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African Engineers: Simon Beyuoh

Simon Beyuoh’s story illustrates how a determined young man from the most deprived region of Ghana was helped to become the owner of a self-employed engineering workshop through the Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU) program established by the Center for Technology Consulting (TCC) from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi.

Simon Beyuoh hailed from Nandom, a small town in the far northwest of Ghana, in the Upper West region, near the border with Burkina Faso. His people, the Dagatis, had been converted to Catholicism by French missionaries from Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) after years of rule by Muslim Walas based in Wa, the capital of the Upper West Region. In his mid-teens, Simon followed a sister and cousin the long way to Kumasi, to seek his fortune in Ghana’s second city and the home of Ashanti’s golden stool.

Simon’s cousin, Kate, was working as a retail store manager at the first ITTU at Suame magazine, so she applied for an apprenticeship in the metalworking section. At that time it was unusual for the ITTU to accept beginners, preferring to recruit apprentices who had acquired some basic skills in an informal sector workshop. However, Simon impressed the selection board with his tall, fair-skinned presence and humble earnestness and began coaching in 1981. He soon demonstrated that he had natural aptitude and a capacity for hard work.

By 1984, the second ITTU was coming online in Tamale, in the Northern Region, under the expert guidance of Frank Robertson, the African-American engineer assigned as USAID advisor for the project. Frank needed trained staff and requested transfers from Kumasi. Although Simon still had two years of his apprenticeship to complete, he requested a transfer to Tamale to be closer to his hometown. The transfer was granted and Simon became one of Frank’s most trusted assistants. Simon benefited greatly from Frank’s guidance and always spoke warmly of the opportunities that opened up for him.

In Tamale, Frank Robertson had introduced a wide range of activities transferred from the TCC in Kumasi. As the situation in Tamale was much more rural than in Kumasi, he placed a lot of emphasis on agriculture and rural crafts. In particular, beekeeping was proving to be a popular hobby with excellent honey yields. Some hives purchased from the ITTU could provide a constant income throughout the year. Simon decided to take up beekeeping as a spare time activity to supplement his modest salary from ITTU.

After completing his apprenticeship, Simon was employed as a technician at Tamale ITTU. In that position, he worked steadily and reliably for several years. As of June 1987, the ITTU passed into the hands of the FREE Project of the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology (MIST). FREE continued the program started by the TCC in Kumasi to encourage young people trained at ITTU to try setting up their own private workshops. Simón applied to join the scheme and asked that a complement of machine tools from the first shipment be reserved for him to import into Tamale.

In 1990, FREE helped the TRAX Project open a small workshop in Bolgatanga, the capital of the Upper East Region. This was in preparation for an ITTU to be established later. Sensing another step closer to home, Simon reapplied for a transfer and became manager-in-charge at Bolgatanga. This was a valuable experience in preparing him to run his own shop.

Funding for Tamale ITTU under the FREE Project was provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). When machine tools for sale to private workshops arrived in due course, some rules were devised to provide the necessary credit financing. Under these rules, the buyer was required to make an investment equal to 25 percent of the value of the entire shop after installing the new machines. Simon Beyuoh was put on the list of potential buyers, but CIDA managers and advisers doubted that he could raise the required amount of 250,000 cedis (approximately US$1,500).

Interviews were conducted in Tamale for the allocation of machine tools. Some of the applicants already owned a workshop structure whose value was included as part of their initial investment. Simon, however, needed to find his entire investment in cash. When asked how he was going to find the necessary amount, he replied that he had enough money saved in the bank from his beekeeping earnings. Over the years, he had built his apiary into over forty hives.

Simon decided that his hometown of Nandom was too small to support his workshop, so he set up his permanent business in Bolgatanga, where it still thrives. Many young men and some young women have benefited from Ghana’s ITTUs in this way, but Simon Beyuoh is unique in having persevered to bring his engineering skills to the poorer regions of the far north, where they would be of most use to his own and related communities.

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