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Big Business is No Help to Ghana’s Grassroots Engineering Enterprises

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Big Business is No Help to Ghana’s Grassroots Engineering Enterprises

Suame Magazine in Kumasi is Ghana’s largest informal industrial area and its main vehicles repair centre. It is home to thousands of small engineering workshops that offer a wide range of basic repair and manufacturing facilities. From the opening of the Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU) in 1980, many efforts were made to forge links with large formal-sector businesses and international companies but with little success. Kwame Main reviewed progress on a visit to Suame in 1996.

When Kwame asked about the progress of his work Stephen said that the collapse of Yugoslavia had robbed him of his best customer, the Tomos motorcycle assembly plant. It was the Tomos plant in Kumasi that had provided GAMATCO with regular orders for hundreds of gear wheels and chain sprocket wheels for new production. Now GAMATCO was reduced to making replacement parts for imported Japanese motorcycles. It was for this reason that he was keen to introduce new products like the gear-generating attachment.

Kwame asked if any other assembly plant had shown interest in buying parts locally, but Stephen replied that none had approached him or anyone else he knew in the magazine. Kwame recalled that when the participants of the first engineering drawing course had visited the Neoplan bus assembly plant a year before, some collaboration with the magazine had been suggested. Stephen said that as far as he knew nothing had happened since. It seemed that multinational corporations had little interest in assisting grassroots industries. ‘It’s up to us to help ourselves,’ added Stephen, and Kwame had to agree.

‘What’s new here?’ Kwame asked. ‘Have you seen the big casting Edward Opare has made?’ replied Stephen. The two engineers walked around the ITTU to where the little Akuapem chief technician had established his foundry. They found the proprietor and his assistant fettling a casting that appeared to be a replacement part for a large earth moving machine.

‘It was ordered by the British contractor on the Tamale road,’ Edward explained. ‘But it must weigh over a hundred kilograms,’ said Kwame, ‘How did you cast it with a furnace of only sixty kilograms capacity?’ ‘I fired up my furnace and the ITTU furnace in parallel,’ Edward replied, ‘Then we poured the cast iron from both furnaces together.’
‘Well done!’ Kwame said, impressed by his colleague’s resourcefulness.

Kwame knew from his experience with GRID in Tema, where they had produced many replacement parts for water pumps for the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation (GWSC), that such efforts can save months of delay in ordering spare parts from manufacturers overseas. When they needed a replacement part in a hurry, big foreign firms were eager enough to take advantage of local technical capability. He wondered aloud to his companions why foreign companies weren’t more interested in helping to establish such capabilities.

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