Saturday, September 09, 2006

Repairing a car in Ghana - an exercise in Swarm Creativity

During my visit in Ghana we planned a big tour to see more of the country. So it was really unfortunate when the 4 wheel drive vehicle of my friends broke down. The gearshift in our car suddenly stopped working. The only gear still working was the reverse. Fortunately this happened not too far from home, so I drove home backwards!

My friend then called one of her Ghanaian friends for help. About two hours later he came by Trotro, bringing along a mobile car mechanic. Quickly, the mechanic located the broken part, and took it out. Him and the friend of my friend then disappeared by Trotro to a street market, where they got a generic spare part and temporarily fixed our car. The next day, we drove to the used car parts market in Accra, trying to find a replacement part.

For more specialized goods there are various dedicated markets outside the main Makola market, such as a huge market dedicated to only selling used car parts. Booths staffed by independent entrepreneurs display heaps of parts, either sorted by make, or by functional parts. There are booths only selling used parts for Toyotas, Nissans, or Volkswagens, while other booths only sell mufflers, or brake pads. The parts have been salvaged from old cars and car wrecks. There are hundreds of small entrepreneurs, each displaying his wares – used car parts – in little stalls.

At first glance, it might be better for an aspiring vendor of parts to be the only vendor of its kind, getting all the business. But looking more deeply, it makes absolute sense for the vendors to swarm together at one location, such that a mechanic trying to locate a particular part for a repair has a much bigger chance of actually finding the part he is looking for. There are even specialized “finders”, that have memorized the inventory of the different used parts suppliers, who help the prospective buyer of a car part to locate the vendor who might have the particular part for sale – a human sort of search engine. What an amazing example of swarm creativity.


  1. nice work swarm,i love the effectiveness and their creativity.keep it up.

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