Craig goes back to the Achimota Forest to continue training. David, who has revived, and I go to meet Ralph, another of David’s contacts through friends of friends. We contact Ralph by cell phone and he sends a driver for us. The cell phone has been a critical tool for us. Along with David’s list of people he has made contacts with from the US before we left it has been the primary way of communicating by voice or text message. I have learnt to text message for the first time. Just about everyone seems to have a cell phone.
The trip to Ralph’s factory took us down to the coast to Tama along a toll road. We traveled very fast at times as the road was in good condition and there were few cars. Ralph owns a sock factory. He has been out of Ghana for 25 years and had returned to start the business. He is dedicated to getting business going in Ghana and had many stories of the difficulties he has experienced.
His factory is almost fully automated with over 100 Italian sock making machines. They are mostly for export and his business seems to be doing well. The machines will actually do more processing than he sets them up to do so that the end part of the sequence involving pairing socks and putting them in labeled packs is done by local employees, mostly women.
Like others, Ralph also emphasized that the northern regions were the places of greatest need. He was a bit suspicious of too great a role for government. He thinks that the future for Ghana lies in people like himself who were displaced and have started to come back and start businesses like his. It is difficult to argue with that. He mentioned that there were vocational training places in the north and they might be good for getting people skilled in building the bikes.
One thing we had hoped to do was see if it was possible to get frame pieces built in metal work shops in the area. We made simple drawing of steerer tube, bottom bracket shell and rear drop outs to a metal work shop but the guy we spoke to wouldn’t give us any prices or commit to making pieces in quantity until he had seen accurate drawings.
After getting back, we picked up Hanifa who lives in the area and went to lunch. She lives in a nice community of houses behind tall solid walls with broken glass or barbed wire coiled on the top. Looked a lot like Johannesburg. Apparently crime is increasing and mainly as a result of displaced people such as Ivorians forced to migrate due to conflict. I hope things don’t go like Johannesburg where the homes of all the reasonably well off people are all fortresses but I suspect the trend will be the same. Crime rates are apparently quite low and we never felt unsafe in Accra or anywhere else we went in Ghana. When people ask for money it is almost always associated with a sale or service; very people just approach you for a hand out.
Went for lunch at the Dutch Hotel. The hotel looks to be fairly up scale and a very pleasant place with an open veranda facing the ocean. Ate at a low table on the veranda. Good menu; had cassava fish named for its shape.
Ralph seems like he really wants to help us build something. I like that his business is at the sort of scale needed to create an output that matters. The socks are coming out at a rate of one a minute from each machine so he must be producing around 50,000 socks a day. We don’t need to produce bikes at that rate but Ralph’s factory has an interesting combination of automation with people who have been trained locally to maintain them and unskilled people doing simpler work. Along with the security people and others in the business he has created a lot of opportunity and good export revenues.
Ralph took us back to the Hotel along a coastal route through Nungua rather than the toll road. Took less time than I had thought and we were able to say goodbye to Ralph and Hanifa before heading to the airport.
At the hotel we found Craig who has spent the day training people. He said there were more people than the day before and things had moved along well. He needs to do more tomorrow.