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Business News of Thursday, 4 December 2003

Source: Amos Anyimadu

The software industry in Ghana

The presentation would be streamed live, online today. see



    Paper Proposal for CTI Annual 8th International Conference by Dr. Amos Anyimadu, Political Science/Technology Assessment Project, University of Ghana, Legon and Mr. Joe Jackson, The SOFT Tribe, Accra (email contact}.

    Ghana has committed itself fully to being an intelligent, Information Society. This is pointed up most significantly in the ICT4AD policy document released by the Government of Ghana in the last few days. Ghana aims to be not only a consumer, but also a producer of ICT products, including software. In this context, we propose a critical investigation of the Property Rights challenges faced by Ghana's most important bespoke software development company, the SOFT Tribe. The analysis would be situated within the extant discussion of institutionalist Political Economy of Development, especially the concern with environmental factors and competitiveness strategies in business success. Broadly, it seeks to interrogate a solid example in the specific application of the requirements for building knowledge societies in poor societies.

    Through the international diplomacy of development, especially the good work of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, an appreciation of property rights, including patents and copyright, even with regard to intangibles, especially in information content industries including music and film, has developed in Ghana. However, on the whole, appreciation of, and mechanisms for, ensuring protection of property rights in Ghana are poor. Even the attentive publics are not concerned about "valueless intangibles".

    The paper would offer a deep perspective on how the SOFT Tribe has had to deal with the challenge of securing its software development rights. A weak general protection of intellectual property rights in Ghana would be shown to have profoundly negatively affected the relevant external environment of the SOFT Tribe, very radically increasing its transaction costs. Given the inadequate supply of relevant public good, the Soft Tribe has had to develop extraordinary private measures to protect its software. This process has been so entrenched that it has been explicitly theorised by this software business firm. It forms a core part of what it has named "Tropical Tolerance". Tropical Tolerance has been critically examined by the Technology Assessment Project of the University of Ghana and the Technical University of Denmark. The partnership which this paper launches represents fresh fruit of this engagement given that the authors are a Coordinator of the Technology Assessment Project and the Chief Executive of the SOFT Tribe.

    In the context of protecting its property rights in the environment outlined above, the SOFT Tribe has had to adopt sub optimal strategies in protecting its software. This includes the development of software dongles such that customers cannot install software themselves, the SOFT Tribe has to be involved on each ocassion. The firm, it would appear, portrays a disincentive to write comprehensive user manuals for its software customers. Again, such that its clients would be compelled to construct long term relationships. Such firm level business optimising strategies, it would be shown, make sense at the firm level but clearly retard the national drive for a knowledge society and better quality economic growth.

    The paper would be based on rigorous and intentionally crafted appreciation of research on similar issues done in Developing Countries which are known to be taking right steps toward Knowledge Societies. This would be counterbalanced with perspectives from Developed Country contexts especially insights pointed up by the differences between the United States and Europe arising from the very strict protection of digital copyright by the American government. The main methods would be ethnographic and case study based. The authors are in very good positions for understanding the general ecological and firm specific issues to be discussed. There would be structured interviews with other industry leaders in Ghana.

    -- Amos Anyimadu