Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mobile phone chat with Obama


The two-day visit of President Barack Obama to Ghana has come and gone, but the interactive session through Short Message Service (SMS) and web-chat with the people of Africa cannot be devalued, reports REMMY NWEKE.

For the Sub-Saharan Africans, it was a new dawn last weekend, when the first black President of United States of America (USA), Mr. Barack Obama visited Ghana and interestingly had a mobile phone chat with ordinary citizens across Africa and Nigeria in particular.

Among those who interacted with President Obama during his glorious two-day visit to the Sub-Saharan Africa, was a Nigerian public analyst, Mr. Ikechukwu Ukwa, who was caught in the web through an electronic mail forwarded to him by a friend, who received the e-mail from the United States’ mission in Nigeria, via the Information Resource Centers located both in Abuja and Lagos.

The email sought to know the citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa who are interested in following up the activities of President Obama, whilst his Accra visit lasted through Short Message Service (SMS) and web-chat interactive, especially on Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 11am Accra time.

Initially, Mr. Ukwa did not take the mail seriously, but because Obama was involved, he followed the directive given, which entails that those interested in either SMS or web-chat should follow.

Part of the email read: “President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will visit Accra, Ghana, from July 10 to 11. While in Ghana, the President will discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues with Ghanaian President Mills. The President and Mrs. Obama look forward to strengthening the U.S. relationship with one of our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and to highlight the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development. Connect through http://www.new.facebook.com/event.php?eid=212976270391.”

The most interesting part of the email for Mr. Ukwa was the aspect that read, “An Invitation to Africans: Send a message to President Obama and receive highlights of his speech in Ghana. And starting July 3, 2009, you are invited to send a text message to U.S. President Barack Obama with your questions and comments in advance of his visit to Africa.  Those who respond early will receive SMS highlights from his speech in Accra, Ghana on Saturday, July 11, 2009.“

Another beauty of this initiative was its availability in both English and French, even as it promised that “President Obama will directly answer selected questions through local radio broadcasts in Africa. Text messages may be subject to local and international charges as stipulated by your carrier.”

So, to send a text message to President Obama, from Nigeria, for instance, simply text ‘English’ or ‘French’ to short code 32969.  But if sender did not receive a confirmation of their enrollment within 10 minutes, they were advised to re-send to +45609910343.  Equally to text from anywhere in Africa, it was advised that SMS be sent to+61418601934. While for South Africa, interested participants should use short code 31958. It was highly recommended that capacity was limited hence interested people were asked to text right away.

Additionally, a clause was put in place that registration for highlights of President Obama’s speech would be limited, while all local mobile phone, mobile coverage, local and international operator mobile quality of service and charges, as well as other operational constraints and conditions apply. The SMS service is not a 100 per cent guarantee of message delivery, but the mail encourage the sharing of this information with colleagues, listeners, viewers, and readers.

For Mr. Ukwa and others on the continent, this opportunity was an exposure not only to interact with President Obama, but also to try out the capabilities of telecommunications operators in delivering on this initiative through SMS borderlessly.

Webopedia.com, a free online dictionary related to computer and Internet technology, described SMS as short or acronym for Short Message Service, which is similar to paging. SMS is a service for sending short text messages usually not exceeding 160 characters to mobile phones or exchanging text between mobile phones.

Hence, Ukwa sent ‘English’ to 32969 using his Glo Mobile line, one of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) operators in the country with accompanied question; “Ps what are your plans to encourage the growth of true democracy and leadership on the continent and precisely Nigeria.” And within three minutes, he received a response which read: “Thank you for your text message to President Obama. You are registered to receive speech updates. If you do not want updates, text ‘STOP’.”

Then came the d-day, Saturday, Mr. Ukwa left home despite the early morning rain, which extended till afternoon for a meeting in Victoria Island part of Lagos when at exactly 2:29.32 another SMS landed on his mobile phone, reading thus; “It is an honour for me to be in Accra, and to speak to the representatives of the people of Ghana. I am proud that this is my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa as President of the U.S.”

This prompted Ukwa to fast-forward the session and headed home to capture the exciting visit in Digital Satellite Television (DSTv), only to behold that Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) is still withholding public power supply which was last available seven days ago, despite promise to return it on Saturday.

Ukwa also tried powering his house momentarily with a generating set, but discovered that the last fuel was used-up the previous night, as a result, he relied on his mobile phone to follow up on US President’s visit in Accra as the SMS on Obama’s speech continued to pour in; and part of the speech read: “The 21st century will be shaped by what happens not just in Rome or Moscow or Washington, but by what happens in Accra as well. Just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation, it is even more important to build one’s own. Governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.”

And so, the conversation continued between Obama and Ukwa as he focused on four areas that are critical to the future of Africa and the entire developing world, namely democracy; opportunity; health and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Consequently, Obama noted without any reservation that “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”

According to President Obama, with better governance, he has no doubt that Africa holds the promise of a broader base for prosperity and there is need for the people to make responsible choices that prevent the spread of disease, promote health in their communities and countries, even as America is ready to support these efforts through a comprehensive and global health strategy.

“Africa’s diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division,” he asserted in one of the SMS’, stressing that the world must stand up to inhumanity in our midst, emphasizing that it is never justifiable to target the innocents in the name of ideology. Obama also told Ukwa that freedom is an inheritance and it is now the responsibility of the people to build upon freedom’s foundation.

“I am speaking to the young people. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. I can promise you this: America will be with you. As a partner. As a friend,” Obama declared.

What the above scenario unveiled was the much needed collaboration between Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and policy makers, usually the political class in discharging their responsibilities as the representatives of the people. More so the efficacy of the mobile phones as tools and SMS as a veritable Value Added Service (VAS) that cannot be over-emphasized in today’s world of communications, especially in delivering cogent communications across border, typically in reaching out to the citizenry.

Therefore, bringing to the fore the importance of a recent workshop organized in Dialaw-Senegal by the Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA) through its ICT programme on International Liberalization of Trade in ICT goods and services (LICOM), with the support of a Canada-based organization, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), in partnership with the CRES - Centre de recherches Economiques et Sociales.

At the workshop, Mr. Ken Lohento, the project director, LICOM, highlighted the challenges for the private sector and implications for the implementation of public policies in West Africa aimed at contributing for a better understanding of international challenges of liberalization of trade in ICT services, in order to encourage formulation of public policies conducive to the development of ICT and private sector in West Africa; cutting across Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Benin Republic.

Just as stakeholders who commented on the Obama’s visit initiative via SMS and web-chat described it as novel, but should not have been possible without liberalization, for instance, of the telecommunications markets in the West African region, especially in Nigeria and Ghana, which have spurred the evolution of some VAS offering to boost interactions among the citizens and policy makers as displayed during the Obama visit.

Above all, over 15 SMS’ were received by Mr. Ukwa and friends who subscribed to the initiative via mobile phones.

Therefore, it is highly advocated that when next our presidents in the sub-region give their address to the nations, the operators should be involved through the West African Telecommunications Regulators Assembly (WATRA) and respective country industry regulators like the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), so as to reach out to the masses and importantly Nigerians spread across the sub-region.

This way, leaders in the continent and sub-region precisely would realise the importance of the statement from President Obama’s speech; “Governments that respect the will of their own people are more prosperous, more stable, and more successful than governments that do not.”

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.
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