Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 16:43 UK

From Wall Street to Accra

By Mark Broad
Economics producer, BBC News, Accra, Ghana

Nnaana Adjei
When I came back on vacation I found that I could get everything I bought regularly in New York just as easily here in Accra
Nnaana Adjei

Last year Nnaana Adjei, 23, was working for a major investment bank on Wall Street.

Now she's selling washing powder around the streets of Accra from a van owned by her father.

Having been to college and worked in the US, Ms Adjei has rejected the traditional path of many young, ambitious Africans and returned to work at home.

Ms Adjei is typical of a new wave of Ghanaians who are returning home from the recession-blighted streets of the West to what they see as a new dawn in their home country.

Shopping malls

At first, the contrast between working in New York and Accra could not be more stark.

Instead of working in a large air conditioned office, Ms Adjei now works from a van that blares out an advert for her company's products on the sweltering streets of Ghana's capital.

"I wanted to come back and share what I have learned and also be part of the exciting things that are happening here," Ms Adjei says.

And with the opening of a huge new shopping mall in the city, full of designer clothes shops, Accra does not seem that different from the US.

"When I came back on vacation I found that I could get everything I bought regularly in New York just as easily here in Accra," she says.

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Hugh Pym looks at the story behind West Africa's largest shopping mall

Record breaking stock market

Ms Adjei's story is typical of a generation of young Africans who have been both pushed by the recession in the developed world and pulled by the potential in the developing world.

Edward Effash, Fidelity Bank
My ambition is to create a world class Ghanaian Bank, run by Ghanain professionals
Edward Effash, Fidelity Bank

Unlike many world economies, Ghana's has held up relatively well, despite the turbulence of the global recession.

The Ghana stock market was up more than 58% last year while the market in London was down 31.3% and the Dow Jones index of leading US shares was down 34%.

The country has also recently found large reserves of offshore oil, reinforcing the conviction of many young Ghanaians that the country is set for strong growth.

Growing banks

"My ambition is to create a world class Ghanaian Bank, run by Ghanaian professionals," says Edward Effah, a sharply dressed banker in the financial district of Accra.

After a long career in the city of London, Mr Effah returned home to start Fidelity bank in 2006.

With its bustling branches and promises to provide a wide range of consumer credit, it could not feel further away from banks in the rest of the world.

The past year has seen a financial crisis that started in the US spread to all parts of the globe.

But Mr Effah believes that the simplicity of the African banking system has insulated it from the full impact of the credit crisis.

"I think that what we can show the rest of the world is that traditional, old fashioned ideas in banking are the best," he says.

Mr Effah is also proud of the fact that banks such as his are actually pioneering new ways for customers to deal with their bank.

Fidelity is introducing technology that will allow its customers to use their mobile phones to check their bank balances and eventually pay for goods.

Bumps in the road

Despite the peaceful recent election and all the enthusiasm for growth in the country, Ghana still has some big economic obstacles to hurdle.

Mother and son
Economic growth could make life easier for Ghana's next generation.

The government is dealing with a fiscal deficit of 14% of GDP and inflation is running at 18%.

The country is also heavily dependent on the amount of money sent back by Ghanaians working abroad.

While the flow of cash back has held up so far, there are fears that unemployment in other parts of the world may harm this vital source of money.

Financiers and farmers

On a rural farm north of the country's second city, Kumasi, a group of British investors are looking at the potential for growth in the country.

The trip has been organised by the charity Concern Universal and is being led by Richard Harvey, the former chief executive of insurance company, Aviva.

In the sweltering heat, they are learning how cocoa farmers have benefitted from foreign investment in the form of technical and financial support.

It seems a long way from the shopping malls and Mercedes Benz dealerships of Accra and demonstrates the disparity in wealth in different parts of the country.

According to MaDuff Phiri, the head of Concern Universal in Ghana, it is essential that foreign support gets to all part of the country.

"Great progress has been made here, especially in the south of the country," he says. "But there are still big pockets of poverty in the North and so there's much work still to be done."

Potential to tap

As the group of UK investors head off in their convoy of mud-splattered 4x4s, they leave with a feeling that there is a bright future ahead for Ghana.

"What's struck me about Ghana is the entrepreneurial approach of people here," says Caroline Silver, vice chairman of investment banking at Merrill Lynch Bank of America.

"And having escaped the worst of the credit crunch, I think there's a real opportunity for the country."

And while foreign aid may still be necessary to keep many parts of the country functioning, some investors believe that countries such as Ghana could eventually contribute strongly to world growth.

"The economies of Asia, the Middle East and Africa will come out of the recession faster than the rest of the world," says John Paynter, a non-executive director at Standard Chartered bank.

"Therefore I think it's crucial that people start concentrating on countries like Ghana as conditions improve."

"Proud to be part of it"

Back at the mall, the unloading of the huge sacks of washing powder is coming to an end and Ms Adjei is reflecting on her decision to move back.

"I thought that it was the right time to come back and be part of the success of Ghana," she says.

It's exactly this sort of belief and enthusiasm that gives people such belief about the future of Ghana.

You can hear more about Ghana this evening on Radio 4's PM programme between 5pm - 6pm, Friday 15 May.



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