Feature Article of Monday, 6 August 2012
Columnist: Adams, John Kwame
I hope my letter finds you well in the land of the ancestors? I am not doing well today. My heart is heavy with grief, Great-Uncle. You are probably wondering about the cause of my sadness. Great-Uncle, it is Ghana. I am sad about Ghana in general but the aspect of the country’s problems that hits me hardest today is the number of accidents on our roads. Great-Uncle, hardly a day goes by in this country without reports of an accident. These accidents are always fatal and they claim a lot of casualties. The photos from the scene of the accident indicate that the victims suffer the most gruesome and painful deaths. Great-Uncle, we are failing each other by murdering each other on the roads. I believe you now understand my sorrow and knowing your good heart you are already in tears yourself. Great-Uncle, I do not mean to cause you pain but I must talk to someone to lighten my own distress.
It is estimated that an average four people lose their lives in road accidents daily. Four people Great-Uncle, four people. The death toll over the course of 2009 was almost 2500 and in 2010 it was nearly 2000. For a country as small as Ghana, these numbers are absurdly high. In the short space of two decades (1990 – 2010), there have been 200,678 crashes on our roads involving 311,075 vehicles. 29,808 people have died in these accidents. 96,891 people have been seriously injured and 146,004 have suffered minor injuries. Great-Uncle, do these statistics not strike fear and utter dread into your heart? I know you love me and you wish I live long on this earth to do a lot of good things but Great-Uncle, at this rate, I fear I might join you in the land of the ancestors sooner rather than later.
When you lived in Ghana before you moved on, the roads were not that dangerous. Since then however, much has changed. The number of cars on our roads have exploded. Having a car is no longer a mark of affluence. A car is a bare necessity and every one wants one. With this growth in the number of cars has come all sorts of ills. The most obvious being the quality of the cars. Everyone in Ghana wants a car but not everyone can afford a safe car. In America and Europe, they issue titles for cars which indicate whether the car is clean (has been involved in no accidents) or is salvaged (has been damaged and is of questionable safety). I am pretty certain, Great-Uncle, that 90% of the cars imported into this country are salvaged cars that are more than ten years old. Such cars are unsafe but they are cheap so Ghanaians import them in large numbers onto our roads. What else do we expect other than accidents?
One other obvious contributor to the death on our roads is the quality of the roads of themselves. Our roads are some of the worst in the world. Great-Uncle, in countries with responsible citizens and governments, their roads are broad and in very good condition. Traffic on the roads is well-regulated and people respect the traffic laws. This is not the case in Ghana. While the number of cars in the country exploded and is still exploding, the quality of our roads is deteriorating. We appear unable to do anything about it and we are paying dearly for our irresponsibility. Not only do our roads have huge gaping potholes, the traffic on them is not properly regulated. Traffic lights are non-existent in most places where there should clearly be a light and in places where there are lights, they are rendered obsolete by the frequent power outages. These are the issues we contend with Great-Uncle.
Another major issue that we face, Great-Uncle, is the unprofessional-ism of the police. Perhaps in the past, maybe when you were a young man in colonial times, the police were professional. Now most of them are not. They care more about taking bribes than enforcing regulations. One cannot blame them too much since they are not well-paid but are expected to feed their families. The police shirking their responsibilities to take little bribes here and there is a major contributor to this problem. People who commit infractions know they can buy their way out of it and so rules are broken without fear of justice. If we do not deal with the unprofessionalism of our police force, many will perish on our roads.
The most egregious of all the factors contributing to the death toll is the Drivers and Motor Vehicle Department (DMV). This department is the most corrupt department in the country. The agents of the department conduct their malpractices in broad daylight without fear. They are justified in doing so since no consequences come of it. Great-Uncle, the DMV in most parts of the country issues driver licenses without drive tests and written tests. I witnessed this with my own two eyes at one of the branches of the DMV where people were issued licenses in exchange for a few cedis. This action of the DMV means that there are a lot of drivers in Ghana who have not achieved the level of competency required to operate vehicles but they are out there operating vehicles. The natural result of allowing incompetent drivers to drive is, of course, accidents and loss of lives.
Great-Uncle, these are the primary causes of deaths on our roads. The remedy seems simple in principle to me and I think with a committed government, they can be implemented too. The government should closely monitor the kind of cars that are imported into the country. If possible, they should not allow the importation of cars beyond a certain age, cars that have been issued salvage titles in Europe and America and cars that have been involved in accidents. Such cars are simply not safe enough for our roads. The second step is the professionalization of the police. Government should invest in the proper training of officers that belong to the Motor Transport and Traffic Unit (MTTU) of the police service. They should be well-compensated for their efforts and made to understand that petty bribes are unbecoming of officers of the peace. The roads in Ghana should also be upgraded. It is even shocking that 55 years after independence, there are still principal roads in Ghana that are dirt roads and principal roads that have potholes the size of little lakes. There is no excuse for that. The roads should be fixed and traffic lights should also function. The most important aspect that needs to be tackled is the DMV. The DMV needs to stop exchanging driver licenses for money. The department needs to start taking its mandate seriously. They are required to test drivers in a road test and a written test. There is no excuse for shirking that duty. Failure to perform that duty leads to death on our roads. A sizeable portion of the lives lost on Ghanaian roads should be attributed to the DMV. They have failed us in their duties. Great-Uncle, I will leave off here. I look forward to hearing from you.
John Kwame Adams