In the cities of Ghana, the cheapest and most widely used goods transport service is provided by teams of boys pushing and pulling flat-topped market trolleys constructed with four motor car wheels. In Kumasi, the trolleys are made by artisans, steel fabricators and carpenters, who work in Suame Magazine, Ghana’s largest informal industrial area. In the novel ‘The Colonial Gentleman’s Son,’ Kwame Mainu graduates from being a trolley puller to a manufacturer. What follows is a description of how he sold his first trolley in Kejetia market, Kumasi, claimed to be the biggest market in West Africa.
Few people could be prepared in advance for the impact of Kejetia market and Kwame was no exception. What Suame was for repair and manufacturing, Kejetia was for trading. However, whereas Suame was muddled and irregular Kejetia was ordered and regular. Long lines of identical market stalls ran for hundreds of metres in straight lines or gentle curves up the hillside. Between the rows of stalls were pathways thronged with people. Underfoot was beaten earth but, unlike Suame, the surface was reasonably flat and clear of obstructions. Some market trolleys were carrying loads through the market but Kwame realised that during the day this was a slow and difficult process because the pathways were very congested. The main goods transport, he surmised, must be undertaken at night, or early in the morning before the start of business.
Standing near the entrance to the market Kwame wondered what to do next. Should he try to enter the market with his trolley and ply for business or would it be better to go away and come back at a quieter time. People were milling all around and he feared that he would be accused of obstructing the flow of shoppers into the market. Then he heard a voice behind him say “That’s a very fine trolley. Is it for sale?”
Kwame turned to find a short fat man with a shiny bald head smiling up at him. “Why do you think it’s for sale?” asked Kwame. “Well it can’t be for hire with only you to push it,” said the man. Then he held out his hand “I’m Uncle George, or at least that’s what everyone calls me around here. I operate more market trolleys than anyone else in Kejetia. I’m looking to smarten up my fleet; replace some of the old wrecks, so I’m really interested in your new model.”
“Well yes, I suppose that I could sell it to you,” said Kwame “but I’m afraid that it’s a little more expensive than the standard model.”
Kwame mentioned a figure that would give him a good margin of profit. Uncle George frowned. “I wasn’t expecting to pay as much as that,” he said. They haggled over the price for a while but Kwame could not come down below the price he had paid to the artisan and the negotiations became deadlocked. “OK young man,” said Uncle George at length, “Will you give me the trolley at my price if I order another ten?” Kwame’s heart leapt; now he was in business!
Kwame didn’t know how he was going to produce ten good trolleys at the price Uncle George had offered but he was determined to find a way. Before returning to Suame, however, he decided to explore further in the centre of the city. Not far from Kejetia Kwame found another large market called Asafo and he heard that there were more markets located in each of the main suburbs of the city. On the roads throughout the town centre Kwame observed many trolleys in operation. Some were carrying boxes of market goods and others were laden with building materials, wooden products from carpentry shops, furniture and household equipment like refrigerators and washing machines. There seemed to be no limit to the loads that were carried and no limit to the distance over which they were delivered. Trolleys supplied a low-cost goods transport service that almost everyone could afford. Kwame had thought that he knew all about market trolley operations but he had never before envisioned anything on this scale. He felt that he had come to the market trolley capital of the world.