1. Tech

African Engineers: Frank Awuah

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Frank Awuah spent a number of years in the United Kingdom working for major engineering companies including British Rail and London Transport, where he gained much skill and experience in what he called engine repair machining. On returning to Ghana in the late 1970s he decided to set up his own small enterprise in Suame Magazine, Kumasi, but he struggled to get started because even though he had sufficient funds the machine tools that he needed were not available locally. His fortunes changed, however, when he contacted the Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC) of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

In 1979 the TCC received funding from the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) of London to import good used machine tools to support the establishment of four small engineering enterprises. Two of these enterprises were leased workshop accommodation at the Suame Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU) when operations began in August 1980. Frank Awuah observed this development and came to the TCC to see if he could be helped in a similar way. He too was provided with workshop space at the Suame ITTU where he started working with a small cylinder re-boring machine, but he was forced to wait until the next grant of foreign exchange became available to the TCC to finance the importation of the other necessary machine tools.

Frank Awuah called his company Crafton Engineering Services Ltd. He had a plan to establish the repair of Volkswagon Beetle air-cooled engines, and for this he required a large centre lathe. His patience was rewarded when the TCC allocated to him the largest lathe in its importation programme: a Colchester Mascot with a long length bed. He was also provided with a universal milling machine and ancillary equipment. Frank Awuah was then in a position to introduce some engine repair services that had not previously been available in Suame Magazine. These included not only the planned replacement of Volkswagon crankcase main bearing seatings but also the replacement of burned-out exhaust valve seatings and the manufacture of piston rings.

In the early 1980s, Ghana was very short of foreign exchange and even international companies operating in the country found it difficult to import the materials and spare parts they needed to continue in business. The French company, L’Air Liquide, operated liquid gas and acetylene plants in Kumasi and Tema but its production was threatened when its gas compressors needed replacement piston rings. By supplying the parts locally, Frank Awuah was able to help maintain essential compressed gas supplies through this critical period. Like Stephen Okunor with his gearwheels, Frank Awuah, through the quality of his work, was able to pioneer a link between grassroots engineering and international corporations.

When in 1987 Dr Francis Acquah, Secretary of State for Industry, Science and Technology, established the GRATIS Project to set up ITTUs in all of Ghana’s ten regions, he was anxious that the Board of Directors should include some representatives of the informal sector. Frank Awuah was selected to represent the artisans of Suame Magazine and Ashanti Region. His wise counsel helped to keep the project focused on the needs of the grassroots clients served by the ITTUs in every region. He left the GRATIS Board only when its function was changed with the creation of the permanent GRATIS Foundation in the late 1990s.

In his workshop at the Suame ITTU, Frank Awuah was a neighbour of Stephen Okunor. The extent to which each skilled technician inspired the other may never be known. However, what is certain is that these two exemplars played a major role in expanding the auto repair services of Suame Magazine at a time when such self-reliance was desperately needed.

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