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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006, 22:50 GMT
Ghana's growing optimism
By Martin Plaut
Africa analyst, BBC World Service, Ghana

Julian Kwofie
Julie has added Barclays loans to her portfolio
Ghana - once one of Africa's basket-cases - is now growing nicely.

It has clocked up economic expansion of around 6% a year, near the top of the African growth league.

But behind these bland figures are a raft of initiatives by Ghana's business community.

The country is still poor, but there is an energy and drive that is hard to avoid.

Traditional savings system extended

Among the new ideas now being tested is a project that builds on a traditional Ghanaian system of saving.

The "Susu collectors" tour the markets of the capital, Accra, and other cities, collecting money from their clients.

At the end of the month the clients will receive it all back, with the Susu collector retaining just one day's savings.

Julie Kwofie is a typical collector, visiting the stalls-holders every day with a large bag of money slung over her shoulder.

Since almost everyone saves with her, no-one thinks of trying to steal the money she holds for them all.

But now she has one extra item to offer: loans from Barclays bank.

To try to reach beyond their normal client base, Barclays has teamed up with 173 Susu collectors to offer access to the banking system.

This allows the collectors to bank their daily savings and to provide micro-loans to the stall-holders.

Ken Ofori-Atta
Ken returned from New York to make it big in Ghana

These are then repaid to the collectors, who write the transactions on individual cards they carry.

Since each Susu collector has some 600 clients, these tiny sums mount up.

The entire Susu collector system, representing about 4,000 collectors, is estimated to be worth $140m a year.

And Ms Kwofie is delighted.

"My clients are very pleased. Before they could not get loans. Now I can provide them."

Coming home

Increasingly Ghanaians, who were driven abroad during the severe austerity of the 1970's, are coming home.

They bring skills and finances with them.

Among them is Ken Ofori-Atta, who gave up a position with Salomon Brothers in New York to come home.

"I came on a visit, and felt there was something missing in my life," he says.

"I left the glitz of New York and came home."

The result has been dramatic.

After convincing just 5 investors to join a savings club in 1996, Ken Ofori-Atta has grown the business so that it today attracts 40,000 investors from Ghana and around the world.

The miniscule savings of ten years ago has grown into a fully fledged mutual fund, with holdings of $35m.

Databank, the bank which runs the fund, aims to expand across West Africa.

Juicy growth

Blue Skies, located on the outskirts of Accra, which supplies fresh and cut pineapples to the European market, employs 1,000 people and works in shifts around the clock.

Pineapple harvest
Much of Ghana's pineapple harvest is sent to Europe

It works with 135 farmers, who together supply the company with enough product to fly 100 tonnes of fresh fruit to the UK every week, at the height of the season.

When it started in 1998 the company only provided pineapples.

Today it does full fruit salads, importing some of its mango from Brazil and its pomegranate from Egypt.

The company works to European standards of hygiene and has to cope with a host of regulations.

Some are imposed by countries, but the most difficult ones come from the supermarkets, who have an endless round of inspections on their suppliers.

Can it be sustained?

Ghana has come a long way in a relatively short time.

Its democratic system and outspoken press have been a major plus.

But it still has a long way to go.

Economists estimate that the country has regained the real income per person it enjoyed at independence, in 1957.

Then it was on a par with South Korea.

Now the Koreans are 35 times richer than their Ghanaian counterparts.

Ghana has to cope with the problems thrown up by its troublesome neighbours.

Ivory Coast, next door, is divided and torn by civil strife. Liberia is just emerging from years of conflict.

Neighbouring Togo had its fair share of troubles in 2005. None of this increases investor confidence.

Nor did President John Kufuor recent accusation that his predecessor Jerry Rawlings was plotting to overthrow his administration.

But Ghana's businessmen and women seem to take this all in their stride.

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