Suame Magazine is a twenty-mile informal industrial area in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city. Over 200,000 skilled workers fill the open-air production lines, wooden stalls, and concrete factories here, churning out everything from nuts and bolts to refurbished trucks. The area is a labyrinth of paths marked by towering heaps of truck cabs, spare parts for heavy machinery, and huge old trucks that are slowly, lovingly coaxed back to life by mechanics.
Around a million dollars passes daily through the hands of the 12,000 small businesses based here. They range from registered factories with dozens of employees and traders selling spare parts in bulk, to one-man operations in wooden sheds, to entire foundries—built by hand—that turn scrap metal into grinding plates for ore crushers sold to gold mining companies. I visited in November 2014, just as the Suame Magazine Industrial Development Organization announced plans to buy a four-kilometer stretch of land nearby to build a formal factory district.
Suame Magazine emerged in the 1930s, around a colonial-era armory in the heart of Kumasi. Back then there were mostly big companies repairing cars. As they grew in the 1960s, they were moved to the outskirts of the city. When Ghana’s economy faltered and a series of economic reforms in the 1970s cut off the stream of imported spare parts, the large auto-repair shops shut down. The hundreds of newly unemployed skilled mechanics started to work for themselves, quickly learning to make and refurbish spare parts to replace the dwindling supply of imports. To this day, Suame Magazine is where most of Ghana’s mechanics and metalworkers learn their trades.