The Industrial city of Tema is probably one of the most elaborate, ambitious development projects to have been undertaken by Ghana’s first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, in the post-independence era.
Born out of a vision, the community, which is host to numerous industries as well as the country’s most profitable sea port, continues to contribute significantly to boosting Ghana’s economic dynamism and has over the years seen key investments in human capital and infrastructure.
From the establishment of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) in 1963, then referred to as the Ghanaian Italian Petroleum (GHAIP), to VALCO, a company founded as a major long-term investment in the aluminium smelting business, Tema has helped put Ghana on the African and global industrial map.
These companies, among several others, have over the years become enterprises that have transformed the quality of life and infrastructure not only within Tema but the general productive economy of Ghana.
The siting of the port in Tema instead of Ada or Keta which are said to have naturally deep-sea basins, according to some schools of thought, was one of the toughest decisions Dr Nkrumah had to make due to Tema’s proximity to Accra, which is the capital of Ghana.
That they said was possibly informed by the quest to make Tema the industrial hub of Ghana which took a pioneering role in the establishment of free zones as well as a modern city for habitation, which became a model for some Asian countries such as Singapore.
The development of the Tema Port, which guided Ghana’s path onto the international transport trade facilitation arena, necessitated the need for an appropriate channel of transporting goods from Tema to the other parts of the country and the sub-region, thereby giving way for the construction of the Tema-Accra Motorway, a road infrastructure that is said to have stood the test of time for nearly six decades.
In a bid to achieve a balance in productivity as a way of expanding beyond the limits of the domestic market, Dr Nkrumah attempted to develop storage tower (silos) infrastructure for commodities such as cocoa and grains for national food self-sufficiency and export.
The silos with a storage capacity of about 200,000 tonnes were built at a cost of £8.5 million shortly after independence at a time when Ghana was the world’s leading producer of cocoa, producing more than 40 per cent of the world’s annual output.
A move it is believed was initially geared towards an import substitution policy that would offer his government and successive ones a trade policy aimed to promote economic growth by restricting imports that competed with domestic products.
The silos, the schools of thought maintained, would have ensured regulated pricing of Ghana’s major commodity export, cocoa in the international market, which the government is seeking to do with Cote d’Ivoire presently.
Widespread criticism of the project, however, led to an eventual abandonment of the facility which still towers over Tema today.
The effect of the abandoning of the project, many believe, has had negative effect on Ghana’s agricultural sector which became largely subsistence-based with commodities such as wheat and rice being imported heavily into the country, thereby defeating the agenda of promoting an export-led economy, while prices of its export commodities are determined by the buyers.
Within the manufacturing chain, the State Textiles Manufacturing Company (STMC) was also established soon after independence, providing an avalanche of opportunities for residents and further presenting a vibrant business platform for women, especially.
According to the General Secretary of the Textiles and Leather Workers Union (TEGLEU), Mr Abraham Koomson, STMC, which later became Tema Textiles Limited (TTL) as of 1971 when he was employed by the company, had 3,000 permanent employees and numerous casual workers.
He said that whereas the Ghana Textiles Manufacturing Company (GTMC), a private company, preceded STMC, the latter’s establishment under the government paved the way for an entrepreneurial drive within the sector until the sector’s eventual collapse.
The port, a major development which was largely anchored on the back of the country’s Black Star Line (BSL) shipping company, at its peak was said to have had about 40 vessels, making the port become the provider of essential transport and logistic services.
Elder Dempster, Zim Line, Gold Star Line, Nigeria National Shipping Lines, CMZ (Cameroon), Nigerian Green Lines, SITRAM (Ivory Coast), OT Africa Lines, Hapag Lloyd, Scanship, SDV Liner Agencies, to mention a few, were shipping lines that operated in Ghana’s transport and shipping sector.
Over time, some of these lines folded up while others were consolidated through outright purchase.
For example, Liner Agencies was consolidated to become Hullblyth, Scanship became a member of the Delmas SDV which also metamorphosed into the Bollore Group, among others.
According to Mr Jacob Kobla Adorkor, a former Director of the Tema Port, the Black Star Line back in the day provided a balance of trade where freight charges on the transportation of major commodities, cocoa as well as manganese by way of foreign exchange were retained in the country, thereby making the line a very lucrative venture which also employed many.
Gradually, however, he said the era of containerisation saw the Black Star Line’s inability to introduce technology into its operations to compete with the private shipping lines, leading to its eventual collapse and its sale to a Cameroonian Shipping, which also eventually collapsed.
Jobs were lost, with Ashaiman and Tema Newtown which were communities that held Tema’s vibrant labour force, witnessing haphazard developments leading to insanitary conditions and increased crime, among other related vices.
Industrialisation and diversification
Within the 1980s, the government’s economic recovery programme brought about rapid de-industrialisation, leading to factories being closed with large market forces being entrenched.
This led to challenges with healthcare provision and affordability, environmental issues and gradual collapse of the Tema city.
The port, according to Mr Godwin Amoo, Chief Executive Officer of Horizon Insurance Brokers, struggled to cope and shipping lines stopped making it a port of call.
However, women in the community and its adjourning surroundings such as Ashaiman, Tema Newtown and other areas, he said, became the anchor of income in the city, using the Tema Fishing Harbour as a trade-net in balancing family incomes.
“Young people who saw their parents losing incomes as a result of retrenchment in industries rose to become entrepreneurs operating in similar fields of logistics, freight forwarding and haulage among others,” Mr Amoo said.
He said there was new found wealth in these areas as the port, for instance, rebounded, with privatisation being brought in to win back investor confidence.
That spearheaded an expansion of the city with communities stretching from the existing 12 which were the traditional Tema communities to areas such as the Spintex Road, communities 13-20 as well as 21, 22 to 25, Gbetsile, all along the Tema-Akosombo stretch and the Tema-Dawhenya-Aflao roads.
The Tema Port has also recently seen a huge investment of $1.5 billion by way of expansion and modernisation, making it a major modern port within the West African sub-region.