In the year 1990, the Kenyans
in the Boston area set up an
bulletin board "firstname.lastname@example.org". The server was an MIT
machine because MIT allows registered students to create and maintain
mailing lists at no cost to the students, and one of the founders of
kenya-net was then an MIT student. After a year of operation kenya-net had
substantially with subscribers scattered all over the globe. When the list
maintainer (the postmaster) left MIT, the database was moved from MIT to
a machine belonging to the company that one of the co -founders of the
kenya-net works for. Kenya-net is still alive and can be reached at
In March 1991, Mawuli Tse
(then a graduate student at MIT) decided
to form a similar network for Ghanaians which would allow the numerous
Ghanaians, scattered around the globe to communicate, share ideas,
experiences and discuss issues relevant to Ghana and its development. He
then got together with Mike Owu (MIT alumnus), Vincent Adzovie (then a
graduate student at MIT), Nana Benyin Dadson (then a graduate student at
MIT) and Korku Dayie (a graduate student at Harvard) to discuss the form
and nature that such a forum should take.
The first task was the choice
of an appropriate name for the forum.
The name "Okyeame" (an Akan word meaning linguist) was chosen
because the network serves as a medium through which different people
communicate - a functionality that is similar to the way chiefs and people
communicate in Ghana.
The second was to iron out the details for the operation and
maintenance of the network. Kenya-net which at that time had its
membership open to all was facing two problems. The first one was the
lack of discipline and control of the network and the second was the lack
of focus since many of the subscribers were not interested in the nitty
details of Kenyan affairs. Drawing from their experience, membership of
the Okyeame network was restricted to Ghanaians for two reasons: 1. To
bring some focus into the discussions and 2. To allow subscribers to "tell
as it is" (i.e. no need for censorship, after all we are all Ghanaians).
Once permission was granted
by MIT and the network was set up,
an invitation was sent out on other bulletin boards (such as Africa-l)
inviting any Ghanaian subscribers to contact Mawuli (then email@example.com,
currently firstname.lastname@example.org). Those who answered were invited to
join Okyeame and asked to spread the word to their fellow countrymen.
That is how Okyeame started to grow.
I took over the job of postmaster
in September 1992 when Mawuli
graduated. Since then Okyeame has grown quite rapidly - tripling in size
over a period of one year. Because of the fact that membership of Okyeame
is restricted to Ghanaians we have had to set up the network a little
different from other fully automated listserv networks, where one
subscription, de-subscription and a review of members on the network
can be done automatically.
So how is Okyeame set up?
Okyeame is the name of a virtual user
on the MIT server moira.mit.edu. Under Okyeame (on moira) is a list
containing only the e-mail addresses of all subscribers. This list can only
be updated by the postmaster and hence all subscriptions and de-
subscriptions HAVE to go through the postmaster. On my personal
account, I keep a file containing the e-mail addresses and personal
information on all okyeame subscribers. I also have written a few
relatively simple programs that process user requests for subscriptions
(assuming they follow a format which I send to new subscribers) and
generates the Okyeame list that I send to netters at the end of every
month (so we have some level of automation!).
What else does the postmaster
do? The postmaster receives a HUGE
amount of mail comprising all regular Okyeame postings in addition to a
copy from EVERY node that bounces, private subscription and de
-subscription requests, occasional nasty notes from other system
administrators who are running out of disk space because some subscriber
to Okyeame is not reading and deleting his or her mail. It is my duty to
verify (to the best of my ability) that a prospective subscriber is indeed a
Ghanaian or qualifies to be on Okyeame by applying the "substantial
presence in Ghana" test as indicated in the Okyeame rules. I have had to
refuse admission to quite a number of non-Ghanaians and a few of them
haven't taken it lightly! Oh well, whoever said that the world was fair?
I scan through all the postings
on Okyeame to ensure that people
are not abusing the network. I send private mail to people who abuse the
network reminding them of the "power of the semicolon" (Termination
of a user's subscription is as easy as putting a ";" in front of his or her
e-mail address). Generally people are "cool" about it, but fortunately or
unfortunately I have only had to remove 2 people from the list since
September 1992. Okyeame operated for quite a while without any rules or
regulations. As the network grew larger, netters wanted to see it become
more structured and some even wanted to politicise the group. It therefore
became necessary to put together the Okyeame rules and regulations that I
mail to all netters at the end of every month.
I also activate and deactivate
user subscriptions at their request
temporarily deactivate any bouncing nodes or filled mail boxes.
How long will okyeame last?
I believe Okyeame will last as long as
Ghanaians are interested in being on the network. When I graduate, I will
pass on the job of postmaster to other dedicated Ghanaian students here at
MIT. If we cannot find a postmaster here, then we may have to move
Okyeame onto another machine, which can be anywhere around the globe
as long as that machine can handle the huge Okyeame mail traffic and the
host institution is willing to pay for the network charges. We, however, do
not anticipate the necessity of such a change, at least, for the next few
So, fellow netters, this
is the story of the Okyeame network that
of you have been waiting for. Thank you.