Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Watching, guiding and aiding Takoradi's growth

Ghanaians have been giddy about the oil discovery on the Western shores of Ghana. Some are looking to work in the potential oil industry, while others are looking to do business around it. Some of the job expectations are unrealistic, people say. Some are skeptical how much money Ghana will really raise from the oil production and whether we might misuse it. The Western Region's traditional leaders want at least 10% of all oil revenue and many Ghanaians don't like that idea. One thing many Ghanaians agree on is the fact that places like Sekondi and Takoradi are not going to be the same. They are about to be transformed. If you read the news or have asked Takoradi residents, Takoradi is transforming. We should watch, guide and tailor this transformation in the absolute best interest of Ghana's development.

It's tough to talk about Takoradi and not mention Sekondi. They are the Twin-cities. When we were planning the first Barcamp in the Western Region, we battled with naming it Barcamp Twin-city, Barcamp Sekondi, Barcamp Takoradi, etc. We ended up with Barcamp Takoradi. But seriously, other than the two football teams from Sekondi, Eleven Wise and Hasaacas, Takoradi enjoys more prominence in the Ghanaian landscape. People who live there will tell you. Sekondi has the stadium? Well, I just told you two Ghanaian football teams are based there. Takoradi has much more. But this post is not to compare the cities, or towns if you may. I will talk about 'Sekunde' next time. This is Taadi's time :-)


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I've been to Takoradi twice. The first time I was there, my family and I visited some relatives. I saw the famous Takoradi Market Circle, reminiscent of the big markets in Kumasi. It looked like Kumasi, but less. Understandably, it's the third city in Ghana, after Accra and Kumasi. The second time was to visit relatives again but this is recent, and I remember much more. Like many other towns in Ghana, it has a couple of major roads which are aligned by the major buildings and city points. These roads are very long and there aren't many alternatives to get to various locations. We did go to Sekondi to see the new stadium that had been constructed for the 2008 African Cup of Nations. This was welcome news. I wonder how it's affected Sekondi's bustling lifestyle since. This was after the tourney so no I didn't see any Ivorians there. We briefly passed by the harbour. I didn't go see the many big houses in Takoradi where it is claimed house the scenes for many Ghanaian movies today.

A recent news story mentions that The Western Regional Coordinating council has announced a number of measures being initiated to maximize the benefits of Ghana’s oil and contain the influx of persons and the pressure that would be on infrastructure in the region, mainly Takoradi of course. Read the story for more. I will like to know what new infrastructure we'll see in these areas. How much of it is the burden of firms like Tullow?

From speaking to some relatives and friends who live in Takoradi and know the place well, rent rates and housing prices are going up and skyrocketing. It could reach the same land ownership rates in Accra. Apparently, some room owners have started increasing the rent to exorbitant prices or are asking the tenants to move because they can charge 'the new people moving to work in Takoradi' much higher rates and that they can pay. Yes, many international companies are starting to make their marks in Takoradi, especially those involved in the oil industry. Count among them Tullow Oil, and Baker Hughes. They are obviously bringing their expatriate employees who have more buying power and other professionals trained at Tech (KNUST) and Legon or folks who've been living in Accra. This is what folks will call 'gentrification' in other parts of the world. It's troubling for local residents. Where are they going to go? The new houses and apartments that will be built (thanks to the booming real estate business) will be out of the price range. I haven't heard the government talking about low-cost housing in these areas. Private sector? Hehe, they want to make money.

The current population in the region - 2,325,597 - is a lot but it's a safe guess to say more than half of that number is in Sekondi-Takoradi. We've seen a lot of big mining companies operate in Tarkwa and other areas, but we haven't seen the development there. Of course, they provide some amenities for their employees and their families but these areas are the anti-Johnannesburg. Learn how Johannesburg became what it is today. Johannesburg's growth into the top centre of commerce in Africa was due to the gold mining industry in the nearby areas. Takoradi can and should become a similar case. It already houses the Effia Nkwanta hospital, biggest in the region, and it is going to become overstretched, necessitating the need for a bigger health facility. There are plans for a new ultra modern regional hospital, possibly to be sited in the Shama district.

Chief Director of the Council, Mr David Yaro, remarked: “Education, water, our road network need to be expanded because the volume of traffic is going to increase, sanitation, crime - putting pressure on existing facilities. So all these are areas, politically, we are looking at, so the police are being equipped, the navy is being resourced to [protect Ghana’s marine].”


It seems the Western Regional Council, the Shama Ahanta East Metropolitan Assembly and co understand the potential growth and are taking steps to meet it with the necessary plans and policies. I don't think the onus should fall on them alone. Ghana must want to see Takoradi do well. Accra is choked with too much expectation. We need to divvy the wealth and grow other parts of Ghana. This is a perfect opportunity to develop a metropolis that would not be bedevilled with the problems Accra is facing.

It's why we organized Barcamp Takoradi to help residents there understand what special place Takoradi can hold on Ghana's landscape. I wasn't able to attend but hope to go there soon. The theme was "Leading & Entreprising in an Oil & Technology Fuelled Economy". Also, to check out the Takoradi Technical Institute and its Fabrication Lab. A Fab Lab is a small-scale workshop with an array of flexible computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make "almost anything". Little things like this can drive innovation and development in Takoradi. We can't be sleeping on these things.

For the development of any town/city, watching the development of the human resources and the local education are extremely important. I hear of a lot of training programs in and around Takoradi, with people being promised access to new jobs. Some are actually using this promise to pull some sakawa and 419 on unsuspecting individuals. Either way, I hope that the many graduates coming out of the Takoradi Polytechnic and neighbouring educational institutions will find their bearings in the burgeoning local economy. It is extremely important, because these are the folks who will make sure the local development is sustainable. This is also where the small businesses in Takoradi should take advantage of these opportunities to increase their portfolios and find capital to grow.

I hope the many international or big local companies that will be gaining footholds in the twin-cities invest in infrastructure - such as education and health. The local, regional councils and state will take care of the rest with the oil money. It's the way it should work. Let's get this right. We've had Obuasi, Akwatia, Tarkwa, Aboso. Let's make Takoradi 'krabɛhwɛ', a place that will attract people from far and near because of its success story. Erm, and Sekondi too :-)

PS: You should also check out Ghana Oil Watch, a good resource for news surrounding the Oil find, and related news. They are on Twitter and Facebook. I wish there were some kind of Takoradi watch sites too. We'll be watching anyway.
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