Céphas Bansah works as a self-employed car mechanic in the German town of Ludwigshafen. But in his spare time, he oversees the development of his hometown – Hohoe, capital of Ghana’s Gbi Traditional Area – through WhatsApp and Skype.
“Being a king is not a profession, it is my life’s work,” says the 70-year-old. “My happiest moments are when I can help in Ghana through my efforts here in Germany.”
Technically, the Gbi Traditional Area is not a monarchy and the title Ngoryifia literally translates as ‘development chief’, an honorary position bestowed on people thought of as respectable and believed to be capable of helping an area.
For Bansah, that could be securing sources of clean drinking water, redeveloping prison infrastructure for women and young men – “Until recently all inmates, whether male or female, were housed in a single room! I think you can imagine how they had suffered.” – or helping to fund life-saving treatment of a child with heart disease.
The path to this point is not exactly typical where Bansah comes from. But back in the 1970s, moving away and developing a trade felt like the only viable option to him. “My goal was to learn from the Germans themselves – the virtues of their work ethic, their understanding of technology, etc. – and bring this to my people in Ghana,” he says. “Many of my German friends today say that I am fussier than any German they know of.”
Bansah met his wife, ‘Queen Gabi’, when she came into the shop one day with a malfunctioning car. “The problem itself was found quickly but I told her that she had to come back a few more times over the next few days, that I had to test everything again,” he says. “I liked her and thanks to this trick – which I think she saw through quickly – we got to know each other.”
Those at home in Ghana struggled to understand the move, Bansah explains, but once the first of his relief projects became successful, people began to understand and respect his decision. Back then, offering support and orchestrating projects from afar required constant long-distance calls and faxes via his brother, Fredolin. But even today, over 30 years later, Bansah makes the trip back to Africa every winter.