African Engineers: Sosthenes Buatsi

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Sosthenes Buatsi was the first person to be appointed a Research Fellow in the new Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC) of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana, when it opened in 1972. In August 1980, Sosthenes Buatsi became the first Manager of an Intermediate Technology Transfer Unit (ITTU) when the pilot ITTU began operating in Suame Magazine. Under his stewardship, until September 1986 when he was appointed the first Ghanaian Director of the TCC, the Suame ITTU achieved a level of performance in technology transfer that has never been surpassed. Yet Sosthenes Buatsi still found time to establish his own private enterprise, Ayigya Metal Products Ltd, which was copied a hundred times and inspired an industry employing five thousand workers.

Before he joined the TCC in August 1972, Sosthenes Buatsi had spent eighteen months gaining post-graduate work experience in Switzerland. A graduate of KNUST’s College of Art with a BSc degree in metal projects design, Sosthenes was always a hands-on person with practical as well as designing skills. To help him meet the challenge of managing the ITTU, Sosthenes was given leave to attend a one-year MSc course in industrial management in the university’s newly formed Department of Economics and Industrial Management.

When he moved to Suame Magazine to manage the ITTU, Sosthenes faced a unique challenge. The aim of the ITTU was to demonstrate new manufacturing technologies and the manufacture of new products and invite self-employed artisans to come for training, leading to the transfer of the activity to private workshops. At the same time the ITTU needed to sell the products of its workshops, both in order to balance its books and to demonstrate the viability of the new products in the local market. However, when private workshops took over an innovation from the ITTU, there was always the danger of the ITTU being accused of competing with its own protégés. To avoid this, the ITTU needed to move onto new activities as soon as the market could be supplied by the private sector. Managing the ITTU demanded an outward focus on the needs of client artisans and a high degree of sensitivity and flexibility.

Few people have achieved this combination of skills as well as Sosthenes Buatsi. Most of his successors who have tried and failed have done so because their focus was on generating income for the ITTU workshops rather than on sub-contracting orders to clients as soon as the clients acquired the means to produce the goods. Finding enough work to keep the ITTU workshops busy was the responsibility of the Chief Technician and Sosthenes Buatsi was greatly assisted in this area by Edward Opare and the Principal Technician in charge of the Plant Construction Section, Daniel Cheku. With this powerful team the Suame ITTU performed its full function in technology transfer and balanced its books through years of political upheaval, electricity power cuts and three-day-working.

After taking over in September 1986, Sosthenes Buatsi’s service as Director of the TCC was marked by the introduction of a number of new technologies including the manufacture of bicycle trailers and hand carts, concrete roofing tiles and refractory ceramic crucibles for metal casting. He also initiated an expansion of the TCCs agricultural projects to include animal husbandry in association with minimum-tillage crop production and the formulation of locally-produced feed for fish farming. His crowning achievement was to win and successfully execute a contract to manage a three-year rural industrial development project in Malawi funded by the World Bank. This project involved Sosthenes Buatsi spending many months in commuting to Malawi, and experts from the TCC and KNUST made numerous visits over the three year period, with several spending up to six months on their mission. By this effort, about twelve rural industry technologies developed and/or adapted in Kumasi were transferred to Malawi, thousands of kilometres to the south.

When he returned from Switzerland in 1972, Sosthenes Buatsi brought with him a metal spinning lathe. The machine was used sporadically in the TCC’s campus workshop and it was not until the late 1980s that Sosthenes decided to use it in a small family business. At first, progress was slow due to shortages of raw material: non-ferrous metal sheets, but things got better when Aluworks Ltd began producing aluminium sheets in Tema and selling them on local markets. Sosthenes moved his business to Tema to be nearer the source of raw material and persuaded his brother, Robert, then an officer of the GRATIS Project in Tema, to supervise the work. Ayigya Metal Products Ltd, producing aluminium pots, pans and bowls of great variety and attractive design, and selling at prices within the reach of most people, revealed a market of enormous potential.

Many local traders and artisans sought to set up metal spinning enterprises but the spinning lathes were not available. The Tema ITTU took up the matter, and with the full cooperation of the Buatsi brothers, Kofi Asiamah’s Redeemer Workshop in Tema was helped to produce replicas of the Swiss machine. Within a decade the industry in Tema encompassed more than one hundred small enterprises employing an estimated five thousand workers.

By this time Sosthenes Buastsi was retired but retained by the TCC as a consultant. Denying himself the spoils of an easy life overseas, Sosthenes Buatsi spent the whole of his working career, and well into retirement, in the service of Ghana and of Africa. He set an example that his contemporaries may admire, and his successors should take as a role model.


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