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Opinions Sun, 8 Aug 2004

Driving In Ghana ? A Death Trap Waiting For A Catch

(Part 1 of 3 By Kwaku A. Danso)

Driving can be a very enjoyable experience in some parts of the world, but it can be a death trap in some nations. Ghana seems to be one of the latter nations. Is there hope for progress? Many of such nations claim they want tourists to visit their nations. The leaders never seem to ask themselves: are these tourists to stay indoors in their hotels once they arrive in Ghana? Tourists simply love to travel. I can still recollect as a young man my first 1,000 mile thrill driving round-trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in my old Ford Mustang. Like many in the West, especially in America, it was such a pleasure driving on the highways, with no thought of danger from an oncoming traffic or pothole to dodge. Like many countries such as Kenya, UK and some US states like California, Florida and New York that have heavy tourist revenue, Ghana can gain several billions annually in tourist dollars. We don?t have to do much more than simply clean up our streets, and build good 2 and 4 lanes of well-marked and divided roads.

Drivers with international experience will confirm with me that Ghanaian drivers are very skilled. The Ghanaian nature seems to be very adaptable to circumstances, and need only to learn basic human courtesies of driving. We all drive through the mess without much complains to the right authorities, always hoping for the best. However, it is a reflection of the society at large. Chaos theory in organizational studies, as developed by Professor Furayama and others, suggest that chaotic systems, such as atoms, clouds in the skies, to human organizations, can rearrange themselves to bring a sense of order where no driving force even exists in a preferred direction. My short stay since return home to Ghana confirm that in the chaotic society that seems to reign in our nation, the roads and driving conditions create a danger to human lives. If Ghanaian were in positions to push for their legal rights, one can legally place the danger and loss of lives to a total negligence of governmental duties and responsibilities. Ghanaian drivers still find some way to move from point A to point B. Almost every Ghanaian driver knows the roads are surface-coated to look good just before elections. They also know that the politicians try to buy the Landcruisers and luxury vehicles so they can avoid the bruises of their own negligence. Except for an occasional outbursts, the Ghanaian driver drives with lots of patience, even under extreme stress, giving it to God as usual. For the visitor, this may be better handled with lots of 4-letter word cursing.

I have driven for over 33 years in more than 20 of the US states and other countries including Mexico. However, driving on Ghanaian roads in the last three weeks of July 2004, especially in the night, is close to a death sentence waiting to happen to many. After a weekend trip to the village, a necessity of almost all adult Ghanaians sooner or later, returning to Accra in one piece makes one feel like he or she has won the lottery. My relatively speaking short trip to Abetifi in the Kwahu mountains exemplifies this. The small town roads even seem better than those at the affluent suburbs in Accra. There are always rumors and news announcements of government promises that some special super highways were under construction. It?s only a myth. We have heard this before many times since the 1970s, and under the Rawlings-Botchwey reign of financial fiasco. The people of Ghana have been fooled on this road many times by government after government after the Nkrumah regime ended some 38 years ago. No amount of governmental promises will convince us that our leaders intend to, and have the ability to manage the construction of a major engineering project to build good roads with our borrowed moneys. With the money collected from Robin-Hood taxation and port duties, our leaders still find no obligation to build good durable roads. So why not cut out the public deceit!

In a three-hour trip, we met more than 100 trucks and heavy 22 wheeler articulators. A good percentage of them had only a single headlight, and perhaps half of them had their blinding headlamps at high beam in order to see the roads. One funny custom not to forget is that in Ghana nobody puts their headlamps on till they absolutely cannot see an elephant in front of them. In addition every vehicle takes more than half the road width since there are no lines on 95% of the roads. Let?s remember there are no street lights either, even on most of the city roads. There are none obviously on such long arduous death traps called roads. Yes, it?s that dangerous! Why would anybody drive and not take the plane or train? For most people, road travel is the only way to move from one city or town to another. Affluent areas like the Kwahu mountain plateau cities still do not have a single small airport to serve the needs of rich potential clients. These are the people who, if offered, can pay for a 45 minute trip instead of 3 hours, and pay 4 times the price. The writer intends to do further research into this.

How Dangerous can Ghana Driving Be? To illustrate, let?s recall that a year or two ago many members of the traveling entourage of Ghana?s President Kufuor were reported killed in an auto accident. Mr. Kufuor escaped with his life. We may recall former President Jerry Rawlings had suffered a near-miss accident also some years back. This untimely death can happen to visiting business persons and tourists also. Last November when I was home I had met an Indian Manager of a major company to discuss some business. A few weeks before I came to Ghana I called, and received the sad news that he had died that week in an automobile accident. There is very little of such sad news the media is able to report on such incidents of deaths. Did anybody ever think that these deaths have some potential criminal negligence liability on those responsible for our roads? I call this neglect of roads criminally negligent; because in the law of torts found in many countries, a person is criminally liable if he deliberately fails to fulfill a contractual duty and hence causes harm to another. A company, corporation, or government are not immune from liability, and can be held criminally liable. Ghanaians pay heavy import duties, taxes, registration, road-worthiness and licensing fees on vehicles imported or purchased in Ghana. There are legal case precedents in which even a thief who was injured on a homeowner?s property was found liable for negligence. A duty and responsibility therefore lies on government, as a contract, to provide safe and reliable driving roads and conditions to the drivers and owners of such vehicles. This writer has paid in the last two months alone official fees of more than 85,000,000 to 100,000,000 in import, VAT, registering and other fees on two vehicles to the Ghana government. What do I get in return? Nothing seems to be in the plan of the Ghanaian leadership to change this situation. Sand, gravel and coal tar seems to be our only solution to our road transportation, despite billions of dollars wasted on Ghana?s roads. In the 1988-89 budget Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, then Finance Minister, had US $4.2 Billion allotted for road construction under loans. What happened to the money? Did anybody hear of a road contractor or Administrator in charge go to jail? Has Dr. Botchwey been investigated to find out why? Instead, to add insult to injury, this man was invited to speak in Washington DC to Ghanaians. Ghana has some $6.2 Billion in deficit mostly due to losses in road construction loans. Can President Kufuor and former President Rawlings or anybody answer some questions or us who pay these heavy duties, taxes and fees?

Our solution to poor roads seems to be putting sand and gravel in potholes, and that seems to satisfy the Ghanaian leadership, especially some months before the elections. Since I arrived in Ghana in July 2004, I can see some tractors in action on some roads, as the poll booths are being delivered. Pseudo-plans are announced every month as donor nations are courted for money to solve our problems. The picture in this report shows an abandoned road sign, obviously depicting a major road planned between East Legon, an affluent suburb of Accra with mansions like found in Europe and America, and a crowded suburb of Madina. Was there any project management report? The sign was found in a gutter and being held by an Accra resident only for the picture taken by the writer. The plans seem to have also fallen in an earlier gutter of Ghana?s national plans.

Kwaku A.Danso, Pres/CEO
AMTEK INTERNATIONAL, INC.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.