Feature Article of Friday, 26 October 2012

Columnist: Diedong, Richard Dombo

Accra, Ghana's Capital: A Few Observations And Moans.

Visiting Ghana from a spell abroad especially from the developed world, always throw up stark realities. Sometimes the returnee is overly critical of the way things are run and the attitudes of the people. Consequently, you would hear of one moan or another from the returnee. I am always amazed at some of the things that materially affect anyone visiting or residing in the capital. In this article, following a rather short visit of one week in April 2012, I recall my particular causes for moaning as follows:

The George Walker Bush Motorway: A road which only twelve months earlier, prior to it’s completion was one chaotic gridlocked nightmare of a thoroughfare between the Tetteh Quashie Roundabout and Malam Junction, incorporating the Abeka Lapaz road. I couldn’t believe that a road project can accelerate to such qualitative and speedy completion within twelve months, IN GHANA! [The period under consideration being April 2011 – April 2012]. But, as regards quality finishing, the Engineers obviously missed some very basic safety features factoring in the layout of the environs. Specifically, I am referring to the non-provision of either pedestrian underpasses or overpasses to connect one side of the road to the other. The result is, over 50 deaths within the first five months of its commissioning, as locals dice with death dashing across the express road to reach the other side. Obviously lessons were not learnt from the old Kaneshie – Malam road which should have served as a guide to constructing new express roads in Accra. I hope someone is listening as the situation can be rectified!

The Achimota - Ofankor Road: As I observed earlier, I was surprised at the time it took to complete the GW Bush motorway once the job got going. However, the Achimota - Ofankor road is the antithesis of the GW Bush road in terms of the construction time scales. The big wonder is, what has been the reason for the hold up in completing this road started under the Kufuor regime? In toting out the litany of ‘unprecedented successes’ under the Mills regime, the completion of a major artery between the country’s two major capitals, Accra – Kumasi, via the Achimota – Ofankor road and sections in-between should have rated as a priority project. This is a good example of the shocking statement made by Dr Tony Aidoo, Head of Policy Monitoring & Evaluation at the Presidency, mid-way through the tenure of the NDC administration that ‘it is time the then Mills administration leave uncompleted projects initiated under the Kufuor regime, and rather concentrate on new projects started under the Mills regime’.

Dubiously, this is one of several other targeted road projects intended to take off in the run up to the Dec ’12 elections as an example of supposed NDC achievements in order to garner support for the NDC. Indeed, the sod cutting ceremony on, eerily Friday 13th July ’12, to re-start work on this project was Pres Mills’ last public appearance before his death on 24th July ‘12. NDC please stop playing politics with the people’s and the nation’s interests.

Public Works Department [PWD]: The state of the Nation’s capital’s roads is an indication of an even worse state of the roads in the other regions. Man size holes - not pot holes; axle- wrecking residential ‘roads’ and by-passes, being heavily used by both private and public transport vehicles as a desperate attempt to dodge gridlock on the main roads is the norm. Whatever informed the decision to scrap the PWD of old whose army of maintenance workers positioned throughout the country conducted regular checks and repairs? Like the scraping of the Fisheries Department, this was an ill thought out decision and must be reversed. A body like that would, if wisdom was applied, be deployed with graders to these residential and other side roads to at least make them passable, and give longevity to vehicles and running cost reduction to vehicle owners. In short, fixing access roads would compliment and take pressure off the main roads and help vehicular condition. The economy would thrive better with faster and more reliable transportation enabled by better roads. The Dept of Roads & Highways is probably not decentralised enough, without the PWD, to achieve desired results and therefore needs looking into.

Traffic Lights Power Source Linked To Local Electricity Supply: This is another anomaly in the preferred engineering of the capital’s roads. Anytime the usual ‘lights out’ hit, traffic lights in those areas are affected as well. Why can the traffic lights not be independently powered? Gridlock whenever this happens, especially in sections of the George Walker Bush Motorway, is totally avoidable and unacceptable. Street lights, like traffic lights, can be solar powered. Invest in the technology!

Unnamed Street Names & Residential Addresses: In this day and age of the Google world, country, city and road map, it is inexcusable for a country of the status of Ghana on the international stage to not have named streets and residential addresses, not least in the nation’s capital! What on earth could be the excuse? Funds? Well, I’d argue that in so far as there is a Town & Country Planning department of the Local Government, budgetary allocation can and should be made to redress this situation. This is such a basic necessity in the development of a city. It is the first step in posts being home delivered and would provide an essential other form of identification and tracking of people through their residential or business address, thus reducing incidences of fraud and advancing business transactions. Yes, resources may be scare and need to be prioritised, but this particular neglect is counter-developmental and out of sync with a progressive nation state.

Duty Free at Kotoka International Airport: [DUFRY]: A final moan if I may, as I flew back overseas. Many a long haul flier would attest that the wide choice and comparative cheapness of goods [perfumes, alcohol, cigarettes, etc] is always a welcome distraction from the drudgery of being strapped in your plane seat for hours. However, in Ghana’s Kotoka ‘International’ Airport, they seem to miss the trick altogether! Where for example, a 1 ltr bottle of Smirnoff Red Label Vodka costs even on Accra street shops [April 2012] at NGC29, it costs $33.00 in the duty free shop! Same bottle cost the equivalent of £12.00 [$17.00 approx] at Amsterdam International airport. To put this into context, this bottle costs about £18.00 in UK shops, and so, at £12.00 in the Amsterdam Duty Free shop, is a bargain for the traveller from the UK. The worse example is the cost of a small box of Ghanaian chocolates costing $33! How is this good for tourism, never mind duty free?! Even local newspapers cost more in these two shops than out on the streets.

Interestingly, the unwary traveller is hoodwinked by the shop’s name, ‘DUFRY’. Upon seeing the first two letters ‘DU’ [DUTY] and the last two, ’FR’ [FREE], coupled with the ending ‘Y’ as in the sound ‘FREE’, the traveller would uncritically observe the name and innocently assume it to be ‘DUTY FREE’. This is so until you are rudely awakened by the scandalous prices quoted once you go browsing. More appropriately, these shops should be named ‘DUPED & FRIED’.

On a recent travel in August 2012 through Newark International Airport, New York, I saw a DUFRY shop! Curiosity drew me in to check prices, and lo and behold, this was a duty free shop in so far as its prices reflected such. So then if DUFRY is a chain of duty free shops, why is Accra – Ghana exceptional? Is there no international gentleman’s agreement amongst airport operators to provide reciprocal amenities, services and privileges? Hope someone is listening and going to take action.

I guess this is sufficient moans for one week’s observation. Doubtless there are other moans on clinics, hospitals, restaurant waiting times, hotels, sanitation, street hawkers, traffic, etc. In highlighting these few moans, it is hoped some conscientious responsible Minister or officer would begin some stirrings to get things changed, for the better.

Accra, the Nation’s capital, is the window to the rest of the country, and must be well presented to the outside visitor looking in.

By: Richard Dombo Diedong