British multi-millionaire property developer Azad Cola who owns the famous Westbury Hotel and Ghanaian serial entrepreneur Nana Bediako recently established Capital Nine Zero (CNZ), an investment company that is developing Petronia City – a 2000-acre city development project that aims to provide the first fully integrated business hub for West Africa’s Oil, Gas and Mining industries. The project, which is hosted by Beahun and Yaabew communities in the Ahanta West District of the western region of Ghana, sits approximately 8 kilometres from Takoradi.
Petronia City was created primarily to address the infrastructure gap in the Western Region following the 2007 oil discovery and subsequent increase in social and economic activity in the region. Petronia City aims to cater to the needs of the oil and gas, mining, financial and government sectors and will provide a hub from which companies can expand into the sub-region and beyond.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Nana Bediako and Azad Cola to speak about the geo-commercial precedent set with the launch of the Industrial Park and Free Trade Zone known as Petronia City in Ghana.
What were the Capital Nine Zero (CNZ) motivations behind founding Petronia City and building this unprecedented investment hub in Africa?
Nana Bediako: This was a labor of love, a project nine years in the making, one accomplished with the consent of over sixty-five families, twelve chiefs and three sub-division chiefs. These are men and women I invested time and energies in meeting with on a regular basis to ensure they were aware of and involved in the three-staged process to turn acres upon acres of African land in to an industrial free trade zone and investment community, a Silicon Valley-esque energy city and a digital hub, with residential and commercial applications that we are only now in the process of fully exploring.
This near-decade needed not just vision but local knowledge; the ability to assuage concerns as to truly owning the land, but doing so in a way that was empowering rather than more of the same, that is, one-dimensional disillusionment.
We came together from two continents, respectively serving in our capacities as an economist and a visionary. We did so because we believe that we are working within one of the richest regions on the continent of Africa, strategically located to be a cross-border, intra-trade thruway for the ECOWAS.
As Steve Jobs once said, “..the people who think they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones who usually do”.
Azad Cola: We need to build a platform of sustainable industrial development, producing and manufacturing to an international standard that will bring investment, training and a number of additional socio-economic benefits to the local and wider communities.
The cost of importing the required materials and bringing the right professional expertise is currently a huge barrier to the regions’ public and private sectors ability to fund the required investment into infrastructure and development.
By providing the capability to produce within, to not export for the purposes of refining or further manufacturing, but to turn the supply chain around and have easy access to a huge marketplace, was an opportunity which spoke for itself. However, I needed to understand local dynamics; I needed a partner with not just the vision, but the know-how.
This platform and free zone enclave is going to expedite the supply chain in a sustainable environment to meet growing market demand, ECOWAS and Pan-African. We can bring true autonomy to this part of the continent, one development at a time.
What have been the greatest challenges in securing the Free Trade Zone and launching it for investment?
AC: Without a doubt, it was in securing the land. I witnessed Nana in his own professional and personal sacrifice, taking hundreds of trips in and around Ghana to ensure all landholders and stakeholders were involved in this developmental process. I recognized that securing the land was in short, nothing less than to be a Herculean effort.
NB: A challenge is no doubt that Africa remains disillusioned as it pertains to foreign interventions. This has not been a misconception. One “comes in, extracts, then goes,” so to speak. I’m here, my partner, Azad is here, not just for our own legacies, but that of the continent. And we are here to stay.
Therefore, we’ve created our own city, our own bastion of opportunity and not just for the international community, of whom we welcome involvement, but as a proponent of job creation in and beyond country borders for the communities in which we proudly operate.
Who are the primary stakeholders involved with this project and how are you specifically ensuring local communities will benefit?
NB: We are not limiting industrial development and diversification opportunities; each phase of Petronia’s development caters to a different type of stakeholder, each with their own demand and own home base. We will diversify and offer opportunity for lasting, sustainable and mutually-beneficial development for as long as essentially needed.
It’s important to note that we commend our partners in political governance who have supported us along the way, as they so too see the opportunities presented by projects that are transparent, proudly African, yet rooted in leveraging complimentary strengths to accomplish what was once deemed impossible.
AC: Although the local communities will clearly be the primary stakeholders and beneficiaries due to the positive impact this investment generates for the local economy, the government and the entire country will all have a clear and direct interest. The economic benefits are undeniable. This platform will create an environment where the entire value-added chain can be kept in the country, reducing imports, increasing exports, creating a highly skilled workforce by training and empowering Ghanaians with better paid jobs and transferable skills.
We are creating a blueprint for emerging market prosperity.
Is Africa truly the last frontier of the industrial revolution?
AC: This is a fact. There are very few countries and very few examples in Sub Saharan Africa where producers, manufacturers and distributors neighbor. There has been a longstanding cycle of dependency which this industrial platform will break by creating a replicable template for sustainable development.
NB: If there is any chance for the world to come together to create lasting change, it is here in Africa. We are not asking for charity. We are not suggesting this is a work in progress. We are letting the world know that change is on the way; it’s ‘manifest destiny’, so to speak, as has been inevitable and as proponents of that change, we welcome informing your readers, keeping them abreast of our breaking a longstanding oligarchy of dependency on the continent of Africa that will provide resource and opportunity for generations to come around the world.