My Time in Ghana: A First Taste of Africa

“Ete sen?” (How are you)

“Me ho ye, Medaase.” (I’m fine, thank you)

As I write this from my hometown of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I miss greeting the above – in the more commonly used local Twi dialect – to just about anyone I meet in Ghana.

When I applied for the summer internship posted by CEIBS Africa, my motivation was simple: to better understand Ghana and the African continent, consisting of 54 countries.

Upon arriving, I was amazed at how polite and courteous the people were, with a “please” before and after almost each sentence – even when they’re answering or declining. Is the café closing soon? “No, please.”

The second thing I noticed about this West African country? High inflation. Back when I was there in July 2023, annual inflation rose to over 40%, after hitting an over two-decade high of 54.1% in December 2022. Then, Ghana’s central bank set its lending rate at close to 30%.

“You need a lot of skills to survive in Ghana,” a colleague and good friend of mine, Mawusi, told me, as prices are through the roof. “Everybody in Ghana is a manager,” she added, “a manager of his or her own life and expenses”.


What surprised me on the upside was that the country was safer than I expected. I could, by myself, go out at night and travel to nearby towns. It’s something many locals take pride in, that Ghana is peaceful and politically stable relative to many other countries on the continent.

I’m constantly astounded by the sense of resilience people have. Most of the people I met have at least two to three side hustles to make ends meet. The level of English spoken is fantastic, with a well-structured education system. The country also possesses a lot of natural resources including gold, cocoa, and timber, to name a few.

I wonder what lies ahead for the country and continent, and if the notion of Africa being the “final frontier” still holds true.

Professor Mathew Kwame Tsamenyi, Executive Director of CEIBS Africa, remains optimistic on this question. His vision of Africa rising means higher industrialisation and intra-African trade.

“You can't actually be the next frontier [just by] exporting raw materials. We’re exporting the majority of our products in the raw form then importing the final value-added product. So, actually, getting that manufacturing base is absolutely critical. In Ghana we have something called ‘One District One Factory’; we have to get these moving, to work, beyond what’s just on paper,” he said.

He added that another area where huge investment is needed is logistics infrastructure, including road networks and payment systems, citing the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System.


My internship with Agrisolve
During my internship I had the opportunity to be attached to Agrisolve Ghana Limited, an agriculture development firm, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Established in 2015, the company champions smallholder farmers, providing them with easier access to inputs and markets. Smallholder farmers, who own just a few acres of land each, make up the majority of farmers in Ghana.

“Agriculture is a value chain activity, and every part of the value chain has difficulties. If you’re not producing, what are you driving [truck drivers]?” Elorm Goh, founder of Agrisolve, told me.

This internship exposed me to different aspects of the sector. Farmers face multiple challenges including not being paid equitably, not having enough capital to kickstart production, and climate change affecting rainfall (and thus the planting season and yields). They also possess inadequate modern farming knowledge and techniques, lacking understanding of how to use modern technology.

Agrisolve seeks to tackle all of the above.

For one, it has established Greenconnect Centers in remote areas to bring input items (seeds, fertilizers, herbicides, etc.) closer to farmers. The social impact firm also has programs for youth and women – to train them in entrepreneurship, book keeping, improving farming yields.


Field trip to the North & Upper West Region – one for the books

One of my best memories is being out in the field for four days with the team. I had the chance to travel to the North and Upper West regions, where things are less developed.

Our Toyota Hilux was sturdy. Even so, throughout our averaging-over-10-hours-daily journeys on the road, I remember telling myself this: “One’s heart and car tyres must be strong.” The roads are in poor condition.

I have learned a lot from my time speaking with farmers, agriculture extension specialists (aka the ‘arms’ and ‘legs’ of the sector), local chiefs, and women who have been marginalized.

In a community called Bugubelle, the women I spoke to were welcoming, earnest, and willing to strive to do better. “In the past many of us would migrate to the south of the country, where it’s more developed, in search for jobs,” they say.

“But since Agrisolve came to us, we have learned how to do quality farming and have since seen improvements in every aspect of our work. We’ve increased our acreage over time, while also learning the importance of upskilling ourselves. This is why we also started processing [raw materials] when the season ends.”

In the quiet town of Kulfuo, population 3,000, the local chief said that his number one priority was to build a kindergarten.

“Right now, there’s no kindergarten here. The farming community doesn’t take care of [their] children UNTIL they grow up. When these children get to primary school, they don’t feel safe, they feel different and want to go back to the farm,” he told me.


Chief Nanssia Tortimmah Jibiliru champions equality in women. I learned that he sought discounts for women on Saturdays at the Greenconnect Centers, where they pay a cheaper price for agricultural input items. “I consulted our elders on how to bridge the gender imbalance in our part of town, and this idea came up,” he shared.

“We are a young town. If there are no women behind you, there’s no success. Wives, daughters, women – they can help you multiply that success.”

A quirky moment: I remember asking another chief about the income levels of his people and town. He said they don’t really keep count or records of this. Rather, they go by “bags of maize” that they can produce and sell.

Lambert Nkadinye, an extension specialist with Agrisolve, inspired me with the genuine passion and enthusiasm he had for his job. Extension specialists effectively assess the needs of farmers and offer technical assistance and guidance in farming best practices.

Lambert is 45 and has been farming for 30 years. He told me patiently and succinctly about row planting, the importance of early planting, and using varieties of crops to navigate changes in rain patterns caused by climate change.

In the town of Jeffisi, I was able to visit an elementary school and a high school. I was disheartened to see that classrooms lack the basic furniture needed for students to learn in a comfortable manner.  

“Ghana is a net exporter of timber and wood, yet students still sit on the floor to learn,” I was told by locals.



Role of CEIBS in bridging Chinese-African entrepreneurs

There is a considerable Chinese presence in Ghana, but more can be done, according to Professor Tsamenyi. He told me that one of the good things about Chinese companies and entrepreneurs is that “they actually get to the ground and look for problems to solve.”

“The largest floor tiles manufacturer here is Chinese owned. There’s another Chinese company that produces tissues here, amongst other things. But going forward there needs to be more engagement between African and Chinese entrepreneurs, because what we need is partnership and technology,” he said.

This is why an institution like CEIBS is so important, he added, as it runs programs that bring Chinese and Africans mangers together.

“To be able to create a market in Africa for the Chinese, and at the same time create a market in China for Africa”, is Professor Tsamenyi’s hope.

He said that before coming to Africa, many Chinese think of the continent as a land of natural resources such as gold and minerals. “But then, when they are here in person, they realise opportunities are also present in hospitality, manufacturing, energy, pharmaceuticals, and agriculture.”

Taking a step back, Professor Tsamenyi brought to light the differences in economic structures.

“China moved from agriculture to manufacturing [or industrialization], then to services. But for us in Ghana, we jumped straight from agriculture to services,” he explained.

“So, it’s actually cheaper for us to import [from China] than to actually produce. A typical example is the poultry industry. Poultry feed is so expensive, energy cost is very high. Adding these together, it’s cheaper to import.”


As always, I’d like to end my piece by outlining what we can learn from one another.

I asked Professor Tsamenyi this. He said, “the Chinese are more disciplined and target-oriented than the [usual] Africans. I wouldn’t say we need to change our approach, but I think it’s more of an adaptation. When a Chinese person comes here, they have to understand the local culture, and then we also have to understand where the Chinese are coming from.”

It sometimes really takes traveling to some place new and different to really appreciate what we have and the differences that we share.

As for me, observing the work ethic of my colleagues at Agrisolve – of being hardworking, conscientious, spending only when one needs to – is a refreshing counterpoint to stereotypes about this part of the world.


Wei Lynn TANG
Michael Russam