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Friday, September 30, 2022

Ghana: Africa’s nascent e-car industry pulls women engineers into the workshop

A roll-out of electric vehicles in Africa, driven in large part by the growing numbers of ride-hail companies building electric fleets, is having consequences that are often disproportionate to the still-nascent industry. Belinda Akaba, an engineer by training, is asking no questions – just smiling ear to ear – after earning herself a key role at an electric vehicle startup.

The head of engineering at Solar-Taxi Ghana is fiddling with components in the engine system of a vehicle at company headquarters in Accra. The car is part of a recent consignment of vehicles and electric kits imported by the company for the local automobile market and is being readied for the road.

The head of engineering is Belinda Akaba. She is all of 20, still has to earn her engineering degree and yet has already made her mark at the company. Solar-Taxi engaged her immediately after she’d finished a year of national service working at the Ghana Electricity Corporation, having earned her diploma in electrical engineering.

“When the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t think twice about it; I just jumped at it,” said Akaba. Within two years she was heading the division.

“A colleague sent me a flyer of Solar Taxi Engineering inviting applications to its academy and asked me if I was interested. I said, why not? And even more exciting was that it was an all-female opportunity, and they were doing something new: building electric vehicles, motorbikes. I, therefore, did not hesitate to apply, and luckily I was among those picked to join the academy” Akaba explained.

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The section of the company headed by Akaba assembles electric motorbikes and converts cars to electric vehicles, using imported kits.

Passion-driven Akaba showed impressive results during her training, resulting in her being offered the opportunity of an internship, and later a position as an engineer in the company, before being promoted.

However, high-profile opportunities rarely happened.

“When I told my dad, he didn’t want to support it because he felt like I was trying to take a lot of risks in a dangerous career…he told me not to venture into engineering and instead follow other careers, such as the police service. I told him no because that is what I wanted to do, said Akaba. Her father’s cold dismissal of her idea almost frightened her out of it. But her determination won.

“I was so passionate about it. So, I need to go for it. And although he didn’t give me the go-ahead, I went for it”.

Akaba’s parents’ discouraging stance was nothing new; Akaba’s dilemma reflects that facing many young women in Ghana who wish to venture into what is widely regarded as non-conventional women’s jobs, such as engineering, aviation and commercial driving.

“I always say that society has made it look like we, the women, are limited to some kind of jobs. And I felt like I needed to show them that we have a lot more to offer and be a role model for many young and talented women out there who are scared of going against the grain. I decided to lead the way because it would be foolish to just sit and wait to be held by the hand of men to our dream careers in a society that does not think highly of us… I decided to step into the field I am so passionate about,” Akaba explained with single-minded conviction.

Her determination paid off when, in September 2018, Ghana’s Solar-Taxi was launched by Kumasi Hive, a pioneer firm producing and promoting the use of solar power and electric vehicles in the country to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Their first vehicle was a motorbike, according to Solar-Taxi operations manager Eugene Amponsah-Asiamah.

“To try to solve the issues of climate change, we came up with our prototype vehicle which was fitted with a solar panel on top and powered by batteries,” he said.

Beyond climate and environmental issues, the firm also offered an affirmative programme to empower young women professionals in electrical and mechanical engineering. The company employs nine woman engineers under the supervision of Elizabeth Akuamoah, a materials engineer and former student at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

Akaba is now focusing on scaling the ranks of the engineering profession in Ghana. Above all, she wants to be counted among the tech-savvy women who have shattered glass ceilings. To advance her career, she will be joining Accra Technical University in 2022 to convert her diploma into a degree.

By: Zubaida Mabuno Ismail/ Bird/ Ghana.

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