Northern Heritage is highly pleased to bring to you an insightful and thrilling encounter from our Heritage Convo session as we engage one of our distinguished brother, Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar who is a doctorate of Business Administration candidate of the University of West Scotland and a Postgraduate Finance and Accounting graduate of the University of Westminster. His research interest includes: SMEs, Financial Markets and Business Development.

With the help of one of our moderators Bagura Shamuddeen, our guest will be taking us through his life journeys involving the north and the south. The northern lifestyles and cultures he has encountered and his perspectives on them.


There was a point in Ghana’s history when university graduates were offered three sets of keys: office keys, bungalow keys and car keys. However, over time, graduates lost all the three keys and what we now have is an exponential rise in the rate of graduate unemployment. Creation and growth of SMEs in the formal and informal sectors of our economy remain the obvious and viable panacea to the unemployment conundrum. However, it is tenable to surmise that our government, both past and present, have often concentrated more on inducing foreign direct investors with very stupendous regulatory and fiscal incentives to the detriment of local businesses.

Our experience with foreign direct investors has been counterproductive since they come into our economy with expatriate labour, exploit us and repatriate their profits whilst our economic and social lives continue to deteriorate. The NBSSI was established in 1985 and subsequent governments have pursued different programs to engender the creation, growth and sustainability of SMEs to resolve the graduate unemployment crisis. Unfortunately, however, many, if not all, of these programs, have proven to be knee-jack/quick fixes.

It is our hope that this intellectual engagement, on this essential subject matter, would help us understand why micro-businesses are always mushrooming in Ghana, the business landscape, the factors to look for, reasons to invest in Northern Ghana and challenges one will face.

Shamuddeen: Sir, you are most welcome to Heritage Convo!

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: Thank you my brother and good evening to all members of the Northern Heritage platform. It's an honour to be home tonight.

Shamuddeen: Most of us here are very eager to get to know you, we were hoping to have you on our Personality Profile program. Fortunately since you are here, could you please take us through a brief background about yourself?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: Thank you Sir. Am from Lambussie in the Upper West Region but have moved around a bit for my education. I was born in the then Brong Ahafo Region, in a village called Peninbisa. When I was a year old, my parents relocated to another village called Zabrama Bono East now because of the nature of their work (charcoal). I started my basic education there up to primary 4 and was transferred to Kumasi where I completed my JSS and proceeded to Tamale Senior High School (Tamsaco). I went to UDS - Navrongo campus for my first degree in Financial Mathematics and had a scholarship to pursue my Msc in Accounting and Finance at the University of Westminster in London. Currently am doing my Doctorate in Business Administration with the University of West Scotland, London Campus.  

Shamuddeen: That's a very great achievement and milestone. This is inspiring to us especially to those who are seeking higher education.

Thanks for sharing your profile with us. To set the ball rolling, most of us here are very curious of the north and hoping to explore beyond the culture, traditions and what we see on the media. For tonight since the main focus is on SMEs. What does that mean to a man on the street?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: SMEs is the acronym for Small and Medium Enterprises. Typically it starts with Micro and so in many cases you would have seen MSMEs. Thus Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises. So what are they? In simple terms, they are the business we see around us. From the pure water seller to the Koko and Waakye sellers, the provision stores, the micro finance institutions etc. However, they are distinguished by how an entity, a country or an individual decides to define them. For instance, there are several definitions from international organisations like UNIDO, World Bank etc. Even within Ghana, definitions differ from institution to institutions like the NBSSI and GSS. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, Micro enterprise are those that employ from 1 to 5 people, Small 6- 30 staff, Medium 31-100, above 100 is a large enterprise and doesn't qualify to be MSME according to the GSS.

Shamuddeen: Based on what you said. Then one is right to assume that the groundnut hawker and the woman who fries kooshie are also SMEs.

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: Exactly. MSMEs depending on the number of employees.  

Shamuddeen: Okay. Thanks for the highlight. Considering Northern Ghana, then one is again right to assume SMEs makes up almost 90 percent of businesses there or may be Ghana in general.

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: 99% of business in Ghana are MSMEs. In fact according to the IBES survey in 2016, only 0.4% of business are large thus employ above 100 staff. In other words, about 99.6% of the businesses in Ghana are MSMEs.  

Shamuddeen: Very interesting. Indeed we are in a pool of MSMEs. Can you please tell us how the business/investment landscape is in northern Ghana?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: Northern Ghana is a home to many businesses and opportunities, apart from the major cities, most of our people are into farming and rearing of life stock. Unfortunately, because of the uncertain rain pattern, farming has disappointed a lot of people. And so, you find a lot of young ones now trying to diversify into other sectors, but the challenge has been getting of the required skills, guidance and of course the needed resources. The North is opening up to the rest of the country for many reasons. Tamale is still captured by Wikipedia as the fasted growing city in West Africa. This makes real estate a very viable venture to move in, so apart from the traditional farming, which at this moment can best be done with the support of an irrigation system, real estate and animal farming are areas that will also make up the business environment of the North. Nonetheless there are a lot more areas that can fetch cash for people the fashion and technology industries etc.

I always end by saying, the world is for those who are willing to take up risk or do something different. No idea is too small, the bigger firms we see today started from someone's mind. So if you ever have any business idea, think through it, seek expert advice and keep moulding and testing it, am sure it will work one day.

Shamuddeen: Interesting facts indeed. A very detail overview of the economic viability of northern Ghana. So what are the elements to look for in a location before setting up a business?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: First, I will mention the market, before you produce anything you must have established the demand for that good or service that is essential. For instance, if you are in a typical Muslim community, and you are producing products from pig, then your guess is as good as mine or if you establish your hijab shop into a non-Muslim community you may end up giving in.

Another factor is the cost of production, how far do you have to travel to bring raw materials or if they are already made, will the cost of transport give your competitors an advantage over you? Eg. If you are in Wa and you can get your products from Sawla, there is no need going to Kumasi for the same product because the cost will be higher all things being equal. So the market and cost of production are key in setting up a business.

Lastly, we can talk about accessibility to your business centre, eg good road network and transport links as well as the availability of stable electric supply when it is needed.

Shamuddeen: Thanks for the information. This is very helpful. So if an individual has a business idea or a start-up. What are the various means he or she can finance the business or idea?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: There is always money with our financial institutions. But like the orange seller sells to make profit, the banks also sell their money to make profit by charging interest. But unlike the former, the latter sells its product on credit, and that’s why they must make sure you have the capabilities of paying back their money with profit (interest). This is where the line is drawn between those who can access a credit facility and those who cannot.

The issue of finance is very important, it's one of the major challenges facing MSMEs. I always say, it's good to build your social capital first. Honesty is very important if you establish yourself as an honest person, even if you don't qualify for a bank facility, an individual will be happy to come to your aid. MSMEs can be financed by credit institutions at a fee and of course after meeting certain requirements. In the MSMEs sector, especially in the North, it’s often difficult to meet the requirements of the financial institutions. This is where the government should come in to help absorb some of the risk elements to enable the banks lower the requirements for MSMEs to access the credit.

Also, you may want to team up with someone who has the money, thus partnership to run your business. In this case, I will suggest you seek professional advice on how to share any potential profits or liabilities and possibly document and sign to prevent any challenges ahead. Most partnerships end prematurely because they didn't start professionally. This is very common in the entertainment industry, you find group artists separating from each other because at a point one thinks they deserve more and because nothing was documented at the beginning, things end badly.

There are Venture Capitals as well who are willing to lend money to make some profits (interest) venture capital. These days some women have these grounds in Northern Ghana known as the Village Savings and Loans (VSLA) whiich I think its working pretty well for them. The Waalas call it Dakabile meaning small box. So apart from saving to start your business, you can always resort to any of thre above.

Shamuddeen: Thanks for the information and education. What will be your advice to someone who wants to start a business in northern Ghana?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: First, I will say never give up on your business idea. But always try to improve upon it and make it outstanding. Ask yourself questions like what can I do differently? Humans are always thrilled with different things that is why branding is very important in marketing. Do not rush to implement your ideas, be in competition with your own self. Most businesses collapse after 3yrs because they were prematurely started. Develop and master your plans, learn the needed skills and experience and trust me, you will attract sponsors.

Take advantage of the social media and market your idea/product. You can equally learn from a lot of already successful people there.

Make sure your product is in composite demand. A product that is demanded for different reasons. EG, if you are selling maize, it can be demanded by the kenkey seller, the koko seller, the banku seller etc.

The North has a culture of sharing. My auntie sells koko and anyone passing she will invite them to come and take some koko for free, at the end of the day, she runs into negative figures. You must learn to be discipline with your business money. One common mistake people make is they mix their personal money with the business revenue and so at the end of the day, they don't really know how much came in by way of business. Learning these basic stuff before starting a business is very important.

Shamuddeen: You are really educating us on business operation. What are the possible challenges to be faced by a business owner in Northern Ghana?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: I think I have mentioned one already. The family factor. Please make sure you are doing well before you can start with your Corporate Social Responsibility. Also, given that most of the products come from the South, one might need an extra cash to run a business in the North. For instance, a spare parts dealer in Tamale will need more money than someone doing same in Accra. This has made it difficult for people up north to keep up with the kind of pace their southern counterparts are moving.

Another challenge to face in the North is poverty. Northern Ghana leads the poverty chart of the country. It’s said that 9 out of 10 in the Upper West region are poor. 8 out 10 in the Upper East region and that of the northern regions are not better either. This affects consumption in this part of Ghana. If 10 people in Accra will buy a particular designer shirt, maybe only one person will buy that in Wa. In a way, the consumption trend defines the kind of product or business that should be established in a particular geographical area.

We can also mention bad road network, lack of electricity in certain parts of the north and unstable internet connections as passible challenges one might face in running a business in northern Ghana.

Family factor, distance from harbour, poverty bad road network, lack of electricity in certain parts of the north, unstable internet connections and major production centres are the main challenges I can think of for now.

Shamuddeen: Thanks for the highlights. Since you are an expert in business and finance. Do you think Northern Ghana can one day boast of striving businesses? I mean does the region has the necessary elements to support business growth? 

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: Yes because Rome wasn't built in a day. Despite the numerous challenges, we have a more stable electricity in the major cities. We have land in abundance and have a very youthful population as well. NGOs are doing their best as well as the few government agencies like NBSSI and MASLOC. I always say we can do better if we move away from politicizing development. People are gradually moving away from public employment to creating their own businesses. We have seen TV stations and numerous radio stations springing up in the north. Hotels, restaurants, fashion labels and many more in the North. In the entertainment industry, it’s not that bad. I think it's just a matter of time and we will get there. We just need to support our own and take pride in what we produce by consuming made in the North whenever possible. Maybe we should eat more dawadawa than Maggi, more Shea butter than frytol and wear more Fugu than Suits.

Shamuddeen: Very touching. A great man one's said “If you don’t have big dreams and goals, you’ll end up working for someone that does.” This is a very nice initiative. As an expert in business administration, if someone is to start a business or invest in northern Ghana which sector will you advice him/her to venture in and why?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: Business is about passion. The North is cosmopolitan in nature now, so you have different types of consumers. I have seen people doing well in so many sectors and if you ask them, am sure they will say its persistence. Every successful person has a story to tell. Generally, I will say whatever your idea is believe in yourself and persist. Rize if you fall and try again and again and again. ‘By trying often, the monkey learns to jump from tree to tree without falling’ Ola Rotimi.

None the less, there a lot we can take advantage of just looking around. Mba Yahaya is a household name in Tamale. He has been operating his kebab business for years. Why is not expanding to Bolga, Damongo, Walewale or Wa? This is very common among most MSMEs in the north. I am sure if we all look around us, there is that delicious koko or wakye seller who has been in business before we were born, but that kwashiorkor factor has stopped them from getting branches and expanding. In fact, I call them Kwashiokor Businesses.

The opportunity here is that, if Mba Yahaya is not coming to Wa, what stops me a teacher going to Tamale to sit with him and say, lets come into agreement, supply everything, I will set up a joint in the evening and sell in your name, take away my profit and give you the cost of your product or whatever your agreement says (Franchising). Trust me there is a sizable Tamale people in Wa who will be happy to consume Mba Yahaya’s recipe every evening.

More so, I am a young teacher with a motor bike, after 3pm am home from school. People sometime want to consume Mba Yahaya’s kebab but for some reason, they are not able to come out. This is an opportunity to advertise yourself for delivery services, sit with the man and agree on terms and conditions. Take advantage of social media and let people order through a known account. Payment can be done via momo plus your delivery cost. You could be making some extra cash and building a business for the future.

Haven said that I personally think the real estate sector is yet to be explored in the North. Maybe it's time we research into how to build decent housing with cheaper materials for our people to own.

Shamuddeen: Lastly for tonight, does Northern Ghana has the institutions that support business set up in terms of registration and other requirements like we have in other parts of the country?

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: Sadly, not in all the regions. The Registrar General’s department is only in Tamale, one out of the 5 regions in the North. So most of the businesses in the North are not formalised and it’s one of the main reasons why they cannot access bank facilities. It says a lot about the seriousness successive governments attached to our business environment. It calls for urgent attention as government in turns loses revenue because it can’t trace and tax the unregistered businesses.   

Shamuddeen: Thanks for the education on MSMEs, business and finances in northern Ghana. This is very helpful. Time is far gone and it’s unfortunate we have to end the program here. So Mr Abdul-Mumin we will be glad for a concluding remarks.

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: I will like to end with a story. A JHS graduate decides to set up a drinking spot in his village. He manages to write INN at the entrance. But was struggling to write ‘EXIT’ at the other door. He wrote EZIT and cancelled. Wrote ESIT and cancelled. And finally wrote 'WAY OUT'. The lesson here is that he never gave up and persisted and kept trying. So in every situation, always remember there is a ‘WAY OUT’. If you try and fail know that there is a ‘WAY OUT’ for you if only you can persist.

Shamuddeen: Wow. Very inspiring. Thanks for your time. We are really grateful for your sacrifices. I will complement your story with a quote by Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Mr. Abdul-Mumin B. Abubakar: It's my pleasure. 

HERITAGE CONVO is an interactive engagement with a lead person to educate members on thoughtful issues concerning Northern Ghana. All engagements take place on our WhatsApp platform.

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