Over the last five years, African cities such as Kigali, Kinshasa, Nairobi and Accra have launched ambitious projects in a move to turn them into gateways for investors and showpieces for businessmen close to the corridors of power.
Many of these projects are spearheaded by local politicians and business associates of ruling governments on the continent which in the end never see the light of day or are fraught with many challenges, eventually derailing them.
One of such projects is Ghana’s ‘Hope City project’, spearheaded by Roland Agambire, a business mogul close to the President, John Dramani Mahama.
In 2013, President Mahama launched the project to build a $10 billion IT hub in Dunkunaa, Accra, within three years.
On its website, RLG Communications says the Hope City would be made up of six towers, including a 75-floor, 270m-tall (885ft) building, the highest in Africa.
Till now, the only memorable part of the whole Hope City Project is its rather opulent launch. RLG spent several hundred thousands of dollars on a launch that brought together some of Africa’s most astute and popular business men, politicians and the crème de la crème of Ghana’s society. The extravagance convinced many onlookers that the Hope City Project may just be reality, but the deserted site three years on breaks many hearts.
The project was relocated to Prampram, 35 miles away from Ghana’s industrial city, Tema. A contractor associated with the project who did not want to be identified told Pulse Ghana the Dunkunaa site was not large enough to contain the project.
At Prampram, the site is nothing more than empty land, covered with shrubs, and neem trees, far larger than the original land site for the project.
There is no sign of construction work going on three years after the launch.
When Pulse Ghana visited the Prampram Municipal Assembly, the public notice board had a list of multi-million funded projects on it excluding the Hope City Project.
The engineering department of the Assembly said they are unaware of the project, raising further doubt about it.
Key Ministries unaware
The problems associated with the project have grown so loud that officials at the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations and the Ministry of Communications do not have any idea about the status of the project or pretend not to.
The Ministry of Labour denied any association with the project. Its Deputy Communications director, who appeared unaware of the project, explained that his ministry only comes in when there is labour unrest or recruitment.
The policy planning directorate of the Ministry of Communications said such a project was not on their list of projects and that the ministry was not associated in any way with the project.
It is important to note that before the ministry was merged with the Ministry of Information, it had vested interest in the IT and telecom sector.
Government not associated with the project
Deputy communications minister, Felix Ofosu Kwakye, also denied government’s involvement in the project when he was contacted by Pulse Ghana.
He expressed surprise as to why government was being associated with it, saying it was “a private initiative.”
“I am surprised you are asking this”.
“The government had nothing to do with it apart from the fact that the president was invited to launch the project, that is all. It is a private initiative,” he noted.
He added that government cannot give explanations as to why the project was moved to Prampram.
But, how many people are honestly surprised about the failure of the Hope City Project? I dare say not much. Not much because Africans are, by now, used to huge projects akin to Hope City not seeing the light of day. This is not the first project of this magnitude to have failed in Africa and will certainly not be the last.
The fantasy projects
The Kenya government in January in 2013 unveiled plans to build an "Africa's Silicon Savannah" at the cost of $14.5bn within 20 years.
Dubbed Konza Technology City, the project is expected to create more than 200,000 jobs by 2030.
Kigali also launched an ambitious urban development plan to transform itself into the "center of urban excellence in Africa."
And in Eko Atlantic, Nigeria, a similar bold and radical plan to build a multi-billion dollar residential and business development was launched and is expected to provide fashionable rooms for 250,000 people and employment openings for a further 150,000.
Professor Vanessa Watson of the University of Cape Town warned in a paper published by the International Institute for Environment and Development that the ‘Hope City project’ could become a fantasy project similar to projects launched on the continent which never came into fruition.
Titled, “African urban fantasies: dreams or nightmares?”, Watson cast doubt as to whether this project will meet the needs of residents or not.
She writes that the most likely outcome of “these fantasy plans is a steady worsening of the marginalization and inequalities that already beset these cities.”
According to her, pronouncement by investment analysts that Africa is economically the fastest-growing region in the world, that by 2035 it will have a larger workforce than India or China, and that it is set to urbanize faster than these two regions, have no doubt excited the interest of the international property development sector, which can anticipate a steadily rising demand for urban projects and infrastructure.
“However, these new urban visions and development plans appear to disregard the fact that at the moment, the bulk of the population in sub-Saharan Africa cities is extremely poor and living in informal settlements,” she writes.
“Some of these settlements are on well-located urban land that is also attractive to property developers. Attempts to implement these fantasy plans within existing cities will (and is already) having major exclusionary effects on vulnerable low-income groups through evictions and relocations,” she explained.
Watson adds that livelihoods are threatened by these projects. “What seems most likely is that the majority of urban populations will find themselves further disadvantaged and marginalised," writes Watson. "It is access to land by the urban poor (as well as those on the urban periphery and beyond) that is most directly threatened by these processes, and access to land in turn determines to urban services, to livelihoods and citizenship."
Company in distress
The story of the rise of RLG in Ghana is one that few in Ghana can mirror. It is that of the indigenous tech start up that flew too high like the mythology of Daedalus and his doomed son, Icarus.
RLG became a household name in the lead up to the 2012 elections. The company won a government contract to supply laptops to secondary and tertiary schools. Close to one million laptops were distributed.
After the election, the company was accused of multiple acts of corruption.
The company executed lavish media adverts of its electronic products. It also had its products mounted at various ‘bus stops’ in the capital, Accra, showing signs of a thriving company.
Three years after the elections, many retail customers of the company said they have“stopped doing business” with RLG.
One of such retailer is Godwin, who said he is no more interested in doing business with RLG.
“I’m no longer with RLG. I was a retailer. I can’t remember the last time i did business with them.”
The company has also withdrawn most of its media ads, and its products are hardly seen, fueling speculations of a company in distress.
Residents of Dunkunaa who were hopeful of getting a job in the construction of the project expressed their disappointment.
Prince Twum, 32, said he has been involved in many building projects in the area and was hopeful of being employed as a mason but he later realized the project was not going to come on to his disappointment.
According to him, he was present at the launch of the project, adding that “I was very excited about the project,” he continued, “It would’ve brought many jobs to us here.”
Nicholas Agbomazo, a former Assemblyman for the area, however said he was not worried about the relocation of the project.
According to him, the ‘Hope City’ would have compounded the human traffic situation in the community.
He said: “When such a project is coming to your community, naturally you will be excited. At least some of the youths would have had jobs to do. But the project going to Prampram would also open that area and people will stop coming to Accra to look for job. They will also move to Prampram area and that place would be open for economic activities.”
Several attempts to get officials of RLG to comment on the story were unsuccessful.
The Hope City projects, intended to spearhead Ghana’s ICT revolution, appears dead. Some 50,000 jobs were expected to be created from this audacious project but by twist of fate, all the pomp and pageantry, Hope City, may never ever materialise. It will continue to be a "Hope" City.