July 27, 2016
A pastor is perhaps an unlikely candidate to become Ghana’s first car manufacturer.
But that’s what Kwadwo Safo, founder of the Christ Reformed Church, and who is known locally as the “Star of Africa”, has done.
And the inventor has become something of a legend in Ghana.
Safo started his family business, Kantanka, 20 years ago, making electrical devices from TVs and sound systems to musical instruments and sewing machines in a country with virtually no history of manufacturing.
As a child he’d had a knack for building things, and before becoming a pastor he’d trained as a welder.
“(My father) had ambition and foresight. He thought of everything in preparation of Kantanka,” says Safo’s son, Kwadwo Safo Jr.
Today, Kantanka Group is split into an electronics division and a car manufacturing company — Ghana’s first car-maker.
Made in Ghana
The “made in Ghana” cars were modeled for tough local conditions — and, to prove it, the Ghanaian police test drove them.
Safo Jr, 30, says he has learned a lot from his father.
“We are expanding our current production line to include a lower-end model which we will launch before the end of the year,” he says.
“We have made quite significant sales, including a very important one to the office of the president.”
Rise above the sky — and go with the flow of change
Safo Jr. didn’t always plan to be in the car business.
After studying in London, in 2006 he went to earn his pilot’s license in the United States. In 2009, he returned to Ghana and earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration before joining the family business.
As for being a pilot?
“The dream changed, it’s been put on hold,” he said.
Safo Jr. says operating in Ghana isn’t without difficulties: at times there are power cuts and getting fuel needed for back-up generators can be hard.
Believe in yourself
One of the biggest challenges is getting customers to believe in “made in Ghana”.
“People think the doors will come off or the tires will blow off or something,” he says.
Though the company has had positive reviews, Kantanka is still a relatively small operator competing with established foreign rivals.
The manufacturer can produce 150 cars a month, and with high production costs at home, the cheapest of its three models costs about $20,000.
“We need to be able to produce at a more affordable rate. There are high import charges in Ghana,” he says.
But Safo Jr. is confident that Kantanka will grow.
“We have a plan to build sports cars, buses and really expand in Africa with more models,” says Safo Jr, from his headquarters just outside the capital of Accra.
“Once you are determined and you want to do it, it’s not hard,” he says.