front of the emergency exits – not a good idea in any country. I forget the actual estimated time for the flight, it might have been 4 hours. All seemed fine towards what I thought to be the end of the flight. The plane began to descend, the wing tabs were extended, and the wheels were lowered. They are all events that take place prior to landing. The catch with this flight is that we did for over one hour. Worse than dragging the wheels, and everything else, was the fact that the plane kept descending than climbing. This happened over and over again. What you must know about Chengdu is that it is located in a mountainous region and the airport itself is 5200’ above sea level. My thoughts centered around a belief that we were going to crash into a mountain. I said my prayers, I even wrote out some notes just in case we did go down.

We finally did land and I was able to find out what had happened. The airport radar and landing systems had broken down, and the pilot was trying to find the airport without benefit of any support. One of the bargains I made with God during this flight was that I would never again fly inside of China. I left Cheng Du by train bound for Ghangzhou a week later.

31 July 2008

Being a Teenager in 2008 - How Technology Can Be Destructive

Being a teenager in the 1970’s was not a joyous time in my life but being a teen-ager today is being made even more difficult through the introduction of technology. This is an odd statement coming from me since I make my living through the implementation of technology, but the teenagers of today have found new ways to make each other ever more miserable through the use of social networking websites such as Facebook and Myspace not to mention text messaging, instant messaging and email.

I monitor my children’s use of all the above technological tools which I must admit is an exercise in walking a fine line between allowing my children the freedom to express themselves and being aghast by the use of abbreviated language transmissions and the sometimes horrendous use of foul language.

Back in the 70’s we didn’t have technology to spread a message about someone far and wide except for the rumors that spread from person to person and which were, by and large, mostly false. Today, teens have a myriad of tools with which they can spread an ill conceived message about someone else in about the same time it takes me to unlock my front door and step to the other side. There is no need for teens today to confront someone who is a little different than they – it is easier for them to spew their contempt for someone different by simply posting a negative message on Facebook for others to see, or to add commentary.

I recently saw an online attack where a group of kids on Facebook made some very derogatory comments about another child, who was also part of the discussion. Surprisingly, the kids who made these comments are considered good kids at their schools and in their neighborhoods, but get them in a group, in a semi-anonymous environment, and they soon become something quite different. I give credit to the kids who stated that the discussion was unfair and had gone too far, and in the end the ones being derogatory apologized, but the damage was already done. The child who was the target of the attack feels even less secure in a period of life where insecurity abounds.

Being a teenager has always been difficult. Those who are not “in” are “out” as the expression goes. The problem now is that it is much easier for teenagers to use technology to drive in that point. I made a copy of the discussion mentioned above, and my initial thought was to send a copy to the parents of each child who participated in this unfortunate discussion, but instead I thought it better to write this commentary and encourage all parents to really look at what their children are saying online to other people. Technology has permitted today’s teenagers to “swarm” a victim – essentially create a “virtual” gang, which is just as harmful as physical bullying could be, if not more so.

22 July 2008

Observations from West Africa - Broadband is Coming

Link to Event:


My trip to Ghana was unexpected and I was given a couple of days to prepare for a 5800-mile flight to Accra: I was asked to participate in the West Africa ICT Road Map to Opportunities Conference. Since I have spent much time in Eastern Europe over the past 4 years, this trip presented itself as an opportunity to catch up on the changes which have been taking place in Africa since my visit last year to Senegal. To say the least, I was excited by what I heard, albeit with a measure of caution, since ministers of telecommunications tend to present the most rosy and forward thinking speeches but often fall down when it comes to the actual execution of a plan. Senegal comes to mind as having been on the verge of opening up its Internet Gateway for years yet never really getting there due to a lack of political will. This time, however, the driving force motivating countries to step up in their development process is mobile telephony and its rapid growth—the fastest in the world—combined with a desire for broadband connectivity which it is hoped will lead to the economic expansion of those countries which adopt broadband capacities. In short, ministers see the utility of broadband connectivity as a precursor for economic growth. Oddly enough, in America, Congress and most state legislatures seem to have missed making this connection —in particular, how broadband can be used to help the most remote people in the most remote counties in each state. So while each state muddles along and cobbles together a “plan” for broadband connectivity, national telecom ministers in Africa and Eastern Europe recognize that a nationwide strategic plan must benefit all zones rather than only the biggest cities.

The overwhelming message I took away from the conference is that ministers of communications from each of the attending West African countries agreed that they must modify their national environments to encourage the growth of broadband services and realize similar economic gains seen in the more developed world. The General Secretary of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Hamadoun Toure, gave a heartfelt speech imploring ministers to “open up” national telecom sectors to competition and reduce the costs associated with accessing the Internet. Like most people in the telecommunications sector, Mr. Toure believes that by doing so, prices will fall and economic gains will be realized once these steps are taken.

The Nigerian Minister of Telecom made a similar plea to his fellow ministers and pointed out that, since Nigeria opened its telecom sector in 1998, its wireless telephony use has grown from .04% to nearly 40% as of 2008. Approximately 50 million Nigerians now own a mobile phone. With the broadband sector in Nigeria growing at an exponential rate, the Minister said there are plans to provide complete broadband coverage by 2015. Nigeria certainly appears to be the most pro-active and progressive country of those attending the conference, in that it appreciated quickly the value of affordable mobile telephony and broadband access.

Cisco’s Robert Pepper gave the best presentation of data and highlighted an absolute relationship between an open telecom market with a strong regulatory enforcement and government support for the growth of ICT through direct and indirect grants. He also illustrated how most of Africa falls into the bottom third of 150 nations he measured for government support of broadband services. Even the most progressive nations in Africa (South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Rwanda) trail countries like Moldova, Macedonia and the Ukraine. Dr. Pepper went on to describe the relationship between the presence of broadband and the upswing in the economic growth of a country. He showed that when a country puts 5% of its GDP toward the support of ICT activities it doubles its standard of living within 14 years. Countries that put only 1% of their GDP in ICT activities will take 42 years to double the standard of living. Dr. Pepper closed by saying that not only do countries need to open up their telecom sectors, they need to view ICT as important to infrastructure as roads, water, electricity and waste control.

ITU’s General Secretary pointed out that while Africa represents 12.5% of the world’s population it accounts for less than 2% of the world’s Internet traffic. At the same time, Africa is experiencing the highest growth rate in mobile telephony in the world. The General Secretary stated that this is a measure of the willingness of countries like Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal to open their markets to competition and enable low cost procurement of mobile phones and services.

This event was full of presentations showcasing each country and encouraged public-private partnerships between West African countries and American companies. Ambassador David Gross from the Department of State served as one of the hosts for this event. His goal was clear—the development of partnerships between American and African corporations doing ICT work. Ambassador Gross went to great lengths to illustrate how the African telecom and ICT sectors are now vibrant compared to what they were was just 5 years ago. He attributed the change to the activities undertaken by the ITU’s General Secretary, a Malian who rose through the ranks of the United Nations and eventually accepted his present assignment with ITU. Ambassador Gross said that ITU is the agency most responsible for encouraging the growth of telecom and ICT within the United Nations, and that no one like Toure has led ITU with a greater desire to help Africa “catch up” to the rest of the world. In fact, each minister praised Toure for his endless energy to represent the needs of all African nations. The biggest issue with which ITU’s General Secretary is presently dealing is the creation of new and expansion of already laid submarine fiber networks surrounding Africa and landing rights in each coastal country. Both he and Ambassador Gross expressed a strong desire for each coastal country to work with its landlocked neighbors to assure the creation of a “tentacle of fiber covering all of Africa.”

None of the information shared during this conference is new news. In 2001, the head of Cisco, John Chambers, noted that “(t)here is a direct correlation between high speed Internet access, productivity and increased standard of living.” The following article a Cisco press release dated January 26th, 2001 highlights Mr. Chambers’s thoughts from the Davos 2001 conference:

Cisco’s CEO and president John Chambers joined world leaders this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the future of the world's economies. Chambers shared his vision regarding how companies, countries and people can increase their productivity by harnessing the power of the Internet. Chambers explained that at the current rate of three percent productivity growth, the U.S. standard of living will double in less than 25 years. If we increase productivity to five percent, we can double our standard of living in 15 years. "It's your choice," said John Chambers. "We have the opportunity to double productivity and the standard of living in one generation, or two." He used the U.S. as an example, but explained that this applies to all countries.

Chambers also reminded world business and government leaders that just as businesses have benefited from great Internet-based productivity gains, societies can also benefit. He believes that the Internet is as fundamental as any utility, like water or electricity, and that access to the Internet is key to increased productivity. "The Internet exceeds the combined productivity of telephony, transportation and electricity," said Chambers while in Davos. Through the acceleration of high-speed Internet access, commonly known as broadband, Chambers believes countries can accelerate productivity faster than ever before. In turn, the Internet can improve the standard of living for people worldwide and address the digital and the education divides. Chambers added, "The infrastructure of the future is changing."

Chambers suggested that changing the productivity model is imperative-critical to survival. He highlighted the U.S. 2001 Economic Report of the President which detailed the link between increased broadband deployment and improved productivity within the workplace. The report showed a direct correlation between broadband, increased productivity and increased standard of living. For example, industries using the Internet saw a four percent annual growth in productivity while industries that are not using the Internet have experienced a one percent annual increase in productivity.

Along with increased productivity, countries with more bandwidth will have higher e-commerce activity per capita as they build infrastructure around deploying high-speed Internet connections. In developed countries, where the price of bandwidth decreases, the number of users will increase, adding future economic growth. In the U.S., every one million homes with broadband are expected to contribute $10 billion in economic output based upon research by Gartner Group.

Chambers' message is clear; there is a direct correlation between widespread broadband acceptance and improved productivity, which helps improve the standard of living worldwide and to close the digital divide.

Even though Chambers’ message is not new, it has taken a few years for this message to resonate in Africa. The heads of African nations are beginning to recognize the role that broadband and ICT can play in increasing the standard of living.

So what does this all mean?

Though John Soule advised “Go West, Young Man,” I would offer instead that we should head east. Two regions remain in the world where the build up of broadband services is nascent—Africa and the Pacific Islands. While Central America may only be marginally ahead of both regions, Africa appears to offer the greatest opportunity vis-à-vis ICT. Much of Central America is deregulated and mobile wireless growth has already begun to flatten while Africa is experiencing the highest growth rates in the world. As people in Africa are adapting and adopting mobile telephony, mobile based software solutions are already making their way to the end-user such as micro-finance solutions, bill payment and even a use of SMS by Ghanaian fishermen to determine the market’s rates for the fresh catch of the day.

As each African nation opens its telecom marketplace to multiple mobile operators, there will be a predictable uptake by users as prices fall. To assure the success of non-mobile ICT, a similar event must take place in the broadband sector. Unfortunately, the broadband market is usually controlled by the incumbent wired telephone operator which in turn tends to control the country’s international gateway to the Internet. The expansion of new submarine cables however will upset countries in Africa which have not yet liberalized their telecom marketplace. This is exactly why the ITU’s General Secretary and Ambassador Gross were adamant that each minister must act to open up the national markets to realize the manifold benefits associated with broadband access. As markets open, or even if there is a hint that they will, ICT activities can be designed, implemented, tested and then expand.

The times demand that African countries adapt to new technologies such as broadband and wireless by opening their restrictive telephony markets and make this change soon; many appear ready and willing. While this conference did not end with a flurry of public-private partnership announcements, it certainly crystallized the need for all things “E” and West African countries will need the assistance of NGOs and other private sector partners from the USA.