COVID-19 ‘locks down’ Accra New Town printing business
The name “Accra New Town” may suggest the area is a new settlement in the national capital but it is not.
The suburb dates back to many decades with an interesting history that deserves its separate spotlight.
If there is anything new about Accra New Town, it is definitely not the printing press business.
Like Abossey Okai is synonymous with vehicle spare parts, the vicinity is the hub of almost all printing needs from books, posters, invitation cards, t-shirts, branded souvenirs, banners, calendars and more.
Sight, smell and sounds
A cursory look is enough to confirm why it is the hub of printing; there are countless outlets of all magnitudes and ancillary businesses crowded along major streets there.
The sight and sound of printing machines, computer keyboards, cutting machines alongside the smell of ink and fresh paper, topped up with a display of beautifully designed banners and signages are characteristic of this area especially “High street”.
Things fall part
But in the last three months, COVID-19 pandemic has figuratively disconnected the power to the printing hub resulting in the temporal turning off of many printing machines.
The business is bearing the brunt of restrictions on social gatherings like weddings, funerals, churches, schools, workshops and other events, which has drastically declined the printing of invitation, programmes, flyers, exercise books, and souvenirs.
President Nana Addo Dankwa in March imposed various restrictions on social gatherings such as church, political party activities, as part of measures to curb the COVID-17 with only 25 expected to attend private funerals.
After weeks of economic meltdown, the restrictions were eased on May 31 with church, weddings, conferences, funeral expected to have not more than 100 people and adherence to social distance protocols.
As of June 12, the country had recorded 11,118 confirmed cases out of which 3,979 people had recovered with 48 succumbing to the virus.
Even though the restrictions have been eased some owners of printing houses in the town has it has not eased the pain suffered by the economic blow dealt the sector by the pandemic.
Many printing outlets at New Town have closed down. Those still open have either laid-off their staff or frozen their engagement until further notice. Clients do not walk in in their numbers. The industry is on ice.
Inkit Ghana Limited is one of the biggest signage and digital printing company in Accra New Town and Ken Sarfo, a staff, tells the Ghanaian Times that the pandemic has gravely affected business.
Before the pandemic, he said, the company could print about 10,000 different items within a day including 500 pieces of funeral booklets but now the company handles just about 100 in some days.
“There is virtually no business. Our business comes if there are social gatherings. So definitely the restrictions are having a great impact on the business” he said.
According to Mr Sarfo, the church was one of their biggest clients but due to the low key Easter celebration, they lost out on the printing of posters, banners and other advertising materials.
“By this time in an election year, we would have been printing a lot of party paraphernalia but there are no political activities. Jobs do not come”, he said adding that most clients who come in prefer softcopies of invitation cards and posters so they distribute on social media.
Electricity reliefs and MSME support
The Government has absorbed 50 per cent of the electricity bill for residential and commercial consumers, for three months, which began in April, as part of reliefs to support industry, enterprises and the service sector who have been hard hit by the impact of the restrictions to curb the pandemic.
Additionally, a GH₵1 billion Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP) business support programme has been instituted to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with soft loans to survive the impact of the pandemic on their operations.
But according to Ebenezer Sarpong, a caretaker of an a printing press which he asked not to be named, all these measures were good but for the printing industry it would not soothe their pain because “ our business thrives on events, so if there are no events, we do not exist”.
He would not say how much his company has lost but indicated that the printing industry in general has lost millions of cedis.
Contribution to awareness creation
Kwame Boahen, a freelance designer called on the government to collaborate with graphic designers so they produce awareness creation materials adding that” it is through this collaboration that we could get something small to heal our wounds.”
Glimmer of hope
The sad tale of the industry’s woes was the same in other outlets the Ghanaian Times visited.
But one thing that ended most of the narrations of the interviewees was a prayer that the pandemic would be over before the last quarter of the year .
This is because they are still hoping to make money from intense political campaigns, weddings and funerals that usually define that time of the year.
“We hope and pray that God heals our land so life returns to normal”, Mr Sarfo of Inkit said.
Until this prayer is answered and all restrictions lifted, it appears the industry would remain locked down by COVID-19.
BY JONATHAN DONKOR