Driving In Ghana

I remember taking my last taxi to Tema before picking up my new second hand car that came off a ship from Germany. It felt good that i was finally avoiding bartering with the greedy taxi drivers who when seeing a foreigner would double their fare.

You see the taxi driver is one of the most arrogant and contentious people in Ghana. I was later going to find out that their plight i had only exchanged and not gotten rid of.

I stood there amongst many cars next to mine waiting for the Ashanti dealers to arrive for the exchange of the millions of cedis cash i had in my ruck sack for my car. Soon they came smiling and after counting every note they handed over the car to me.

Everything seemed to go smooth i had the car ownership papers my road worthiness and tax along with my driving license within a few days. It wasn’t long before i was stuck at kwame Nkrumah’s circle in a huge static traffic jam. I had Taxi’s and tro tro’s on all sides boxing me in and not giving up even an inch.

It was a million miles away from driving in the mostly good mannered streets of south London.
Sure in London there was “Road rage incidents” that could lead to your death if you met the wrong driver in the wrong situation, but in Ghana minus the death every driver almost is the wrong driver. All of them want to go before you. All of them don’t have respect or have knowledge of “The right of way”, and even more shockingly some are literally suicidal in there driving.

I know you the reader outside of Africa probably think i’m exaggerating but believe it or not i am being very careful to choose my words carefully to only tell you the truth.

Let me give you some examples. It is very common for you to be driving along and a parked car usually a taxi without checking his mirror pulls out in front of you making you slam on your breaks to avoid hitting him. He will do it without apology and most of the time in total oblivion to you your speed and any eventuality he may cause.

In the cases where you hit him he will blame you, and to be truthful if you are a foreigner the local people in most cases will also blame you.

I have even had on about 3 occasions a suicidal driver over taking about 4 vehicle’s coming to wards a row of cars ahead of me in our lane. In these situations i remember the drivers flashing there lights ignorantly to move the traffic ahead of me out of the way even though we are in our rightful lane. Amazingly the cars ahead of me would give them way by driving into the place where people walk. In other words giving these deranged individuals the priority of an emergency at the cost of endangering pedestrians and other road users.

But by far the most amazing thing i have experienced was in a place called Dodowa. You see Dodowa is a very quite town hardly any cars at all. I was driving though there one Sunday afternoon, i was the only car on the road. Up ahead i notice a woman standing on the reservation that separates the road. She had already cross half the road and was waiting i thought for me to pass with a small boy before she continued.

To my surprise the woman made a desperate run in front of my car pulling the hesitant boy. I slammed on my breaks and swerved to miss her causing a screech. When she got to the other side she foolishly smiled.

A woman who felt it fit in inpatients to risk her life and the life of her son rather than to just wait till i pass. This made me think for some days after, and i can only draw the conclusion that Ghanaians both pedestrians and drivers have an erroneous and unhealthy attitude towards road use. This can be confirmed in the number of fatal road traffic accidents that happen here every day. According to the government 3 people die due to road accidents every day in Ghana.

Only just last month on the Accra Wenniba Road some 45 people perished as a truck carrying yams from Tema hit two cars that had crashed in the middle of the road. People who was about to rescue the occupants of the cars where ran over by the truck.

Even though there are far less cars in Accra than in London, driving in Accra is far more demanding. In order to get from A to B you have to anticipate whats unimaginable in London.

I can almost hear you ask “What about the police in all of this?”. Well they are very busy trying to make a decent salary from road block bribes rather that chase bad drivers. I had a policeman stop me at a road block, he checked for everything. When he saw i had all that the law required he just asked me for money. The asking for money was the purpose of the road block it seemed.

Will Muhammad.
First published Wednesday, May 30, 2007

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