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Opinions of Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Columnist: Ghanaian Chronicle

The Nightmare of Driving in Accra

THESE DAYS when people want to see me, they have to come to me. Not because I'm bluffing but because driving around the city of Accra is too crazy.

Between the potholes, the tro-tros, the lack of streetlights at night, the traffic lights that don't work, the heavy traffic, the erratic drivers should I go on? I tell you, going out is a painful experience these days. But just this morning, I had some business to attend to which involved me driving to another location. Believe me, there was no avoiding it.

And what an experience I had on the road. First of all, some car decided to break down, thus creating so much unnecessary congestion, chaos and confusion. The thing was, looking at the car; I'm not surprised it broke down. I mean, it should not have been on the road in the first place.

The car was so battered that it couldn't possibly have passed its MOT. And even if it did, surely the Police have seen this car on the road? Why do they allow the driver to keep driving it?

What amazed me the most was the fact that people actually paid money to risk their lives by choosing to travel in that car. The sad reality is that cars like this are on our roads because

1. Officials who are responsible for keeping them off the roads accept bribes to keep them on!

2. Drivers of such vehicles are never really made to understand the irresponsibility and danger of driving their vehicles.

3. Most of us who own cars own "home-used" (why they are called that I will never understand as my home is Ghana and not the country of their previous owner!).

"Home used" cars which are no longer good enough to be used by drivers in their countries of origin. And 4. Most commuters have very little option so just tolerate anything.


There are so many reasons why driving in Accra these days is a nightmare.

Anyway, back to my story. After finally getting out of the traffic created by the broken car, I unfortunately happened to get stuck behind a long truck that was blowing so much smoke on me; I had to roll my windows up, and sit in my non air-conditioned car, sweating profusely. Once again, I had to ask the wind how such a truck could be on the road.

Of course, because nobody wanted to be behind this ghastly truck, we all tried to move into the other lane. Foolish me, using my indicator, patiently waiting for someone to give me room to move.

From nowhere, private cars, tro-tros, taxis, buses, vans, you name it; all kinds of vehicles were just pulling into the other lane from every angle. It was pure madness. And it reminded me of why I prefer people to come to me these days.

Finally, I managed to get going. But it was too good to be true. Somewhere along my journey, I came across traffic lights that were not working. I didn't know human beings could be so disorganized and selfish.

I mean, for people who call themselves Christians, and spend so much time in Church, it never ceases to amaze me how nobody wants to give way to anybody. Cars approach from all directions, each driver refusing to give way to another. It was pure madness.

But then it turned to pure magic when from nowhere, the children of the street appeared with their tree branches, bringing some much needed sanity to the crazy situation. Once more, traffic began to flow and I continued my journey.

NIGHT DRIVING Of course, I wanted to go about my business and return to the sanctity of my home before it got dark. After all, who enjoys driving in the dark? I don't know about you, but I don't have special eyes that see in the dark. Like every human being I know, and I'm sure you too, I need lights to see at night. So it really baffles me how we are supposed to drive safely in the dark.

That we do is only because of our Creator. Anyway, the other reason why I had to rush about my business and return home before dark is that nighttime driving means dealing with those beggars in uniform. You know the ones.

They ask you for money for water because they are out on the streets protecting you all night. How reassuring! I tell you driving in Accra is a nightmare. I truly felt like this when I hit an uncompleted dirt road. We couldn't help it but all the cars were blowing dust and dirt as we roller-coasted along the bumpy road. I feel extremely guilty seeing the dust land on the beautiful African faces of innocent children as they lay by their mothers who were selling all sorts of foods. It was all so sad and pathetic. I couldn't believe I was in the capital city of a country that is spending 20 million US dollars on celebrating a Golden Jubilee of "Independence". I tell you, something ain't right.

MY DESTINATION By the time I got to my destination, I not only needed a nice cold refreshing shower, but I had also encountered every driver's nightmare - including stubborn goats and dogs refusing to move out of my way. I tell you, it was all too much.

Truthfully, after such an experience would you feel happy going out? Once again, a sad reality hits us. This is the normal, daily experience of moving about in Accra.

For those of us with our own vehicles, at least we are blessed because I can't imagine having to go through all these pains in a tro-tro. People of Ghana are suffering. So next time I tell someone to come to me, I hope they will understand. On the other hand, I too will also understand if they want me to come to them.

But, if nobody is willing to go through this nightmare journey, we will do the next best thing, talk by phone, text or email. Oh, but this is Ghana. So it's very doubtful we will have easy connectivity.

But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary Ghanaian woman.