A significant initiative by the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana, was taken in January 1972 with the establishment of the Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC). Kumasi is the home of Ghana’s largest informal industrial area or kokompe, located to the north west of the city and known locally as Suame Magazine. The then Prime Minister, Dr Kofi Busia, had commissioned the university to undertake a survey of Suame Magazine and its hundreds of grassroots vehicle repair and rebuilding workshops. So the newly fledged TCC decided to take as a primary objective an interaction with the five thousand artisans of the Magazine leading to assistance in diversifying activities by upgrading production technologies and introducing new products and services.
Over the next 25 years, urban drift swelled the population of the Magazine to more than 70,000 artisans. It was largely to the credit of the university that the number of modern production facilities, level of technical capabilities and range of products kept pace with, and in some cases exceeded, the growth in human population.
This evolution was a long and slow process, fraught with many delays and frustrations. Yet the team of engineers and technicians, largely assembled in the 1970s, pursued their objectives with enthusiasm and determination and all the key figures stayed at post throughout this long period. Industrial development programmes in Africa and other parts of the developing world are often abandoned after 2 to 5 years. The story of KNUST and Suame Magazine may encourage governments and development agencies to take a longer-term view.
Universities are involved in teaching and the first move by the TCC in 1971 was to set up a training workshop on the university campus and invite the Suame artisans to attend for training. A few master craftsmen sent their apprentices to take advantage of the opportunity but on the whole the response was disappointing. It was soon realised that two things were needed. The first was that the training should be offered in the Magazine where it would attract more interest. The second was that the artisans needed affordable supplies of the machine tools and production facilities that they were being trained to operate.
By March 1975 a plan had been drawn up for an Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU) to be established in the heart of Suame Magazine and run by staff of the TCC. A project proposal was submitted to the Ghana Government and to various international development agencies. There was then a wait of four years before funding became available. The on-campus training continued and NGO funding allowed the importation of used machine tools from the UK to equip the first four independent workshops with trained production teams. These enterprises produced steel bolts and nuts for building, truck and fishing boat construction, and lathes and bench saws for use by local carpenters. Also manufactured were machines for extracting palm oil and processing cassava and corn.
In 1979, funds were made available by the Ghana Government and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to establish the first ITTU in Suame Magazine, Kumasi. At the same time, a project to establish a second ITTU at Tamale in the Northern Region was approved with support from the United States Agency of International Development (USAID). Tamale is nearly 400 kilometres from Kumasi and the logistical problems delayed the opening of the ITTU until 1988. However, progress in Kumasi was much faster and the Suame ITTU began operations in August 1980.
At first the Suame ITTU continued the programme transferred from the university campus, training artisans to operate machine tools and supplying imported used machines at affordable prices to those who acquired the necessary skills. It also introduced the manufacture of new products including a range of machines designed for use in upgraded traditional rural industries such as soap making, post-harvest processing and craft industries. With other sections of the TCC training rural artisans and farmers to use the new equipment, by 1985 the project had established hundreds of new rural and urban enterprises employing thousands of men and women.
The TCC was anxious to introduce new manufacturing technologies into Suame Magazine. Even before the ITTU had opened it had learned that the existing indigenous foundries handled only non-ferrous metals: bronze for the traditional gold weights made at Kurofofrom in Ashanti Region and aluminium alloys for cooking pots, first made in the far north at Bolgatanga and later produced in most urban centres including Kumasi. So the decision was taken to introduce iron casting and the first iron foundry was demonstrated at the Suame ITTU early in 1982.
Starting with small lift-out crucible furnaces of 60 kilograms of iron capacity, the industry rapidly expanded to later employ cupola furnaces melting more than one tonne of recycled scrap cast iron at each firing. Iron casting in Suame Magazine grew to become one of the largest employers, and traders come from all over Ghana and from neighbouring countries to buy its products. The main sales depot at the Suame ITTU is stocked from floor to ceiling with corn mill grinding plates, by far the best selling product with demand from countless corn milling enterprises.
The Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology has now been working in close association with grassroots industries for more than 40 years. The loyal band of pioneering engineers is now retired but others have come forward to take their place. These people have not taken their degrees and run off to greener pastures overseas but turned their knowledge and skills to the service of their less fortunate countrymen and women and for the betterment of the whole community. They are deserving of recognition and honour in their country and throughout the world development network.