Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Saturday, 24 April 2010 12:22 UK

The intent to invent in Ghana

The Kristo Asafo, or Christ Reformed Church, in Ghana, founded by Apostle Asafo in 1971, is renowned for its investment in agriculture, manufacturing and industry. Neil McCarthy went to meet the Apostle, and discovered a man obsessed by gadgetry and innovation.

Apostle Asafo
Apostle Asafo has received a state honour in Ghana

Apostle Asafo's technology centre lies about two hours west of the Ghana's capital Accra, along the coast road.

To get there I took an inconspicuous turn off, signposted The Kristo Asafo Church. Alongside the name there was a mission statement which translates: "Learn how to do it".

I trundled down a dirt road, passing a crater where a college was apparently going to be built, a lonely crane and a little yellow-winged aeroplane.

It is one of the Apostle's prototypes and is yet to take to the skies.

Elite gathering

Pulling up at a large low-roofed building, I could see dozens of people milling around, trying to hear what was going on inside.

Man in workshop
I leave my door open to train young people in apprenticeships
Apostle Asafo

I was ushered into the throng, which seemed to be a gathering of elders wearing gold chains down to the waist and even thicker gold rings.

They were holding staffs and a regal looking man was sitting down with a crown of golden cloth, attended by a parasol bearer.

All were in fine wax-print traditional robes - worn over one shoulder - and all had come to see one man, the Apostle.

He sat on a sofa opposite them, smiling benignly, light-skinned, with a relaxed haircut and sporting a set of white pyjamas with a teddy bear print.

The Apostle was holding court and the elders, who including a local tribal leader he called the local king, were listening to his plans for the youth.

"Our spirits have been asleep for too long," he was saying. "They need to wake up and help the motherland. I leave my door open to train young people in apprenticeships so that they can do something for their country. If they are hungry and I give them fish, then that's a meal. But I want to teach them how to fish."

Exciting innovations

A horn blower signalled the royal party's departure and excited muttering could be heard as they filed out to their cars.

Woman working on a circuit board
It seemed to me like James Bond stuff

The Apostle Asafo then pointed me towards his workshops where young men and women in blue overalls were busily engaged with everything from the soldering of circuit boards to the pouring of molten metal.

In his experimental lab I was asked to clap at a curtain and it mysteriously drew closed.

I clapped twice and it opened.

He told me to knock on a wooden door. It spoke to me in Twi, the local language, telling me the Apostle was "in" and to "come on through".

The door swung open by itself.

He would have been watching me, he said, on his homemade CCTV and would electronically instruct the door to do his bidding depending on whether the visitor was welcome or not.

'James Bond stuff'

I was asked to sit on a toilet and whistle. The toilet flushed.

My mission is to bring the African to the light
Apostle Asafo

I could see that one having drawbacks... but there was not much time to ponder.

His young disciples were excitedly showing me yet more of his innovations.

A TV which started when you blew on it, computer units made entirely of wood, a fully functioning stretch limousine equipped with an on-board entertainment system and "bling" interior.

The Apostle was delighted. It seemed to me like James Bond stuff. Q would have been quite at home here regaling 007 with his latest spy gadgetry.

"It is not only the whites who can do these things," he said. "My mission is to bring the African to the light."

Hunger for learning

"But these ideas of yours," I suggested to the Apostle, "they are not exactly practical, are they? What about those talking toilets? Surely the need here in Ghana is for more basic sanitation?"

Man working on Apostle Asafo's limosine
Technology is an extension of creativity... Noah saw that when he built the ark
Apostle Asafo

And what about the limousine? Ghanaian streets make for a bumpy ride at the best of times given all the potholes. "Why don't you make a simple vehicle which ordinary Ghanaians can afford rather than a stretch limo?"

His answer was not the one I was expecting. "This is a luxurious car," he told me, "so people will see I'm a real African man from Ghana!"

"But why make TVs that start when you blow them?"

"I do it because I can," he said. "I go to bed and dream about the innovation then write it down. My workers then make it. They are learning the skills they can use somewhere else."

And judging by the enthusiasm of the young workers - as they hungrily learn and apply electronics, mechanics and physics - it seems to be working.

'Innovative ethos'

There was an optimistic zeal about the place and although they were members of the 20,000-strong Kristo Asafo church, there was no obligation for them to stay there once they had learned their trade.

They all said they were gaining experience that they would not be able to get elsewhere.

I was wondering where religion figured within all this innovative ethos.

"It goes back to the beginning," said the Apostle. "Technology is an extension of creativity. Noah saw that when he built the ark. He was the first architect."

Ghana may be a relatively stable place but it has no manufacturing industry to speak of.

The Apostle Asafo feels he can begin to change all that with a bit of help from his government and some from up above.

Floating his own innovations into the marketplace he sees as a God-given dream. And all the better that they bear the label: Made in Ghana.

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SEE ALSO
Country profile: Ghana
19 Apr 11 |  Country profiles


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