Kofi Anku is at the helm of an ambitious luxury real estate development in Ghana’s capital Accra.
Ayi Mensah Park – a thriving community of 218 premium homes – has a diverse portfolio of customers from across the globe. Conveniently located twenty minutes from Kotoka International Airport, the development attracts Ghanaian professionals, African-Americans, and Africans in the diaspora.
Anku, a Columbia University graduate, says in recent months he’s seen renewed overseas interest. Many are looking to invest in property while others are considering whether they should just relocate once and for all.
“You’ve got a secure living community,” says Anku, a shareholder and board member of Ayi Mensah Park. “You’ve got access to a four-lane highway that gets you into the heart of Accra. We’ve also spent a lot of time and focus on the landscaping of the development. You’ve got a gorgeous park in the middle of the development, there’s a play area, and there’s a clubhouse that can be used for all kinds of events for residents.”
Born and raised in Ohio to Ghanaian parents, Anku returned to Ghana after his studies to run his father’s property development business. Now with years of experience under his belt, Anku has embarked on his most ambitious project yet: Ayi Mensah Park. Nestled at the foot of the Aburi Hills in Accra, the development offers intricately considered living spaces, green space, and a safe community.
Although Anku acquired property in Southern Florida and Accra before moving back to Ghana, Anku admits that he “didn’t know what owning land in Ghana meant.” He confesses, “there’s a whole other dimension to property in Ghana. We didn’t know what we were doing when we started.” Despite this, he insists that “Ghana rewards patience, if you take the time to clean up your title you then possess something unique and of value.”
“It was very easy for me to set up a business in Ghana, it’s used to assimilating different energies. It’s a multi-tribal society.”
Anku’s passion for his home country is palpable and has imbued his business vision with an understanding of the importance of investing in the Ghanaian economy. The historic links between West Africa and the US are rich. The first president of Nigeria Nnamdi Azikiwe was educated at Howard, an HBCU, and later at Columbia, just as Malcolm X and Angelou amongst others had visited Ghana and taken inspiration from this black nation for their American Civil Rights Movement. These days Anku believes “the next chapter is around economic empowerment,” as money is needed to “influence outcomes whether it be the wealth gap or the education gap.”
Although Ghana is still a relatively poor country (its GDP is $65 billion) Anku recognizes that “there are opportunities and there is growth.” Utilizing the diaspora is about “leveraging each-others positions and relative strengths.” Talking about his personal experience, Anku had “insider status in the US as a Black American” and could therefore “move in and out of those spaces [the US and Ghana].” Black Americans represent over $1 trillion in buying power and are therefore a huge block to be leveraged as an entry into the wider American market. Anku insists that we must “connect these dots” in order to bolster economic growth in West African countries such as Ghana.
Ghana is a country of cultural convergence in Anku’s eyes. “It was very easy for me to set up a business in Ghana, it’s used to assimilating different energies… it’s a multi-tribal society.” Not only is Ghana attracting global talent but Accra is also attracting talent from the region. The 2019 Year of Return focused on the African- American story, but Ghana also attracts West Africans particularly interested in trading in Accra. Anku confirms, “as long as you play by the rules and have something to contribute it’s a very open place.”
However, it has not been without challenges that Anku has built his property development roster. He describes approaching “most of [his] business as a frustrated consumer” looking for the “gaps and niches in the market.” He particularly notes the failings of the municipal authorities in Ghana to provide green space, centralized utility mechanisms, and secure residencies. He was able to bring to bear learnings from twenty years of experience in the industry in order to create spaces constructed with intimate knowledge of how Ghanaians need to live. Although Anku’s model has been a huge success; “people are responding to it, they like it” and partners BlackIvy are building a similar development 10 minutes north of Ayi Mensa, Anku admits that as a business model, “it’s hard.”
“There are lots of moving targets,” Anku says of his own project. “You need scale, real money, lots of land, and a location that can drive demand.” A particular challenge he underwent that continues to affect the industry is financing. Whilst searching for partners in capital Anku was always considered too risky. “We had a lot of interest but we couldn’t take it over the line.”
It was a natural convergence of visions shared between Anku and former deputy White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton, Cheryl Mills, founder and CEO of BlackIvy that eventually led to the partnership. Looking forward, Anku notes that the key is attracting more capital into the industry and finding more professional developers to partner with. “the challenge we have in the business landscape in Ghana is capital, Ghanaian entrepreneurs have to struggle with loans at 12%.”
One thing Anku is grateful for, however, is the ability to “tell our story globally.” “People are reaching out to me who are based in Zimbabwe and the Congo, they’re seeing what we’re doing and taking notes…We’ve leaped forward a good three or four years in terms of digital transformation over the past few months, in terms of scaling our storytelling, we can get 300,000 or 400,000 people across the globe watching YouTube videos about us.”
“There are lots of moving targets. You need scale, real money, lots of land, and a location that can drive demand.”
Alongside his real estate jaunts, Anku balances his greenhouse farming business, Premium Vegetables. He says, “living in a holistic way is pretty much how I approach everything; these businesses speak to different parts of my humanity.” It was time spent on an organic farm in Vermont, exploring his relationship to nature and growing fruit and vegetables that inspired Anku on this particular path, one he feels “compelled to do.” He manages to balance the two by “having a good team on both projects.” This leaves Anku the time and freedom to focus on scaling both businesses and upping production for Premium Vegetables.
Anku is also on the Board of Directors for the Wildlife Society and on the Board of Advisors for the Right to Dream Football Academy, a relationship that is “very personal” to him. Anku’s father played college football in America and still holds NCAA records for his football career. Right to Dream has “institutionalized values that are at the core of [Anku’s] family.” Right to Dream takes kids with athletic and academic talent and gives them pathways to end up in leadership roles, and particularly important to Anku’s ethos, “these kids are eager to make meaningful contributions to their community.” Of his involvement, he says, “it’s one of the most compelling stories that I have encountered since moving back to the continent, I’m eager and honored to help in whatever small way I can.” Anku’s involvement with Right to Dream embodies his commitment to championing Ghanaian excellence, an ethos that he not only exudes in conversation but has taken to his various business models too.
Main Image: Kofi Anku at Ayi Mensah Park in Accra, Ghana