From the reactions I read on social media, there was no doubt that many Ghanaians were sceptical, if not cynical, about the news that local auto manufacturer, Kantanka Automobile Company Limited, was to put three brands of vehicles – the Kantanka Omama pickup, the Kantanka Onantefo 4x4 SUV and the K71 saloon – on the market.
That was not surprising for a people who are contemptuous of their own abilities and capabilities and for a people who admire the best but never ponder for a second how things are created.
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When we were growing in the 60s and maybe earlier, we treated goods manufactured in Japan with similar suspicion and contempt. Those were the days we described with some scorn and disdain vehicles like Datsun (now Nissan), Toyota, Daihatsu and Mazda that were of Japanese make.
Our preferences were for, among others, Bedford, Austin, Peugeot, Opel and, of course, the almighty Mercedes Benz, which came from Britain, France and Germany. American vehicles were not popular in our part of the world not because of quality but simply because there was not much trading between our country and the United States of America. However, a few of the Pontiacs and Chevrolets that entered our country through returnees were highly admired.
The Japanese were not fools. They continued to perfect their vehicles until they became too sophisticated and expensive for our meagre resources. We also realised without thinking of it that those Japanese vehicles we treated with contempt a few decades earlier had taken over the global auto market and pushed most of the American and European carmakers down the ladder and in some cases forced them out of business completely.
After the Japanese came their Korean cousins. I am referring to giant auto firms such as Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Kia and Daewoo from South Korea, which emerged to give stiff competition to the Japanese and further added to the woes of our revered European and American auto firms.
As Korean vehicles also begin to slip out of our reach because of low income, our attention has been turned to the Chinese, who have also made a dramatic and powerful entry into the car industry. Typically of us, we do not respect Chinese vehicles if they are compared to those from Japan and Korea but we have very little choice because they are cheaper and their spare parts are in abundance.
The Chinese, with time, will do what the Japanese and Koreans have done – improve upon their delivery – and then we shall be forced into the arms of other emerging countries that are not sleeping such as India, Pakistan, Brazil, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Bangladesh for cheaper vehicles.
There are many Ghanaians who may be too young to know that there were vehicle assembly plants in Ghana before a so-called revolution came to wipe everything away. There was an assembly plant in Tema producing Bedford and Leyland buses. There were two assembly plants in Accra and Kumasi producing Neoplan buses, to name a few I could remember. We even tried our hands on a small utility vehicle named Boafo.
All these are fading memories of a glorious past. We could have gone beyond those assembly plants and designed and produced our own local vehicles if we had been consistent and focused in our national development agenda without wavering to the whims and caprices of individuals who styled themselves as liberators, redeemers and revolutionaries.
As a country noted for importing everything, from toothpicks to artificial hair we call Brazilian Hair, we should be proud that Kantanka Automobile Company Limited, a subsidiary of Kantanka Group of Companies, has taken the bold initiative to place Ghana on the global automobile market.
Their products may, admittedly, not be the best now and that is not strange. Their parts may be from China or any part of the world, and they will not be the first to assemble components from different parts of the world.
Nobody has tried to dismantle a vehicle and determine where the various components come from. If we had tried, we would have opened our mouths in disbelief. But those conversant with the auto industry will confirm that apart from a few key components, many other parts are sub-contracted to different manufacturers. Kantanka will, therefore, not be the first to do that.
Rather than treating with scorn the arrival of Kantanka vehicles, we should be proud and pray that in the next 10 to 20 years, Ghana will become a net exporter of automobiles. We must also target that in a few years’ time, we shall not be the proud importers of Toyota Land Cruisers, Ford Explorers, the Prados, the Honda Pilots, or any of those top range vehicles which we admire so much for our top political office holders and corporate executives. We shall be driving in what we can call our own.
The government should not see the efforts of Kantanka from afar. This is the time to prove that we truly care for indigenous entrepreneurs and to prove our determination that we want to escape from excessive importation and advertise our country on the global market with our own products.
Let us all support and pray for the Kantanka initiative to make Ghana proud.
NB: This column will take a short break.