A colleague at the Earth Institute, Darby Jack, has been working on cook stove production in Ghana through a business development group called EnterpriseWorks. He had recommended over lunch at a restaurant on Amsterdam Ave. near Columbia a couple of weeks before we left that we visit them. So we go to Ebony Junction in Dzorwulu to talk. There we meet Atsu Titiati who is the country director for Ghana. Several examples of the cook stoves are outside his office. The idea is to make a more efficient stove to reduce the use of biomass and reduce indoor air pollution. The motto of EnterpriseWorks is “Ending poverty through profit” and so there is a strong focus on business development of the sort that could be very important to us.
We showed him and several of his colleagues (he has 10 working with him) the video that Craig had made. Like others he emphasized that the greatest needs are in the north of the country in the border regions with Burkina Faso and not surprisingly he was most keen to see private businesses get involved. He said that there had been an attempt to start a bicycle factory in the north in the regional town of Tamale. This effort had failed and he knew about it because the factory was being engaged to make treadle pumps now (or they were planning to; not sure here). The Company was Goodman and Sons and was probably British. One reason they had failed is that they tried to push the idea of what he described as tricycles (many weeks later I discovered that they were bicycle trailers and there is a very good analysis of why they failed at http://web.mit.edu/africantech/www/articles/cycle.html. Although they were probably quite good for carrying loads they were considered very uncool. There are also serious issues concerning the use of bikes by women. People care about appearances and don’t like to be seen as adults riding what must have looked like pretty silly grown up versions of kids trikes. There is an important message in this. We need to make bikes that function well and look good. I think we have that in the bike Craig has built and the reaction of those who have seen it seems to support that conclusion.
After our meeting with Atsu, we go to lunch back in Osu at a Chinese restaurant. David orders in Chinese and gets us some quite good food. In the afternoon we go to the Cultural Center that is near some new sports complex and an archway with a large black star as appears in the center of the Ghanaian flag. The Center is near the ocean and there are signs for a beach hotel and camping. The Cultural Center is a collection of stalls selling native artifacts – maybe hundreds in a chaotic layout. The usual people selling food and phone cards. We are there at Ibrahim’s suggestion because we want to try to get a start of building a bike. He takes us to his workshop that is a rough construction typical of the others around.
We use a table with a somewhat uneven surface to begin the process and Craig begins to lay out the components and show how to set things out to start the building. I had called Hanifa to see if she was available she arrived just as we got started. After watching the process for some time Hanifa suggested that the learning would most benefit from an apprenticeship type of training in which a person is trained over a period of several weeks by being part of a shop that is making the frames routinely. This seems like a very good idea and more likely to succeed that the sort of training we are doing this way. I could imagine what we are doing as working for people who begin with a reasonably sophisticated knowledge of bikes and materials but for the people we will need to train an apprenticeship might well be more effective.
By this approach part of one side of a frame was completed. People seemed pleased with their efforts and the frame does look reasonable so far.
In the evening we go to a Ghanian restaurant with Hanifa . We learn a lot about the northern region, as she is from there. She mentions the issue of how things from outside Africa are typically considered better even if they are used. She thinks it’s a problem for Ghana in that it puts a damper on local business creation – things from outside are always thought of as better. There is a reversal of the sort of US pride in “made here”. Our bikes will have to be better, cheaper and attractive to users in an aesthetic and cultural sense.
Overall the day was valuable in that it identified some of the difficulties we will face in doing training and the combination of skills we are working with – some bamboo shaping skills and some bike knowledge. No one has both these skills here.