African Engineers: Simon Beyuoh

African Engineers: Simon Beyuoh

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

Simon Beyuoh came from Nandom, a small town in the extreme north-western corner of Ghana in Upper West Region, close to the border with Burkina Faso. His people, the Dagatis, had been converted to Catholicism by French missionaries from Burkina Faso (then Haute Volta) after years of dominance by the Moslem Walas with their base in Wa, the capital of Upper West Region. In his mid teens Simon followed a sister and a cousin down the long road to Kumasi, to seek his fortune in Ghana’s second city and the home of the golden stool of Ashanti.

Simon’s cousin, Kate, was employed as the retail store keeper at the first ITTU at Suame Magazine, so he applied for an apprenticeship in the metal machining section. At that time it was unusual for the ITTU to accept raw beginners, preferring to recruit apprentices who had gained 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 training in 1981. He soon showed that he had natural aptitude and a capacity for hard work.

By 1984, the second ITTU was coming into operation at Tamale in the Northern Region under the expert guidance of Frank Robertson, the Afro-American engineer assigned as USAID Adviser to the project. Frank needed trained staff and asked for transfers from Kumasi. Although Simon still had two years of his apprenticeship to complete, he applied to transfer to Tamale to be nearer to his home town. The transfer was granted and Simon became one of Frank’s most trusted assistants. Simon benefitted greatly from Frank’s guidance and always spoke warmly of the opportunities that it opened 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 that in Kumasi, much emphasis was placed on agriculture and rural crafts. In particular, beekeeping was proving to be a popular pastime with excellent honey yields. A few beehives purchased from the ITTU could provide a steady year-round income. Simon decided to take up beekeeping as a spare-time activity to supplement his modest salary from the ITTU.

After completing his apprenticeship, Simon was employed as a technician in the Tamale ITTU. In that position he worked steadily and reliably for several years. From June 1987, the ITTU was taken over by the GRATIS Project of the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology (MIST). GRATIS continued the programme initiated by the TCC in Kumasi to encourage young people trained in the ITTUs to try to set up their own private workshops. Simon applied to join the scheme and requested that a complement of machine tools should be reserved for him from the first consignment to be imported for Tamale.

In 1990 GRATIS helped the TRAX Project to open a small workshop at Bolgatanga, capital of Upper East Region. This was in preparation for an ITTU to be established later. Sensing another step nearer home, Simon again applied for a transfer and became technician-in-charge in Bolgatanga. This was valuable experience in preparation for managing his own workshop.

Funding for the Tamale ITTU under the GRATIS Project was provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). When in due course machine tools arrived for sale to private workshops, some rules were devised for providing the necessary credit finance. Under these rules the purchaser was obliged to make an investment equal to 25 percent of the value of the complete workshop after the new machines were installed. Simon Beyuoh was included in the list of potential purchasers but managers and CIDA Advisers doubted whether he would be able to raise the required amount of 250,000 cedis (approx US$1,500).

Interviews were held in Tamale for the allocation of machine tools. Some of the applicants already owned a workshop structure of which the value was included as part of their initial investment. Simon, however, needed to find the whole of his 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 the proceeds of his beekeeping. Over the years he had built up his apiary to more than forty hives.

Simon decided that his home town, Nandom, was too small to support his workshop so he established his permanent business in Bolgatanga where it is still flourishing. Many young men, and a few young women, have benefitted from Ghana’s ITTUs in this way, but Simon Beyuoh is unique in having persevered to take his engineering skills to the poorest regions of the far north where they would be of most service to his own and kindred communities.