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Opinions of Monday, 17 June 2019

Columnist: Oscar Bimpong

The Traffic Light Economy: My memoirs in Ghana

Anytime I book my ticket to visit Ghana, I always count the days as it’s an exciting experience. I always look forward to as it is a great opportunity to visit my home land, family and friends. Visiting Ghana always brings fond memories. It is a country that has an equal share of positive and negative values that is either progressing the nation or retrogressing it.

The capital, Accra, I will say has totally changed. The road network though not completed in most areas, is no different from that of Europe considering the numerous asphalted dual carriages, the overheard bridges and visible road signs. I don’t even know how I would survive driving in Accra without the aid of Google maps. Just give me the landmark and in no time, I will be at my destination. I will say that those living in the diaspora who haven’t visited Accra for a long time, will find it difficult to manoeuvre as the city is totally changed.

Staying in Ghana for almost a month and driving around in the capital brings rich experiences notably with the numerous traffic lights. As a person who grew up in Obuasi in the Ashanti Region of Ghana close to the capital Kumasi which is about 265km from Accra, where there were barely any traffic lights, I noticed that hawking close to traffic lights has become common practice.

Whenever possible, especially at big intersections where the traffic lights hold for long, I try to interact with the young hawkers busily marketing their products to the vehicles lined up at the traffic light. The most striking thing that one would observe is that these young people are hardworking. They work a minimum of twelve hours a day standing in the scorching sun, rain and sometimes adverse weather conditions. Evidently, if presented with better opportunities and alternatives in life, they would definitely thrive.

From my interaction with them, the profits realised from their sales are used for their families’ daily meals and support towards their children’s education. The very young ones, intimated that they commence hawking after close of school each day and some do not attend school at all.

These hawkers have become handy as they have almost everything one would need up on the streets. Food, drinks, toiletries, home appliances, electrical gadgets to everything that you can think of. The traffic light economy is a vibrant and very competitive one. I think the traffic light economy would hold a significant market share thus contributing to the economy. It would be interesting to know what quantum or percentage of the market share they take from those in stationary kiosks, stalls and retail shops who wait for clients to visit to buy.

What amazes me most is their prowess in marketing and strategies they have devised to catch one’s attention in that short space of time when the traffic light turns red. I can recall one instance when a young man was selling PK chewing gum came close to my car, gave me a cheeky smile and asked if I needed one, to which I responded ‘’no’’. Just then, the lights turned green and this young man threw the gum through my window onto my lap and asked me to take it for free. At the time I thought to myself that was too much of a risk for this young man to take. Oblivious to me, he took notice of my car. This incident happened on the route to my house. So, in matter of days, I was at the same traffic light and the young man spotted me with a big smile. He came to my car and asked if I enjoyed chewing the gum, he gave me, though I hadn’t used it then, I said ‘’yes’’ just to keep him smiling. I asked him how much it was, and I felt the burden of paying double the amount. He was more than grateful and beamed with a generous smile on his face.

Then I went further to ask him how many rejections he gets in a day and he said he cannot put a number to it as it is uncountable. However, he told me that never stops him from pursuing the next customer for a sale. The question is how many times you have been rejected looking for that job or people saying “no” to you and as a result you gave up. These street hawkers understand how to stay motivated against all odds by not looking at the negative situations encountered on the daily basis but to look at the few positives that leads to closing a sale. The question is can you learn from these hawkers as I see them as an inspiration every single day?

My question is what is Government, the private sector, Churches and Religious bodies, Charities and benevolent societies doing to support these young street hawkers? Can there be apprenticeship schemes or skills training programmes designed purposely for these young people selling under the traffic lights such that over a period of time, they will gradually be weaned off the streets? Something needs to be done considering how dangerous their trade is. Some of them recount incidences where their friends have been knocked down by cars with some losing their livelihoods or lives totally.

To be honest, I enjoyed interacting with these young people as they are fun, witty, have a sense of humor in the midst of all the challenges they face, are very polite and willing to serve customers gladly with their products.

Our organisation, Train2inspire Consultancy which is a training and development firm is working on a project that will support disadvantaged young people in our country and the youth. All of us have a role to play to make Ghana a better a place.

We wish Ghana well.

Oscar Bimpong

info@oscarbimpong.com