For our longer links, we have hired a Ghanaian, Abubakra Aido, to make high gain antennas for us, since we like to use local manufacturers whenever possible. Last Saturday, Eric O. and I went up to Tema (about 40km north of Accra) to check on his progress. We drove through the town, turning into a dirt road (as usual), and driving into a dusty residential area, finally pulling up next to a wall with a lock and key embossed in blue on it. We walk up the driveway and turn left behind the house to find a yard full of antennas, including the six we had ordered.
I was curious to find out where he had learned to make antennas, and how he ended up in this line of business. It turns out that he makes most of his antennas - satellite dishes, actually - free of charge for the Ahmadi Muslim community. As part of their outreach to the Ahmadiyya communities around the world they have established a satellite based tv channel - Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, on which they broadcast sermons and calls to prayer. At the time of our visit, Abubakar was watching a broadcast on the Jalsa Moments conference happening in India.
In 1994, rather than purchasing antennas from developed countries and sending them to West Africa, the leaders of the community decided instead to send an expert from London to teach followers how to make, install, and maintain the satellite dishes. Now, although his income is from his trade as a locksmith, he also makes the dishes from materials purchased by the Ahmadi Mission, and goes to mosques around Ghana to install satellite dishes for them. His son has gone for technical training, and is also learning to make antennas from him.
It's quite amazing what he is able to achieve with the resources he has. He says he can tell just by looking which channel a given dish is receiving! He also mentioned that he uses the Internet (at a local Internet cafe) to find out the coordinates and frequencies for various satellite channels.
On another note there was an unfortunate incident on Christmas in which many of his tools (including his drilling machine, see rightmost picture above for his list) were stolen while he and his son were out. Fortunately, he can do most of the remaining work on our antennas using hand tools.
On an unrelated note, his birthday was on December 27th. :)