Mr. Antti Lassila, Export Director of Eltel Networks, has extensive experience in African countries, especially Ghana. He already lived in Ghana in the 1990s, in the city of Kumas, some 300 kilometres from the capital city of Accra. Now he is responsible for exports of Eltel’s power transmission unit in Finland and for project development. His work takes him to Ghana approximately once a month.
Eltel Networks has been active in Africa from the days of Imatran Voima. Currently, the company is active in a dozen African countries. The activity of the Finnish unit is concentrated in Ghana in West Africa.
The development in Ghana has been strong over the past two decades. Antti Lassila gives an example: “In the 1990s, you could not make a phone call abroad by direct dialling; the call had to be ordered beforehand at the post office. Now the field of telecommunications is developed, and a mobile phone network is functioning throughout the country.”
A local representative is incalculably valuable
Meetings in Ghana should always be agreed beforehand. Regardless, one often has to wait for one’s turn, and sometimes it can be cancelled at short noticed. “People are cooperative and keen to talk about things. However, the decision-making can take a long time, because permission has to be obtained from the upper levels of management.” The conception of time in Ghana is rather flexible.
“When you meet customers, partners or officials in Ghana, you must be patient. A local representative is crucially important in helping with procurement legislation, making contracts, registration, customs and other matters calling for local expertise,” emphasises Antti Lassila.
“Keep in mind that, although the contracts are made in detail with lawyers, the activity is freer in practice. Small delays are ignored. Details should be agreed face to face, or matters should be allowed to be as they have always been. Being a stickler for detail will not bring progress.”
In Ghana, as in many other cultures, one rarely says “no” to anyone’s face. Agreements should, therefore, be done in good understanding, leaning on shared aims. The opposite side should not be pressured to consent to terms that it is unwilling or unable to keep to in any case. Small talk is rare in Ghana, as in Finland. “In business negotiations, you can go straight to the point. It’s not the style to meet outside of office hours or at night,” describes Antti Lassila.
Traffic in Ghana is congested, but not chaotic. “Taxis will take you there, as long as you have the exact money or are prepared to be strict about change,” describes Antti Lassila. “It’s even safe to use your own car. The rule of the road is right-hand, as in Finland. But traffic jams and finding a parking space in city centres can cause problems.” Motorists should familiarise themselves with the local legislation in detail. A warning triangle and a validated fire extinguisher are obligatory in cars, for instance, and the police will often demand money if they are found to be missing.
In the past few years, domestic flights in Ghana have developed tremendously. For instance, there are currently several airlines that are running from Accra to Kumas in the central part of the country with a new fleet and easy access to flights up to fifteen minutes before take-off. From Europe, Accra is best accessible by air through Amsterdam or Frankfurt. The flight change times can be long, however. All the European flights arrive in Accra at roughly the same time, creating a risk of congestion at the otherwise very functional airport.
“But my luggage has never disappeared on any African flight,” Antti Lassila laughs.