For Tutu Agyare, the business case for investing in Ghana is compelling. But he goes further than that – the country is the ideal entry point for the whole of West Africa, he cares to add. He speaks with both local and international experience. He has Ghanaian roots, was educated in the country, and built a career first as a derivatives trader on the London Stock Exchange and then as head of Europe, Middle East and Africa equities for the UBS Investment Bank for over six years.
Leaving the bank in 2007, he became the founding partner of Nubuke Investments, specialising in African opportunities. More recently, he was offered a seat as an executive director on the board of Tullow Oil that is leading the charge to develop Ghana’s oil sector.
Speaking to New African, he said the investment attraction of Ghana was in large part due to the country’s benign political environment. “There are no currency restrictions, there is a very clear investment philosophy, and there are competent investment institutions – and a legal system that works”, he clarifies.
Agyare describes Ghanaians as both friendly and competent. “On a relative basis, if you are a foreign corporate looking to set up in the West African region, you could not ask for a better base. These days we have new undersea fibre-optic cables and very good telecoms, so Accra is the destination of choice.” He also makes the point that there are more international airlines serving Ghana than Nigeria.
But is he not concerned the impact of the Eurozone crisis on the Ghanaian economy? “I guess that if we are witnessing a slow disintegration of the West and it being replaced by the East, especially with the search for minerals in return for capital expenditure, that means that Africa is sort of suffering a second order effect rather than the first order effect from what is now happening in the Eurozone,” he muses.
Nevertheless, like any rational investor, Agyare is mindful of the downside, the risks involved – and for Ghana, in the short term, they are about the forthcoming elections in December this year.
“The last election was very close and this one might be the same,” Agyare observes. “I don’t think anybody has a crystal ball and I don’t think any poll taken today will be representative of the national decision to be made on 8th December 2012. That may lead to some level of political inertia and investors pausing when it comes to making significant capital decisions.”
But Agyare accepts that following the last general election, the new administration revisited very few of the contracts or investment decisions the previous government had entered into. “Nevertheless, I guess that given the fact that in almost every single state institution the senior management changed, that means that if negotiations were ongoing you had a new set of people to negotiate with,” he explains.
When asked about Ghana’s off-shore oil production and how that may affect the country’s investment landscape, Agyare says that he never speaks for Tullow Oil, but he explains that the government has given an undertaking that 70% of revenues will go to the current account, and 30% invested in a long-term development account. “So far the government has been prudent in the use of the revenues, small as they may be to start with, yet growing as we go along.”
In fact, Agyare describes oil as “a headline distraction”, and explains that Ghana has an incredibly solid mining industry which is continuing to grow. “We also have a solid timber industry, and the cocoa sector is similarly robust.”
There is also an explosion in the service sector. “Ghana is definitely positioning itself to be the service-sector industry centre of West Africa. So, to me, the oil factor is a lot of noise, but it’s an opportunity for Ghana to develop another leg for the economy to stand on. I don’t see Ghana going the same route as some of the other countries where oil has been the only export. Ghana has a diverse economy.”
Turning to the financial services sector, Agyare expressed his hope that the 28 financial institutions in the country will all be recapitalised by the end of the year, each with the required minimum capital of $6m. “Hopefully they will all reach that,” he remarked.
Agyare was careful to explain that he could not comment on Nubuke Investments’ portfolio as there are strict rules imposed by the UK’s regulatory Financial Services Authority against what might be construed as “seeding the market” or advertising.
But he did tell New African: “We have investments in Ghana. We have always liked the financial sector there. We don’t think the banks’ valuations truly reflect the level of profitability, the growth prospects, and the robustness of the business there.”
But above all, it is the country’s agricultural sector that gets Agyare excited. “We think that given where global agricultural prices are at the moment, there are real returns to be made by very disciplined investments in agriculture, and we are beginning to see that play out along the coast of Ghana.”
Overall, he noted: “We still feel that on a relative basis Ghana is an incredibly exciting investment destination. I know there are a lot of Nigerians who say that Nigeria is the destination, but for me it’s Ghana. I don’t really see anything threatening this. I don’t see that changing any time soon.”
Kofi Ansah is the founder of Artdress, a design and creative company through which he runs his labels, Kofi Ansah Couture, and Kofi Ansah Design Collection. An award-winning designer, his accolades include the African Fashion Awards 2000, and the prestigious Ghana Quality Awards Diamond Division for clothing and textiles with Artdress in 2003.
Ansah designed the anniversary fabric for the Ghana@50 Golden Jubilee Celebrations and in 2008 designed costumes for the opening and closing ceremony of the African Cup of Nations, held in Ghana. In 2009, he was the chief designer at the Festival of African Fashion and Arts (FAFA). His creations can be found at retail shops on both sides of the Atlantic, in South Africa, Ghana, USA (Saks Fifth Avenue) and Britain.
Ansah returned home to Ghana in 1992, after spending 20 years in Europe. He said he came back home to contribute to the development of the Ghanaian clothing industry. Committed to seeing the Ghanaian textile and fashion landscape grow in economic prominence, he serves as the fashion consultant to the Ghana Textile Printing Company, one of the leading textile companies in the country ,with its wax prints widely sold in Ghanaian and West African markets.
A major player on the African fashion scene, he is the founder and former president of the Federation of African Designers.
Suraj Wahab Ologburo
Six years ago, the entrepreneur Suraj Wahab Ologburo started Toyola Energy Ltd, a stove business, and has since produced 154,000 of these efficient charcoal stoves that are cooking meals for around 940,000 people.
Many households in Ghana cook on charcoal stoves and spend a big slice of their income on this fuel. So Toyola Energy designed a cleaner, more efficient and durable model, the “coal-pot” cook-stove. It typically uses two-thirds of the charcoal of other stoves, cooks faster and cuts down on smoke. The stoves reduce charcoal use by about 26,000 tonnes each year, saving trees and cutting CO2 production by around 150,000 tonnes a year. They are a perfect example of how much can be achieved through the use of simple, clean energy technologies.
The stoves sell for as little as $7 each. To make them more affordable, Toyola offers customers the option to buy on credit with a 25% deposit and pay back their loan over two months using the money saved on charcoal.
One of Toyola’s first customers, Gina Garbon, asked Ologburo to supply five stoves for her market stall. Within a month she had sold 100. As her business continues to thrive, she has been able to buy land and begin to build a house. “Selling stoves has changed my life,” she says.
Toyola stoves are made to high standards by 170 trained artisans and sold across Ghana, Togo and Burkina Faso. With five production centres in Ghana and one in Togo, Toyola plans to increase sales. By 2013, it hopes to be producing 140,000 more stoves from new bases in Ghana, Benin, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
And having won the highly prestigious international Ashden Award Gold Prize last year, which comes with a cheque of some $16,000, Toyola is well on the way to achieving that objective.
Nii Amaa Ollennu
From the outset, Nii Amaa Ollennu was very clear about La Villa Hotel’s target clientele. “It’s almost entirely business visitors,” he explains, “and I have very many regular clients drawn from the multinational companies that are now coming to Ghana. In addition, we host a good number of diplomats – mainly French, Dutch, Italian, etc – who appreciate the ambience of a boutique hotel.”
Ollennu has a background in real estate, having built a successful business renting high-end, short-let apartments in Accra. He decided to diversify and, partnering with M. Barbisotti & Sons, one of Ghana’s leading construction companies, was inspired to develop this boutique hotel – one of the very first in Ghana’s capital city.
La Villa Hotel is located in the Osu district of this vibrant city, close to the commercial heart of Accra. With its 22 rooms (soon to be expanded to 32) the building was once Accra’s stately Russian embassy. It offers en-suite rooms, each with its own mini-bar, a 32″ flat screen TV, writing desk, phone with IDD facility, and free wireless internet access throughout the building. Guests also enjoy exclusive access to a private swimming pool surrounded by a 300sq m terrace and the hotel’s intimate poolside restaurant and bar, The Soprano, which has rapidly gained an enviable reputation.
In addition to these attractions there is the intimate nature of the hotel, an intimacy that is perhaps the definition of a boutique hotel. Such hotels are rapidly gaining popularity worldwide. Guests are increasingly finding the atmosphere of the ubiquitous international chain hotels both sterile and boring, and opting to stay at the smaller, boutique hotels. These offer guests a much more focused, individual service as well as featuring sophisticated interior decoration themes.
In La Villa’s case, it is the wonderful arts and crafts of Ghana that inspired the approach to the hotel’s décor. Wherever possible, Ollennu utilised artisans working with local materials – especially making use of the fine tropical woods which Ghana is renowned for. The finished product is tasteful, relaxed and luxurious.
Ollennu has ensured that top-class entertainment is provided for his guests and has an open-air giant screen to show movies. He also regularly puts on recitals and poetry readings, as well as exhibiting paintings and sculptures. It makes for a truly special hotel experience and perhaps goes some way to explain why La Villa is almost always fully booked weeks in advance.
However, a hotel is only as good as its staff and management, and here Ollennu has inculcated a very special approach to guest relations. “We continue to train our staff on an ongoing daily and weekly basis,” he told New African. “All 54 are exceptional, and they are all Ghanaian – except one lady, our food and beverage manager, who is from the Netherlands. I am extremely proud of them. What I am trying to ensure is that they build a personal relationship with guests, but remain discreet. For example, remembering whether they enjoy pepper or not! And they are always on hand when needed, but never intrude on a guest’s privacy.”
When asked about the challenges he faces, Ollennu identifies just how difficult it is to raise finance for projects such as his. “Access to credit is difficult and expensive in Ghana,“ he says, “but my real estate business has underpinned the hotel’s development. I have proved that the boutique hotel concept can work in Ghana, and I am looking forward to greeting many more guests in the months and years to come.”