Road Accidents In Ghana - And The Blame Culture

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

On the 13th of January ghanaweb carried a heart-wrenching headline news, captioned ‘30 people died in road accidents in less than a month’. It was short but a classic headline grabbing news, which attracted my attention on my daily browsing of the site. The piece did not divulge much other than the general statistics of road fatalities. Besides, it is a recurring headline that every now and then steals our attention and causes our bleeding hearts to ooze more blood for the departed souls, the maimed and their love ones. At a first glance you might think that people are born and people die and it’s all part of life. But on a second thought the realisation hits home that the victims have got love ones and not only that but dependants, maybe, in their formative years. It’s one thing to live in Ghana with both parents and another living with a single parent and worse without any. What actually prompted me to put these words together was the sort of comments it attracted from the various readers.

It is natural to want to lash out at somebody in the event of such dreadful but preventable human carnage. Psychologically that is how the human mind is wired, which is, perhaps, necessary for our mental health. The blame culture is ingrained and has got a very long history. The classic example that comes to mind is when God, in the Garden of Eden, confronted Adam after eating the forbidden fruit. Adam quickly absolved himself from the debacle and pointed finger at Eve as the culprit. This example throws a beautiful search light on the way the human mind cushions itself from problems it finds difficult to process. Having said that it is therefore quite understandable the government has become a soft target for such normal human failings and obvious recklessness on the part of road users.

The perception of the very people who bear the brunt of this wanton destruction of human lives on our roads is very sad at best. It is important that we look at the problem in the eye and analyse it objectively if eradicating it is a possibility. There are some whom it is even a lost course to think about objective analysis because they believe it is caused spiritually by some bloodthirsty witches and wizards whose appetite for human haemoglobin increases around the Christmas and the Easter festivities. Personally, I find it very frustrating thinking about a solution and having to factor into it ideas and beliefs that cannot be proved logically and objectively. It is also equally depressing to think about the fact that an alcoholic or drug addict who during a remission can gather his thoughts together and come to the realisation that his lifestyle is destroying him or herself, yet makes a misguided logical leap and accuses a vulnerable old lady waiting for a knock at the door from the icy hands of death as the cause of their problems. One of the funniest throw away comments when I was growing up regarding medical drugs was the fact that because some bacteria and viral infections develop resistance to certain medication some ignorant people attribute their ineffectiveness to witches and wizard compromising the potency of the drugs. This is the marshland of thoughts we have to contend with when devising a solution to any national problem.

Though most of us don’t stoop to this ridiculous level in the examples above, it is normal for us to blame others rather than sit down and plough through possibilities to nib a problem in the bud, especially with these road accidents, rather than allowing it to fester uncontrollably. Naturally, I am not a big fun of the government and under normal circumstances will not write anything that will get them off the hook. Nevertheless, there are certain avoidable problems that we blame it on the government at our own peril. Though part of the problem can be squarely laid at their doorsteps, majority of the accidents are brought about by the stupidity and recklessness of the drivers on our roads by over speeding, careless overtaking and drink driving. There is no doubt that the national road network is in shambles but its shambolic state shouldn't cause such unreasonable death toll on our roads rather a diminution of economic activities.

Although one of the first lessons in statistics teaches that correlation is not always causation, yet, there is a degree of relationship between the number of cars on our roads and accident. Which happen to be the case during the run up to all the major celebrations in the country. Because of the sharp increase in economic activities businesses cash in to increase their revenue around the festive period causing the amount of cars that ply our roads to increase tremendously. Now, since there is a season for every business most drivers also know that it is their opportunity to have a bigger share of the national economic cake when the volume of passengers multiplies. In so doing, they cut down considerably the average time they should spend on the road from their departure to their destination so that they can make more journeys by over speeding to the detriment of their own lives and the lives of their helpless passengers.

The following is what the government should tackle with a lot of tact. The state of some of the cars that ply our roads are basically death traps. The bodies are literally falling off and their engines, which have outlived their usefulness, cannot provide the necessary horsepower needed to climb the most humble gradient. As result when they are climbing with their engines creaking and a follow up car decide to overtake they are unable to release the accelerator for the overtaking car to pass quickly because it will reduce their speed and might not be able surmount enough momentum to carry on, which causes the cars to literally race side by side leading to head-on collision with any on rushing car. In addition, some of this behaviour is also done by malice by momentary rush of hormones by drivers whose lorries or cars are not in good shape.

Solution is needed without doubt. On the other hand, in such distressing moment hardly do people look beyond the first stage of their thoughts. People are demanding for the law to come on traffic offenders like a tonne of bricks forgetting that it will all cost money to implement. One commentator was suggesting that the government should build good roads with the oil revenue absolutely forgetting the fact that the government will also have to improve our schools, hospitals and crumpling infrastructure, besides other pressing areas of the economy.

The solution that is being offered is practically impossible in the foreseeable future. We are not going to see the western type of road construction in the country for sometime to come if we have to be honest to ourselves. So we have to look at practical steps to function efficiently within the constraints of what the national economy is able to offer currently else the death toll will continue and increase until the dual and the triple carriageway that people are suggesting happens, which is not a possibility now. We find ourselves in a pickle. We might say that if drivers should be arrested and prosecuted for over speeding the problem will go away but we then open ourselves to more police corruption. The solution is not that simple as people are suggesting.

In the mean time there are steps that can be taken without any government intervention to avoid the perennial loss of human life and it's resultant psychological suffering. GPRTU should do more by monitoring their members with incentives such as best driver of the year with half of the votes coming from the general public and penalising those that come at the lower end of the pile, which will be more effective than having the government to enact laws that will give its enforcers another avenue to line their pockets. The concept of democracy, which has come to stay in our lives, should not be used only in just legitimising political parties to assume reigns of government but must be appropriated in every sphere of our lives. Passengers should be able to asset their right when drivers are driving carelessly and over speeding. Because if you don't protest the way your hair is being shaped it will be done badly. And if you sit in a car and the driver is driving like there is no tomorrow and you do not protest there is no such thing as being hard done but you end up in the grave.

We have to create the awareness in our communities, in our churches and mosques, in the various private clubs and most importantly the GPRTU. Any application of the strong arm of the law is going to be counter productive because the officials of the MTU division of Ghana police service will just make a fool of the system.

This is a tragedy that can be avoided; it is basic common sense. Let us pull our sleeves and tackle it head on.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr



Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina