The first time I visited Ghana was in 2014. I barely remember much about Ghana from that trip asides from the fact that I was holed up in a hotel with about a hundred other Google student ambassadors from around Africa. It was a great experience for me.
Seven years later I returned. This time the trip was a work trip, so I mainly documented it in the TC Daily. I hyperlinked each day to the edition of TC Daily it was featured in since I barely edited it. What’s in this article is just a compilation of my daily entries in the TC Daily while I was there.
Day 1 & 2 – The first weekend
I got into Ghana on Saturday. The airport had free Wifi and I could finally access Twitter without VPN. It sounds basic but the Lagos airport doesn’t offer free wifi and the last time I passed through the airport in Cairo, I had to pay for the internet.
Fortunately Uber and Bolt work fine but there’s a twist. I’ll talk more about that later.
My first meal was Ghanian jollof rice – you know I had to. But what was more fascinating was that I bought it from a spot called Hi-Tech Fast Food. What are the odds? A tech journalist at a Hi-Tech… you get where I’m going with this.
There wasn’t anything techy about the shop but the pricing was interesting. The meals had only three price points: GH₵ 8, GH₵ 10 and GH₵ 15. It looked like that of a software as a service (SaaS) product, probably the inspiration the owner drew from tech.
A few hours into my stay, I ran out of my ‘complimentary’ Airbnb WiFi. It dawned on me that I had left ‘free unlimited internet’ at the airport and had entered the realm of ‘expensive capped’ internet.
Thank you for all the suggestions made on who we should meet in Ghana. It took a few hours to sort through but I’m proud to say I’ve responded or taken note of all the suggestions made. On Sunday, I met up with the LofyInc team, the inspiration for this visit. Yesterday, I had a meeting with some members of the Make-IT in Africa Initiative.
I won’t comment on my first impressions of Ghanian Jollof – yet. I’ve been told I need to eat at other places apart from Hi-Tech Fast Food to be able to comment. Happy to hear suggestions on where else I should eat Ghanian Jollof, Papaye?
Kenkey! Now that’s something I can comment on. I ate Kenkey (fermented maize dumpling) and all I can say is that it has a strong taste and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever eaten. I’m not into it.
Yesterday, I had a conversation with a Bolt driver from Nigeria. He came to school in Ghana and decided to stay back. We spoke about many things, the highlight of the conversation was probably correcting the lie he’d been told that Bolt drivers are making more money (as much as 2x) in Lagos. The grass is always greener on the other side.
I noticed Bolt has more options – four ride options, while in Nigeria it’s just two options.
But unlike Uber which works seamlessly, I had to verify the transaction every time on Bolt. A helpful security feature or unnecessary friction?
Yesterday started out early with me moderating a recorded panel session on Tech Investment in North Africa. Towards the end of the hour-long recording session, my internet data finished. During the day while I was looking into how 6.16 GB data finished within 2 days, another data plan finished despite my phone data tracker saying otherwise.
The moral lesson for me is that the internet in Ghana is more expensive with fewer options, compared to Nigeria.
Here are the data bundles for MTN Ghana:
Note: GH₵ 10 = $1.7
For instance, for the price of option 5 (GHC 10), I’ll get a data plan in Nigeria that offers me 1.5 GB. I’m curious about why the next option after option 5 is forty times more expensive. Why do you get better value for money buying option 4 (GHC 3) than option 5? I’m told most people buy option 4 (GHC 3). How long does the plan last? A few hours I hear.
On the flip side, It might be more expensive with fewer options but the internet is stable and good. In Nigeria, irrespective of your data plan, you’re still subject to unstable internet. Makes me wonder if I’ll trade my cheaper plans for better quality?
I tried Fufu, light soup (It’s like pepper soup without pepper) and fish. It tasted okay but my mind isn’t used to it.
It was great meeting the folk at the Impact Hub, the spaces turned out to be bigger than I imagined.
Big Shout out to Kelechi Ofoegbu for inviting me over to visit and work from the hub. Also to James Erskine, who came out to help me with some introductions. I’m excited about the people I’ll be meeting within the next few days.
To end my day, I attended the ATFUX (All Things Front-End & UX) event at the Impact Hub. It was really insightful and a great opportunity to meet different players in the tech community in Accra.
What’s with the hype about Mobile Money?
This question has been on my mind for a while. Almost everywhere I turn in Ghana, I see a sign that says you can pay with mobile money. I’ve always wondered why people can’t just use their mobile banking app or USSD to pay.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never had any cause to use mobile money even though it exists in Nigeria. I’ve just seen it as a great option for the unbanked.
To satisfy my curiosity, I asked around. Many people told me interbank transfers aren’t as seamless in Ghana as they are in Nigeria. For instance, a friend told me that she can’t transfer money from her Stanbic app to another bank, another told me his Fidelity bank app can do that but it’s not seamless.
A large number of people didn’t even know what the bank app could do since they’ve never even used it. So for many people, the alternative is to go to the bank, queue up and perform the transaction. Sounds like stress.
I’ve always known mobile money was big in Ghana, but I never considered that it was partly because the other banking platforms didn’t work as well as they should, compared to Nigeria. I doubt mobile money can gain a stronghold in Nigeria as it has in Ghana. I also doubt the banking platforms can displace mobile money in Ghana – but time will tell.
Let’s take a break from talking about different meals for a day.
At first, I didn’t think much about this sticker/stamp on top of drinks until I saw it many times. This is just the Ghanain government being deliberate about tax collection on drinks.
Breakfast with Idris Bello of Lofty Inc and Moulaye Taboure of Afrikrea was quite a learning experience. Taboure shared the story of Afrikrea starting in 2015 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire as a marketplace for African-based and inspired clothing, accessories, arts, and crafts. It has gone on to power commerce and exports in Africa.
Kosmos Innovation Center
I visited Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC), a project by Kosmos Energy, an American upstream oil company, to incubate and fund agritech companies. It first started as a CSR program and is now a stand-alone entity. One thing that’s obvious when you step into the big compound is the bold inscription, ‘Fire in the belly.’ A reminder that they want to work with founders and teams who have a powerful sense of ambition or determination. It’ll be great to see many more energy companies investing in startups.
Claron Medical Centre
The last stop was at Claron Medical, where I got some insights into the healthcare space in Ghana.
Yesterday, I left Accra for Berekuso (an hour away) to visit Ashesi University. The tour around one of the finest universities in Africa was delightful. Glad to see that Ashesi is making a great effort to build and equip entrepreneurs.
I easily could have called this rice, beans and stew but in Ghana, it’s Waakye (cooked rice and beans) and Shitto. I love it!
Zeepay is one of the most successful Ghanaian startups. I had a good chat with Zeepay’s CEO Andrew Takyi-Appiah, who had a lot to say about why Ghana’s tech ecosystem is the way it is.
Ended the day at the networking session by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change where I met more people in the Ghanaian tech community and policymakers.
Welcome to a new week!
Over the weekend, I mostly rested, so I’ll talk about the places I visited on Friday.
On Friday morning I was at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), a Pan-African training program, seed fund and incubator in Accra, Ghana. I listened to a pitch session by six startups and met the MEST team.
It was good to learn about the work the people at MEST are doing and walk on the famous MEST bridge connecting the two compounds.
How do we bridge the gender gap in tech?
According to the United Nations Development programme, studies show that women in the tech industry constitute only 28% of professionals in the sector worldwide and just 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
I was excited to visit Soronko Academy, a non-profit technology and digital skills development centre focused on overcoming the gender gap in technology. Fortunately, I visited the academy while a cohort of students was presenting websites they had built with WordPress after just six weeks of training. The sites looked pretty solid!
In the past four years, Regina Honu and her team have done a superb job, equipping young ladies with digital skills and connecting them with job opportunities.
Monday started off with a visit to Ato Bentsi-Enchill, a director at Black Adam Africa Capital Management. He helps foreign investors originate and conduct due diligence on potential targets for investment and enables African companies to build up their companies to access external financing.
We had a good conversation which ended with a meal of Red red (beans porridge and plantain).
That’s rice balls and groundnut soup. Rice balls in Nigeria is called Tuwo shinkafa while in Ghana it’s Omo Tuo.
Can you spot the difference in these pictures?
The first image is the Uber app in Nigeria, while the second is the Uber app in Ghana.
Packages: People already use Uber to send and receive packages so Uber added the option to do that. The difference when you select the package option is that there are two steps before you can input the address. You first indicate whether you want to send or receive the package then you provide the other person’s name and phone number. A good way to ensure that the sender/receiver doesn’t forget to input important information.
Later in the day, I met up with Foster Akugri who wears many hats in the Ghanaian tech community. He’s the founder/president of Hacklab Foundation and Manager of Stanbic Business Incubator, amongst many other things. Looking forward to Hacklab foundation expanding its good work to Nigeria and other African countries.
It’s my last week in Ghana and I’m wrapping up my visits.
Yesterday, after a conversation with a friend from Nigeria about the eCommerce space, I compared the Jumia website for Ghana to that in Nigeria
As always there’s a difference. I noticed they displayed the fact that people can return goods purchased on the homepage. In Ghana, the timeline for this is 15 days while in Nigeria it’s seven days. I wonder why?
I visited Glovo’s Ghana office which occupies a section of the Impact Hub. The Spain-headquartered on-demand delivery platform which is present in 200 cities across the world launched four months ago in Ghana. Currently, there’s a lot of marketing to create more awareness. Glovo is currently hiring in Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Uganda, and Tunisia, a hint of its expansion plans.
Since 2011, when the Wikimedian of the year award — an annual award that honors Wikipedia editors and other contributors to Wikimedia projects — was created, 3 Africans have won it. First “Demmy” from Nigeria in 2012, then Felix Nartey and Sandister Tei from Ghana in 2017 and 2020 respectively.
I met Sandister Tei today at the Hub.
Ben Enwonwu, Ibraham Mahama and Pablo Picasso are all shaking right now. I should auction this painting. I took a stab at painting with a friend and it turned out better than I expected!
Yesterday was my last full day in Ghana. It started with a visit to Academic city university college. A young private school that’s heavy on experiential learning.
I found it fascinating that they made attempts to create a low-cost ventilator in response to the pandemic. One of the working prototypes they’ve created costs about $2,000, one-fifth the cost of a regular ventilator. They’re still working to reduce the cost further.
It took a while but I finally ate Banku and Okro. I loved it.
Accra Digital Centre
The Ghana digital centre project is one of the deliberate efforts of the Ghanaian government to spur the growth of startups. The plan is to have different digital centres across the country.
I visited the Accra digital Centre, a tech park that provides an enabling environment for startups to run their operations. The tech park currently houses 36 startups, which enjoy discounted rent costs (about one-third of the regular rates) with flexible payment plans.
I had a chat with David Ofori, the head of operations at the Accra Digital centre. He spoke about the journey so far and future plans to have similar tech parks in other parts of Ghana.
My final stop for the day was a chat over dinner with Kayode Adeyinka, country Manager of Catalyst Fund. The Catalyst Fund is a project that’s scaling digital commerce companies in Ghana to improve the livelihoods and financial resilience of MSEs.
Everything that has a beginning has an end.
Yesterday was my last day in Accra, Ghana. I stayed indoors and followed up on a few conversations before heading for the airport.
I spoke to Daniela Kwegyir-Afful from the Fintech and Innovation office of the Bank of Ghana. After speaking to many companies it made sense to connect with the regulator. I also spoke to Eli Hini, Head of Mobile Financial Services for MTN Ghana. Mobile Money is a big deal in Ghana and MTN is the market leader with 17 million registered subscribers and over 200,00 agents across the country.
Size of cars
Why are there many ‘small’ cars in Ghana?
When my box couldn’t fit into the non-existent boot of the Bolt ride I ordered to the airport, it reminded me of the first observation I made when I got into Ghana. Many of the cars used for taxi services are small.
In Lagos, most Uber or Bolt drivers use a Toyota Corolla or Camry but here it’s more of Toyota Vitz or Kia Picanto. Different drivers explained that the reason behind this is that the smaller cars are more fuel-efficient. It makes me wonder whether they’re more fuel-efficient than the ones the drivers use in Lagos and why smaller cars aren’t popular in Lagos.
It’s been two weeks of meeting different people and companies. I’ve been impressed by the talent and efforts being put into the tech ecosystem. Looking forward to telling these stories and seeing more success stories from Ghana.
Thank you to everyone who showed up, reached out or helped out in one or the other. I’m sure I’ll still keep meeting more people and learning more about the tech ecosystem in Ghana.
Thank you, Ghana your food has been kind to my neck that’s started folding.
Thank you and Goodbye Ghana. Till we meet again. Medaase and Akyire!
When most people ask me, what’s Ghana like? I simply reply it’s like Nigeria but the system works better. I didn’t experience any power cuts, the internet works great, you can pinpoint the cause of traffic, usually traffic lights. People are calmer and easygoing.
One thing that stood out for me was the cost of COVID test which was close to the ticket price. In total, it cost ~₦150,000 (~$300) for the four covid tests I did — Nigerian tests cost ₦100,000 and Ghanaian tests cost ₦50,000. Quite pricey.
Anyways, I can easily see myself living in Ghana. Despite all the hype that Lagos gets, when you zoom out and think about the quality of life, if you’re honest with yourself there’s better out there.
A thought this trip has left me with is the question of what is normal/right considering the differences in how Nigerians and Ghanaians live. At the end, it’s what you’re used to, not necessarily the best option.
Ps: Here’s what I learnt about the tech ecosystem in Ghana