Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Leaving Ghana for good! Part 2

Here's part 2 of my discussion with Lorissa, I am less proud of what I had to say in this section of our talk but nonetheless it worth you listening. Gimme your thoughts, people!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Leaving Ghana for good! Part 1

You know me, I can never stay put too long. I'm a Nomad, always moving always travelling, always finding a new opportunity. But here is a little debrief on my time in Ghana. Do not be afraid to say Goodbye to a place. I absolutely fell in love with Singapore, but there came a time for Goodbye as with everywhere... :)

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Ghana's tech mirage

Ghana remains a top destination for foreign direct investment in Africa. Few countries are looking to challenge adequately to be the technology hub across the continent. At the moment East Africa seem to be given the mantle off the back of great strides taken in Kenya and Rwanda. Rwanda is now one of the most connected countries in Africa (by access to the internet, internet literacy and percentage penetration) whilst Kenya has successfully pitched in recent years to host big technology companies such as IBM. 

The next obvious choice might be Nigeria given its sheer size. What technology company wouldn't want a potential market of 170 million users to tap? Nigeria has a strong portfolio too. There a number of incubators who have birthed innovative startups and whilst Easy Taxi closed down activities in Ghana, Lagos has welcomed a giant in the taxi app field, Uber, who are extremely positive about operations in West Africa's largest city. 

Talking of Ghana, where Nigeria is, they are never too far behind (sometimes even ahead). The startup community is vibrant in the capital city of Accra. MEST incubator lies in the wealthy suburb of East Legon and have managed to produce global businesses such as the Suba App, a photo-streaming app which has launched in more that 4 countries around the world. Accra it seems is where it is happening for the Ghanaian tech scene, and a stroll through the city's wealthiest towns, East Legon, Cantonments, Labone, Osu will reveal to you an array of signposts and billboards leading you to a plethora of startup companies and tech hubs. Given that all this is concentrated at the moment to a certain strip in Ghana's coastal capital city, it doesn't seem too terrible that the Ghanaian Government has signed a deal with the Mauritian Government to build a technology park in the connecting city, Tema. 

Tema will ring a bell to many investors into Ghana. It is a port city and home to most of Ghana's shipping activities. It is perhaps also the only place in the Greater Accra Region (in which sits the capital city) that might actually have space for the proposed 6+37 hectares soon to become the location of this technology park. Even with that said, a trip through Tema will show you that it too is quite crowded and the proposed technology park may require some evictions of either residents who have built their families there for decades or industries who have invested a lot into their assets in Tema. Too much to give up on the whim of a proposed development that might never see the light of day. 

The Tema Tech Park is not the first technology development with multipurpose buildings and innovative transportation solutions that Ghana has announced. Ghanaians will be well versed in the list of names, headed by Hope City - a joint partnership with Ghanaian-owned, Dubai-based rLG - which had all the features the Mauritians are proposing and fireworks to garnish. 

It is not that anyone is against the current development proposal, just that Ghanaians must be cynical and sceptical of such news to protect themselves from the heartbreak of yet another broken promise and pie-in-the-sky idea. It is also difficult to see how these big developments are really going to solve problems for the capital city, its region and the country as a whole. How many tech cities can one government plot around the borders of its capital city? It's beginning to look something like the UK's green belt but as oasis mirages. We can all see it there but it actually isn't there, our "desparate" minds are tricking us, collectively.

And then the question must be asked, even if the Mauritians are more reliable than our previous suitors, is Tema the best place to put an edifice such as this? Everything in Ghana is concentrated to the Greater Accra Region. This is starving other regions of the much needed development, leaving villages and underdeveloped towns across the other nine regions. Jobs are not moving to those areas and neither is the money. Citizens of those regions have no choice than to flock to the Greater Accra Region in search of riches. Accra (and Tema) is already choked with people and shacks and vehicular traffic. Both cities need more people like I need a hole in the head. The city's recent floods were fully blamed on the sheer density of living arrangements. Kumasi - Ghana's second city - on the other hand, could do with the investment. The city is home to more people than Accra, but also more space. It is therefore less dense. Some of Ghana's best secondary schools are in Kumasi, and the countries best Tech university, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, also finds home there. Aside from the obvious (that they have "Technology" in the name) many of Ghana's finest startups have been built from KNUST alumni, why not move investment closer to them, catch great minds early and lower the starting cost of a startup (relocation to another city is never cheap). 

I ran my complaints passed my sister and her response acknowledged the fact that the infrastructure, although terribly basic, is already in existence in the Greater Accra Region. The roads to take you from Accra (East Legon, Cantonments, Labone and Osu) to your new offices/home in Tema are already there. If not there is a train (no where near Lagosian standards, let alone Tokyo). There is very little extra needed to facilitate this new development. In respomse to that, I think it highlights why the Tech Park needs to be in Ejisu or Kumasi or Tamale or Sunyani. The impact of this development must help the whole country and be felt by the whole country. MauriTech Park (as I want to call it) will be more beneficial to Ghana if it breaks the mould and leaves the coast. There's sadly no time for reconsideration as the launch party is slated for this November, I suspect everything is signed and sealed. But if anymore investors want to come and do the same in Ghana perhaps they'll consider thinking outside of the box, the Greater Accra shaped box.