Cape Coast ICT Park project gears up for take off
President Barack Obama makes a speech to Ghanian Parliament at the International Conference Centre in Accra, Ghana, July 11, 2009
The prospect of an ICT park that would transform Ghana's Central Regional capital, Cape Coast, into Ghana’s knowledge capital has found prominence on the development agenda of local authorities who are hoping to replicate the example of cities around the world which have succeeded in using technology to provide world-class facilities in electronics, precision engineering and bio-technology to create jobs for local entrepreneurs.
The big dream of a multi-million dollar technology park for Cape Coast has been under discussions for some time, culminating in a second stakeholders’ forum in Accra in December 2010 to find effective ways of moving the project from ‘talk’ to the next logical step, ‘action’.
Inspired by the series of success stories of technology parks in some developing economies like India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Nigeria, which share similar development characteristics with Ghana, stakeholders of the Cape Coast ICT park invited two technology park trailblazers from Sri Lanka and Nigeria to share their experiences with them.
The two, Albert Awolaya, Director of SBT Juul Africa of Nigeria and Hariharan Padmanaban, Business Development Manager of Orion Management Consortium Ltd., of Sri Lanka agree on the enormous benefits a technology park would bring to Cape Coast but have contrasting views on where it should be located.
Already the Cape Coast Municipal Authority has committed itself to making available 50 acres of land for the proposed ICT park, and has suggested a piece of land at Mpeasem, off the Cape Coast – Kakum Forest road, as an acceptable location for the site. Mr. Padmanaban, whose company has established and is developing a US$500 million dollar Orion City technology park in Sri Lanka, is certain however that siting the Cape Coast ICT Park on the campus of the University of Cape Coast, closer to fibre-optic cables, and the university population of knowledge workers, will help to link research to industry.
However, Mr. Awolaja, who is involved in the construction of a US$75 million Port Harcourt Innovation Park, is strongly against taking an ICT park to an academic institution on the grounds that the “Ivory Tower” environment could intimidate prospective commercial clients who are outside the realm of the academia.
Besides, using the experiences of Nigeria for a backdrop, he argues that the perennial industrial strikes of university workers could disrupt the work of companies located in the technology park and that could be a disincentive to firms who would want to relocate to the park.
Nonetheless, Mr. Padmanaban, insists the location of the ICT park is not as important as having the required skills-set that companies need for their operations.
Cape Coast also achieved global fame when Mr. and Mrs. Barack Obama selected the city as the high point of their two-day visit to Ghana in 2009, where with their children they toured the famous slave castle at Cape Coast to reflect the historical bonds that tie Ghana to the United States and to the Caribbean region.
“The location is the least important factor because you can site the project anywhere. But you will also need the skills set and infrastructure. These are the three things I think you will need for a successful technology park,” said Mr. Padmanaban.
“Remember it is a business at the end of the day and any company that is setting up operation (in a tech park) wants to reduce the time it takes to train and develop workers and they want to make each person a revenue earner from day one.”
“If you can achieve that then I tell you every company would want to set up an operation in Ghana. That is for sure. If you can get people with the right skills set, then Ghana will go far,” he said.
Speaking at the Accra workshop, the Minister of Communications of Ghana, Haruna Iddrisu, reaffirmed the government's support for the Cape Coast ICT Park project, and recounted the efforts he has been making to encourage foreign investors to take interest in the project. Another participant at the forum, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, CEO of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, reminded the gathering that Ghana was hopeful of competing effectively in the Knowledge Age. A project such as that proposed for Cape Coast was the kind that would enable thousands of school and university leavers in the Cape Coast municipality to find ready employment after graduation. Already, the choice of Cape Coast for the siting of Ghana’s first ICT park is one that has excited many people, as the town, once the capital city of Ghana, is home to most of the oldest and best schools in Ghana, including Wesley Girls' High School, St. Augustine College, Mfantsipim School, Adisadel College, Aggrey Memorial AME Secondary School, Ghana National College, Holy Child Secondary and the University of Cape Coast, which make the city a learning centre for teaching and research. Cape Coast also achieved global fame when Mr. and Mrs. Barack Obama selected the city as the high point of their two-day visit to Ghana in 2009, where with their children they toured the famous slave castle at Cape Coast to reflect the historical bonds that tie Ghana to the United States and to the Caribbean region.
The government itself is encouraged by the success stories of Sri Lanka, Nigeria, India and others and appears determined to use the ICT park project as a tool to develop not only Cape Coast but many other cities such as Tema, which has been pencilled down by previous governments as a possible venue for an ICT park project. The successful start of the Cape Coast ICT park project could therefore open the door for similar projects to spring up across the country which would help Ghana position herself in the West Africa sub-region and in Africa.
Cape Coast slave castle
Administration block & dormitories - Adisadel College
It is expected that as a result of this visit, Cape Coast will resonate favourably with many Silicon Valley and other US firms which may be seeking foreign locations for their outsourced business.
According to the project’s promoters, more than 20 government agencies and private sector entities and international organisations are backing the project, including the Ministry of Communications, the National Communications Authority, the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications, the Central Regional Administration, the Central Regional Development Commission, the Oguaman Association (made up of prominent citizens of Cape Coast), the Youth Aid Foundation for Winners (YAFOW - an NGO), the office of the Municipal Chief Executive (or Mayor) of Cape Coast, and the Cape Coast Development Company Ltd., set up by the city authorities with participation from some prominent citizens.
Other institutions supporting the initiative are the University of Cape Coast, the Ghana Centre for e-Governance, the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Ghana Export Promotion Council, the Omanhene of Cape Coast, Osabarima Kwesi Atta II, the London-based Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, the Member of Parliament for Cape Coast, who also is the Deputy Minister for Justice and Attorney General, and the Ghana Association of Software and IT Services Companies (GASSCOM).
In the course of the December workshop, participants agreed that Ghana has the advantage of learning from countries that have successfully set up ICT parks and could adopt models in those countries and localise them to fit the country’s situation by weaving it around a Public Private People’s Partnership (PPPP) model, which is being promoted actively by the CTO.
For instance, it is instructive to note that, in Sri Lanka, the state has made it a policy to take up to 75% of the cost of training a student who opts to take a particular or selected course that would be beneficial to the operations of companies located in technology parks.
This move by the Sri Lanka government has helped to develop the skills set required by the ICT park companies, which has helped the country’s ranking by AT Kearney in the top 20 Business Processing Outsourcing companies in the world.
According to Mr. Padmadaban, another strength of Sri Lanka is that it has one of the highest per capita numbers of professional accountants in the world, and this is also attracting companies based overseas which have a need to outsource financial support services.
Mr. Padmanaban explains: “This can be done only where the companies are working hand-in-hand with the educational institutions because then, the curriculum can be changed depending on the particular skills set that the companies want.”
“So the availability of the skills set is what we must focus on. The infrastructure can be built anywhere. We should train people to be revenue earners and that is very important,” he added.
Ghana as a developing country can compare its economic fortunes to that of Nigeria and Sri Lanka and if those countries have managed to develop an ICT park that has attracted renowned technology investors, it means Ghana could also do it if the right structures and incentives are put in place.
Some Egyptian firms aware of the enormous potential an ICT park holds for Cape Coast have made enquiries about getting involved in assisting the city to get the project off the ground, according to Minister Haruna.
In December last year, a delegation from Egyptian firm, Smart Villages Company, which developed the Smart Village Cairo (a self-contained technology park) was scheduled to arrive in the country to discuss ways by which they could get involved in developing a similar ICT project for Ghana in an attempt to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
The Egyptians want to assist Ghana by putting a technical team together to help with the feasibility, development and marketing of the proposed ICT park in Cape Coast. This would in essence enable the country to deliver high-end ICT services to the tourism, banking and financial services, oil and gas industries and other service sector activities, import a lot of call centre, data centre and business process outsourcing work from overseas, and at the same time provide lucrative employment opportunities for people. Globally, technology parks have been used as a platform for promoting technology intensive industries and are therefore seen as the right tool for promoting high quality jobs. The government itself is encouraged by the success stories of Sri Lanka, Nigeria, India and others and appears determined to use the ICT park project as a tool to develop not only Cape Coast but many other cities such as Tema, which has been pencilled down by previous governments as a possible venue for an ICT park project.
The successful start of the Cape Coast ICT park project could therefore open the door for similar projects to spring up across the country which would help Ghana position herself in the West Africa sub-region and in Africa as a world class destination for investments in computer engineering, electronics, business processing outsourcing, data centres, e-commerce, and other ICT-related activities.