On the opening day of the Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg in 2019, Ghana signed an agreement with a South African company for a train project that would be built above the ground. The train tracks were to be 194 km long and transport nearly 400,000 passengers a year within Greater Accra, covering five routes. Skytrain, the project’s trademarked brand name, was to create 5,000 jobs throughout the construction period.
None of that will happen anytime soon, according to Ghana’s minister of railway development John Peter Amewu, who said the project is too expensive and that the country has other needs.
“I don’t see a sky train being done in the next 3 to 4 years let’s be very frank to ourselves,” Amewu said on Citi TV, a Ghanaian private broadcaster, quashing hopes that president Nana Akufo-Addo will deliver on one of the more ambitious projects in a masterplan for the Accra metro.
“A kilometre of a railway line is about four to five times the cost of building concrete infrastructure in terms of building an asphaltic road,” Amewu said.
The pragmatic reversal points to economic realities in a country whose image as a fast-rising continental challenger sometimes masks years of jobless growth exacerbated by covid-19, and a national debt to GDP ratio nearing 80%.
Reality brings Skytrain utopia down to earth
At that investment forum two years ago, Akufo-Addo described the signing of the Skytrain agreement as proof of his will to improve life in Ghana, solving rising concerns over traffic and air pollution in the country’s flood-prone capital city.
He was joined at the ceremony by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) president Akinwunmi Adesina, who said Skytrain would “modernise Ghana, providing green transport for its citizens.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the South African concessionaire would build, own and operate Skytrain for an undisclosed number of years at a cost of $2.6 billion. The company had supposedly conducted feasibility studies in 2018 at its own cost before moving forward with the MOU in 2019. Money for the project was to come from a consortium of South African investors, with the Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund playing the fiduciary gatekeeper on behalf of the government.
The agreement was not a seal that the project would be delivered. Details of the financing and mobilization had not been completed, as the minister for railway infrastructure at the time, Joe Ghartey, said. A final close was to be reached in 2020.
It is not clear if the final close was reached but Ghartey’s successor (under the same government and political party) has practically called the deal off. “Our taxes cannot enable us to do [the project] unless we agree to levy some taxes,” Amewu told Citi TV.
The Skytrain u-turn comes at a time when Ghanaians are smarting from a 1.75% levy on online transactions, a second successive month of inflation exceeding central bank targets, and commercial drivers threatening to shut down road travel due to rising fuel prices.
But while Ghanaians bemoan the e-levy and fuel prices, they largely shrugged in response to Skytrain news.
Considering the pageantry around the 2019 signing event, it would seem necessary for an official statement to clarify the status of the Skytrain project, from the Ghanaian government and the AfDB. None had come at press time.
Sign up to the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief here for news and analysis on African business, tech, and innovation in your inbox.