Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The 2nd NATC - Liv Arts Technology Arts Contest

I'm really happy to announce that this year's organising committee for the 2nd NATC - Liv Arts Technology Arts Contest includes Luca Varaschini, Leslie Lumeh and Manfred Zbrzezny. We had a brainstorming meeting today to decide the theme, how to make the contest more inclusive and which mediums to include. 

Leslie Lumeh is a well known Liberian artist, both locally and internationally. In fact, he was featured recently on CNN. His work is beautiful and, masterfully captures Liberian landscapes, society and every day scenes. Leslie collaborated with us last year for our first contest and, we are so happy to have him with us again. The art contest's title bears his organisation's name, too: Liv Arts. 

Luca Varaschini has collaborated with NATC on its season greeting cards. Luca designed our 2014 card. He also helped us with last year's Art Contest. He designed the flyer and, helped to design the card with the winning painting by Duke Appleton. Besides that, Luca has always lent us a helping hand with any design project. He has also kindly designed some flyers for Mama Susu's famous buffets. Not only is Luca a most talented and intuitive graphic artist and illustrator but the most inspiring thing about him is how much he loves Liberia and, has made an effort to come back to the land he was born in.

Manfred Zbrzezny is a German blacksmith who resides in Liberia and, has made a name for himself by converting arms into art work. His studio is called FYRKUNA Metalworks. He work can be seen in some select spots in Monrovia and, he also sells individual pieces: sculptures, book ends, bottle openers and mobiles. Manfred's work is striking and imaginative, transforming tools of death and war into immortal art. 

Today's meeting was very interesting and energetic. We decided on a theme: Technology - hurting or helping. The title is quirky and, hopefully, will inspire some interesting and exciting interpretations. The artistic personalities on this organising committee have suggested opening the contest to all mediums: sculpture, photography and painting. It was decided the judging and exhibition of the pieces will be done separately, unlike last year. Finally, we will open it to the public by placing an ad in the newspapers and, anyone above the age of 18 can participate. If all goes well, we 'll have the exhibition by the beginning of November. 

But the most interesting idea of this year's competition is that we will have 12 winners who will be featured in a calendar. We will also have a popular prize. 

We hope to have a great event this year and, by doing so, promote Liberian artists and artistic expression and interpretation of technology's impact on life and society. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

Betrayals, shock and rage

The last few months have left me morally drained and, have challenged my determination as an entrepreneur, as manager and owner of an IT company in Liberia. 

In May, salaries were upgraded at our company. It was a good moment and, I felt proud that our company was able to honour the time the long timers had served at our company. 

Oldest NATC staff is caught red handed at a client's office, engaged in fraud 

Hardly a month later, our senior staff was implicated in fraud with one of our clients.  The shock of this betrayal didn't strike me at first but over time, I felt all the stages of professional loss: shock, anger, disappointment, rage and, deep cynical rage. Jonathan was working with me since 2010. He was hired immediately after the crew I had inherited from NLTC had walked out on me, in a staged coup. They stayed away from the office and, I learned from the Ministry of Labour that if staff stays away from work for 10 days without any excuse they may be fired without any compensation. 

The office assistant gave me his CV, it was in a pile of applications and, after inviting him for an interview, I hired him at US $ 300. At this time, our office was still located in a small apartment (in fact, that's where I also lived) and, over time the business grew. A few months later, Haresh also joined the company and we three worked hard to grow the business. We moved the office to a bigger space on Randall Street, bagged more contracts, and worked out to stay in the business. 

Jonathan was always hardworking, punctual, and quiet. His communication skills were not very good  but we worked with him to help him improve. See English classes. One particular client really didn't seem to like him for his inability to explain his work. We gave him strong feedback and worked closely. A couple of years later in 2013 or 2014, this very client accused Jonathan of offering his company business directly, sidelining NATC. The client didn't have proof and, during the heated meeting with the CEO of the mining company, I was not convinced that Jonathan had indeed dared to betray NATC. Haresh was somehow convinced but I stuck to my guns. The client asked us not to send Jonathan to their offices. When Jonathan was caught red handed in 2016, I remembered this episode and started to doubt myself and whether I had acted foolishly by protecting my staff. 

Over the years, Jonathan worked loyally, quite and bore my strong management style, discipline and, stuck with us through the ups and downs of business, ebola and so on. Not that any of my staff had to go without a salary or anything like that but still, I appreciated his loyalty because so many other technicians had come and gone through the doors of NATC, including international ones. 

Jonathan had clocked 6 years with us, and I felt we had gotten to know each other quite well and, could see a future together. I always appreciated that he was willing to work on weekends, on holidays and, so on. A few times, Jonathan had got into scrapes because he was borrowed money from someone but we bailed him out. I didn't make much of it. I didn't really doubt his sincerity.

On 20 June, NATC received a call from a client and was called for a meeting. During the meeting, it was revealed that the client's IT officer and Jonathan had seemingly colluded and submitted a fraudulent invoice for payment for a $150.00 router. The client's IT officer had already been suspended of something a couple of weeks before.

The invoice’s format and template was very similar to NATC’s invoice/receipt format. The letterhead indicated a known company run by a Nigerian fellow Joshua, known to NATC. The number on the letterhead was Joshua’s and he was asked to come in for the same meeting. The number on the stamp was Jonathan’s own number. In the presence of Joshua, Haresh and the client's team, the number on the stamp was called and someone answered (most likely Jonathan himself) saying they were Joshua.

The evidence pointed towards Jonathan himself. The client asked NATC not to send Jonathan to their offices again. 

Jonathan didn't come back to the office for a few days. He must have got a wind of things. When he didn't show up for a second day, we sent an e-mail to our clients saying Jonathan was under investigation. Jonathan showed up a few days later and, had very little to say. I was so upset seeing him and asked him why he did it when I had defended him all those years ago. He was quiet. I called the numbers on the fraudulent invoice and his phone rang in his hand. He mumbled that there was another side to the story and he did'n't have much to say because we had sent an e-mail to clients to say he was under investigation. Since that day I haven't seen him.

I felt quite crushed and defeated after this episode. For all the ups and downs of doing business in Liberia - poor infrastructure, sky-high rotten corruption, no proper schooling that produces qualified IT engineers or technicians, a tiny economy - I believed that the team I had managed to put together at NATC was an accomplishment that I could boast of. Lebanese and Indian business owners never trust Liberians as managers in senior positions; they would rather bring their own nationals to work in responsible jobs. Not that NATC didn't try to hire non-Liberian staff but we didn't have much luck. 

In fact, by the end of 2014, I was proud that we had an all-Liberian team and broken stereotypes. See my note here: Reflection: 2014 the year they wanted to make Liberia famous for ebola

I was quite angry and fed up after Jonathan's betrayal. I would be morally outraged in one instance and, then ask Haresh whether we should forgive him. I also missed his presence because we had been working together since 2010. I also lost control and, spoke loudly in the office in the office at everyone that instead of getting any thank you from our staff over the recent salary upgrade, we don't get a thank you and actually have staff committing fraud. 

I also really felt personally betrayed because I had come to have blind trust in Jonathan. I respected him as my peer, a long-standing colleague who had borne as much difficulty as I had. Whenever I returned from a trip abroad, I would present him and his son a gift. I also invited him to social functions we hosted at our house. 

His salary had been upgraded to almost US $ 1000 in May 2016. Instead of receiving a thank you and renewing commitment to NATC to work sincerely, we found out he had sold his character for a mere US $ 150.00. It really felt like slap on the face. 

Since then, we had an Indian businessman walk into our office, looking for Jonathan who had apparently taken a couple of hundred bucks from him to do a private IT job! Haresh also tells me that some server and MikroTik router configurations have been done incorrectly by Jonathan.  

Daniel, the junior technician, by default, has become our senior technician and, has stepped up to the challenge. He has managed all the jobs on site and worked closely with Haresh. V-SAT issues out of Monrovia were contracted out. Despite the deep sense of betrayal I felt, practically NATC's work has been unaffected. 

NATC still looking for bookkeeper 

Besides the Jonathan issue, we had a few other staff issues. The bookkeeper that was hired on high recommendation decided one fine morning he didn't want to do it anymore. He was not an accountant by profession but was brought over with a very flattering sifarish and, as they say in Liberia, made a big mouth about his work ethics and, commitment to his job. Even in his blog post, he said he was excited to be part of a company that had standards and professionalism. The big mouth he made at the interview about his honesty stuck in my mind as over blowing one's own trumpet. He worked diligently and neatly but, he shouted at me once after I asked him for something. He almost yelled at me saying he had been busy running after the Tax Clearance certificate and hadn't even had lunch. I was shocked at this burst of anger. This fellow resigned by an SMS in which he praised Haresh, in fact waxed lyrical about him. 

It was very unprofessional behaviour and, I was incensed. Haresh gets things done in the office, goes on site, prepares bids, and, doesn't mind if staff misses days. I am the one who trains, sets the procedures, drafts terms of reference and contracts, set the tone for the team, give feedback, solicit client feedback, etc, etc. I work very closely with our team, teaching them our rules and standards, provide them feedback and help them to see their role in the company. For all this, I was quite amused that this fellow was, on one hand, resigning but indirectly insulting me by saying he had learned so much from Haresh. His tactics were poor. 

A trainee we hired after he contacted us on Facebook also started acting up when he demanded he wanted a holiday on Eid ul Fitr even though it was not a public holiday. In fact, we had an ongoing  networking job. I told him he could offer his Eid prayers in the morning and then join his colleagues on site. He didn't do that and, just took the day off. Needless to say, I was angry and lectured him. A few days later he resigned in a huff and a puff. This fellow had also made big mouth at his interview about how IT was his passion and, he didn't even need the money. 

Rita Gailor has graciously, effortlessly filled the gap by maintaining our cashbook, ensuring all filing is done, and even preparing weekly summary reports. She has done it before to fill a gap and, has now resumed the job until we find a bookkeeper. In fact, I contacted Mercy Corps, again to see if I could find an accountant through their Apprenticeship programme, the same route with which Rita joined NATC. 

Moving forward

These setbacks by staff are as bad as dry cash flow, clients cancelling contracts, and infrastructure headaches.  They are demoralising. Without a good team and loyalty of one's staff, running a business is even more stressful. 

We have always told our staff, old and those being interviewed, that we are looking for managers. We are a company that wants its local team to handle all responsibility and, be part of something great in an environment which is as challenging as Liberia. We have the chance to truly conquer mountains and set the trail blazing. 

We have never tried to be cheap with renumeration for staff. We work hard and expect our staff to work even harder. We work in and around all the challenges, norms and culture of Liberia. We have procedures and standards. We are fair and principled. We have a great office that our staff work out of.  

As shocking as it was to learn that our senior staff committed fraud, we have left that episode behind us and forge ahead. And, instead of focusing on his betrayal, I am happy I have 2 staff who are still with me: Rita and Daniel. They are young, hard working, well spoken and, hopefully, will be at NATC for years to come. I hope they will become the face of NATC in years to come as leaders and managers.  

Friday, 9 September 2016

My stolen phone story

Image from here
by Farzana Rasheed

Last Sunday, we undertook a very exciting and memorable excursion to Tubmanburg. We piled into 2 vehicles around midday and, left for Tubmanburg, capital of Bomi County. We visited a farm and then went for a picnic at Blue Lake. We had a lot of fun and, I took a lot of photographs. I had specially invited friends for this excursion and, went to the farm to take photographs for a business proposal I will be putting together to help my friend get some funding to expand his vegetable and livestock farm. 

Unfortunately, my phone was swiped by an adept thief that evening. We came back home at around 9:30 PM and while we were unpacking our car, I set my purse down for a moment. Our building's security guard was helping us of course but then 2 other security guards from the neighbouring buildings had also rushed to help us. Our building only has 2 apartments and the front door is locked at all times. I picked up my purse after hardly a minute, put it on my shoulder and stood by the door waiting for the security to come back down. I locked the front door and went upstairs where Haresh was putting the water cooler, bags and basket of wet clothes away. 

After about 20 minutes, I realised my phone was missing. I immediately realised it must have been nicked from my bag. I dragged Haresh downstairs and, we saw that the security guard was not there and the next shift's fellow was there. We made a lot of noise and, one of the security gave us the address of the security guard who was there when we had just arrived from our trip. Apparently, the head of the company also lived close by. We drove to Vai Town, with another on-duty security with us, met our security officer and brought him back. 

After coming back to Randall Street, we did our own investigation. The security guard, Anthony, who had come back with us was adamant that he did not steal the phone nor that he knew anything. We identified 1 security who had come to help tow the bags besides Anthony. He emptied his pocked and, said he was a Muslim man and would not steal anything. We couldn't find the 3rd phone.

During this time, we noticed a spark on the LEC pole. We then piled back into the car -  Kavita with us too of course - and, went to Water Side. We patiently waited for the security guard to report the spark to the emergency. We came back to Randall Street. It was after midnight. 

Haresh decided to become bold and declared he would give a $ 300.00 award to anyone who brought the phone back.

We had been calling the phone throughout the evening and, someone kept cutting it off.

We went upstairs and, after 10 minutes an LEC crew came over to fix the light pole with the spark. The LEC crew wanted a tip but I ignored them because I was in a foul mood. 

Happy that the LEC had responded so quickly but dejected we got mugged, we went to bed. 

The next day, we decided to see if we could remotely access our phone (something we could have tried to do the very night). I also posted about my stolen phone on the Liberia Expats Google Group and, got some sympathetic e-mails including one from a close friend who offered to help by suggesting we seek middle people to call up the phone and, then exchange the phone for money. 

Meanwhile, we remotely locked our phone using Google's Android Device Manager.  You will need to sign into your Google Account and have your IMEI number ready. We found ours on the box the phone came in. But you can retrieve the number once signing into Google in case you signed into Google from your phone. See an article here

The phone was immediately locked with a message saying that a $ 300.00 reward would be provided if the phone were returned. Sure enough within a few minutes, the phone rang and, Haresh spoke to the man on the other end. The fellow told Haresh that he'd bought the phone for $ 275.00 but wouldn't mind giving the phone back for $ 300.00. 

He asked whether Haresh would involve the police and, he didn't want trouble. A time was set to meet. 

Haresh contacted the CID and, planned a sting operation. 

We arrived at the agreed meeting place, also having coordinated with the CID. The alleged thief asked us several times on the phone whether we had contacted the police and we denied it. We were to meet on Lynch Street. We parked at the meeting point and waited for the thief. No one showed up for 15 minutes and the thief's phone was off. We kept looking at pedestrians with a phone and wondered whether that was the thief. 

After a while we drove off and, the thief rung us up about 30 minutes afterwards. He was angry. Why did we call the CID, he demanded. Haresh fumbled and said he hadn't. The thief retorted: but why was Monk there? 

We couldn't contact the thief afterwards. He switched off his phone. Haresh sent begging e-mails to say that we should re-negotiate a new deal.

I couldn't believe that the CID had let themselves be exposed. We thought they were a bunch of bumbling fools. Others told us the CID is always hand in glove with the criminals anyway. 

We gave up. Haresh said we should get a new phone. I was extremely angry at myself for losing an expensive smart phone. Why did I set my phone down on the pavement for even a few seconds? Why did we let all these security rush to our aid? Why wasn't I more careful? Why didn't we remote lock the phone that very night?

I asked my friends to help out by calling the phone and, see if we could buy the phone back through a third party. I asked my friend Bendu (she has a tea shop on Randall Street) for help. She said she would ask around. Monrovia is a small city and, it's not hard to reach criminals. They usually smoke drugs she said and sell stolen phones for small amounts of money.

My phone was stolen on a Sunday night and after these efforts and feeling frustrated and exasperated, we received a call on Thursday night saying they had our phone! We couldn't believe our ears. There had been a raid on the ghetto behind the Mother Patern college and, my phone was found. Because the phone was still locked and our contact number was on it, the CID was able to call us.

The next day Haresh went to the Police Headquarters and retrieved my phone. He unlocked the phone and proved it was ours. The head of the CID explained that the police had made a raid and, the head of the community had produced the phone himself. Haresh gave a token cash gift to the police which he accepted. After all, it doesn't hurt to have the police in our good books.

I got my phone back and, am extremely grateful. My photographs were deleted though and I was quite sad. We put so much stock in our photographs, especially on special occasions with friends. Photographs are taken to be shared on social media and, as shallow as that sounds, we grow so attached to our smart phones and, our photographs. I also felt bad because I had wanted to use the photographs of the farm for a business proposal.

Haresh gave the phone to a phone expert who tried to root it but no luck. Rooting it would have given us a chance to retrieve deleted photographs. But no luck! I've learned a lesson. I will install DropBox on my phone and, back up my photographs. I will lock my screen.

My phone is back and, I am very glad. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

First 2016 Technology Art Contest meeting

We held our first meeting to start thinking about this year's technology art contest. Leslie Lumen of Liv Arts came to the office to start brainstorming ideas on how to make this year's contest more exciting and even more widespread!

Monday, 5 September 2016


Dear readers,

In this topic, I will be showing you a step by step instruction on managing your bandwidth in MikroTik RB951, CR S124 etc. routers as network administrator on a small or medium office network. As you may know, MikroTik is becoming more popular because of its user friendly advantage as compare to Cisco. You may not need to purchase a license to remotely control your network.

Let’s get started!

There are multiple ways of connecting to a RouterBOARD. (Winbox, webfig, telnet, ssh ...), but this guide will show how to configure the device using Winbox utility. Winbox utility can be downloaded from the MikroTik webpage (Winbox) or from the RouterBOARDs webpage.

First collect all users IP addresses manually to identify them in the DHCP server queues to perform this task.

Launch winbox as displayed below and click refresh to scan for device. As an administrator, you may need to assign a login name and password to secure your network. Now click connect.

Now you can see I have log into my RB951 office router after clicking ‘’connect’’ and click on IP, to get into my Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server.

In the DHCP server below, I have identified all of the IP addresses collected in ‘’leases’’ and these are the number of users on my network including unauthorized users. I am going to allocate an amount of bandwidth to each user now.

In during this, you will need to double click on the user’s IP, highlight and copy the IP address as displayed below and click OK.

After copying the IP address from the pop up menu, click on ‘’Queues’’ as displayed below.

When open, a new pops up. Click on the (+) and past the IP address you copy into the ‘’target’’ space and assign a name into the ‘’name’’ as shown below. You can follow these steps to create and manage many users as they get connected to you network.

You can now see how I created all my users in one queue.

Prepared by Daniel Collins