Awards 2000 The Shell Award for Sustainable Development

The Shell Award for Sustainable Development

Short-listed: Tropical Cable and Conductor Ltd.

When Tony Oteng-Gyasi spotted the opportunity to make cable for extending Ghana's electricity grid, he was going into something entirely new. He had worked for an international oil firm and had run his own company trading in timber and such timber products as crates and pallets. But the threat to tropical hardwoods made him look for something else; and so he set up Tropical Cable and Conductor Ltd at the port of Tema. He says: "I saw the 30-year plan to electrify the country as an opportunity to grow a business and help the community in a manner which can sustain both the development effort and the business."

However, he knew little of cablemaking and neither did anyone whom he consulted. There is only one other cablemaker in Ghana, a subsidiary of the French firm Alcatel. Even where to buy equipment and which equipment to choose was hard for Tony Oteng-Gyasi to establish. So was financing. Banks did not lend much long-term and charged 40 per cent interest a year. But he had money from his first timber company and from personal savings and he borrowed from friends and relatives. A bank did make a loan for working capital.

The knowhow came from Tom Bonikowski, a volunteer engineer sent by British Executive Service Overseas, who helped install the first machinery in 1997 and made further visits to help solve problems and install more machines. He previously worked 36 years for BICC Cables in Britain.

What TCCL does is draw copper or aluminium rods through dies to make wire of specified sizes. Wires are bunched together and can be used in this form for overhead power lines. The bunched wires can also be covered in pvc insulation. TCCL's products are to international standard. Apart from the grid, they are sold to housing developers, mines and electrical contractors. "We have used a focus-on-local-manufacturing slot on television to increase awareness of our company and products," says Tony Oteng-Gyasi.

Turnover in 1999 was over a million dollars. He hopes to sell also to other West African countries. He employs 22 people including two women and he reckons this provides a livelihood for over 100. He has had to crack the problem of training people to work safely and efficiently when he had no previous experience of running the machinery. A woman studying metallurgy at university said after working her vacation at TCCL that it was a good training ground for young engineers.

About half TCCL's workers were school-leavers or unemployed when they joined the firm. Local workshop owners also benefit. They melt down TCCL's waste aluminium to make pots, pans and spoons. TCCL is also encouraging a trotro people-carrier operator to provide a bus service to its plant. A local woman has set up a chop bar, now employing three other women, to supply workers and others with lunch. TCCL is also instituting a scholarship to provide children of needy parents with uniforms, pencils and other requirements for attending school.

In a sense, importing aluminium rod to Tema, which TCCL now does, is like taking coals to Newcastle. Aluminium is made at Tema, using power from the Akosombo dam on the Volta river. But there is no local mill to turn the aluminium into rod. It is Tony Oteng-Gyasi's ambition to set one up, at a cost of up to $5million. One suggestion is that the Italian manufacturer of the mill will help with the finance by buying part of what the mill makes. TCCL is on the lookout for other investors.

Tropical Cable & Conductor Ltd, PO Box SC 241, Tema, Ghana
Tel: +233 22 302490/98 Fax: +233 22 302489