On 4th March 2013, with much fanfare, President Mahama cut the sod for the commencement of the project known as “Hope City”. Hope City was to feature a cluster of buildings and facilities to serve as an ICT Park.
The city was to have over 50,000 workers, all working in the field of information and communications technology who would be engaged in the design and manufacturing of software and hardware for local consumption and export. The city was to cost $10 billion and be a beacon to the rest of the African continent. Ghana’s own Silicon Valley.
Three years later and no work has began on the project. With a downturn in the economy, relocation of the project, and erratic power supply popularly known as “dumsor”, work has yet begin on the construction of Hope City. RLG Communications, the Ghanaian tech company which was supposed to be spearheading the project was itself caught up in various scandals.
At this point, it’s basically safe to say that Hope City is dead. There is no hope.
So what happened? Why did it fail?
Over-ambitition? poor planning? Or both?
Big Dreams and Bureaucrats
Governments over the past few years for failed to exploit the potential of the tech sector in Ghana. Most of these tech projects initiated by government are plagued by what I call “too many chefs in the kitchen” syndrome. That’s what happens when too many bureaucrats get involved in something that they don’t fully understand.
Thankfully, there have been Tech Incubators like MEST who have help launched more start ups in Ghana and many have been successful. Maybe the Government can take a cue from an organization like that.
But that’s with tech startups. What about grand projects like Hope City? Was it doomed from the start?
One could say Hope City was simply a project of gentrification which is steadily creeping into the city. Urban high rise buildings are sprouting up everywhere and the average Ghanaian can barely afford them. Malls keep coming up but people are not really shopping in most of the stores because they can’t afford the prices.
One might ask whether Hope City was just going to be one of those projects which would benefit the elite in the tech market. Would it cater to young Ghanaian developers and tech people and would be for outside tech companies to set up show and expand your global reach. If people can’t afford the high price of these buildings, could the average developer and tech person realistically be in “Hope City”?
It seems like bureaucrats aren’t living in the real world. Hope City may have looked good on paper, but on the ground, not everything is at it seems. When you toss in the fact that RLG had been embroiled in scandals including the Youth Entrepreneur Act and SADA, you wonder why the government took part in this project in the first place. The more you speculate, the more conspiracy theories you start to make up.
Having a grand vision to build a gigantic tech hub was not the problem. In my opinion, lack of proper planning, hubris and foresight ultimately doomed Hope City. Put me in as one of skeptics when the Hope City project was launched. I was hoping it could come to fruition but the track record of government delivering on big promises did not inspire enough confidence to believe in the project.
It looks like I was proven right.
As more tech startups rise up and tech spaces like MEST, iSpace and Impact Hub continue to pop up, maybe the government needs to throw money in developing more Tech Hubs and grooming tech entrepreneurs.
Government doesn’t need to build a Hope City. It needs to take care of the individuals in tech at the moment. Help give out more grants, scholarships and also helping to build small tech hubs to inspire the average Ghanaian IT person.
Hope City was a mirage. But it doesn’t mean that all hope is lost for the tech space in Ghana.