Accra: The Capital City of Ghana is a Kaleidoscope of Prestige Streets, Streetlight Discos, and Unwarranted Pothole Photoshoots!
If you’ve ever encountered those bright flashing overhead speed cameras littered across Accra, desperate to get a shot at your number plate as you swerve a pothole, you may value this piece more than your car’s price-tag.
Do not index
Do not index
Something Must Change! – Nobody should be smiling in Accra. If you value common sense, you shouldn’t – Your capital city has become a big ballroom of flashing lights, swaying hips, and booty drops. What’s left? A DJ to turn up the heat? Maybe we all deserve to dance on our highways, swerving fault lines, and climbing over potholes – and with a light-heart accepting this as our reality. Maybe, just maybe. After all, Electricity Comes and Goes (ECG) when it pleases, despite our pleadings and jeerings, why should our roads be anymore reliable.
I’m writing this post from the broad expanses of hot Madrid. It’s summertime, and frantically warm. Mediterranean Europe is the continental region of climatic extremes. It’s searing when July turns in, and freezing in January, so bear with me, for even the locals aren’t quite “used to it” yet.
Despite this, things are largely consistent here; public transport works, electricity has no downtimes, water is ever-available, government offices deliver, and certainly the ROADS ARE GOOD! Just shy of excellent. I have to remind myself that these people are humans too.
See, if you’ve had the unusual privilege to spend sometime in Western Europe, and juxtapose that with the sprawling network of interconnected we categorise as Accra’s roads, you’re my audience; the rest of you can go back to being unperturbed by this write-up. You’re either too naive to care, or too proud to be bothered. But you’ll never be able to dismiss the reigning notion that everything in Ghana is half-assed.
This observation first hit me about a year ago. Take for instance, Germany. I once met a lady from the Netherlands who’d travelled everywhere, from England to India, seeking medical assistance for her son. Eventually every referral pointed her to this facility in Germany; and they fixed the issue. The Germans have perfected Healthcare. There’s a running narrative that “it’s impossible to die in a German hospital” - and I love it, because being globally known for doing one thing extremely well amidst the plethora of already great happenings they already hold is phenomenal. Everyone should strive for this.
But not so Ghana. We strive alright, but for half-assery. In this place we call home, you’ll find a bit of everything but “Master of None”. Shoddy half-assed solutions are basically a proverb in the global south. Ferrari’s on the streets of Accra? Check! Potholes the size of craters? Check! Large malls hosting international brands? Check! Tiny kiosks & traders taking over the walkways and pavements outside these malls? Check! Three lane highways? Check! Streetlights on these highways that never work? Check! A President flying $13k/hr private jets? Check! Public transport left to private ramshackle trotros? Check! Check! Check! Check!
I could go on and on and wear myself out with these contradictions, yet who am I kidding? This is very much your reality too. The Ghana we’ve known since childhood. A half-assed country, run by equally dim folk. But this piece isn’t about them. You may read that here.
Instead I’ve been grappling with this: Someone went to a foreign land on behalf of our welfare, exchanged forex with a merchant to procure lights for a night show that would never work. Even more upsetting is the fact that they forgot to include sound. What’s a disco without music!
Let me bring you home. I won’t attempt to polish my words so this piece rolls off your screens melodiously like a ballad. The era of serenading readers in a bid to be perceived political correct is a labour in futility. In truth, your grandest joy should be in applauding my undisguised patriotism. No well-meaning citizen of the motherland will keep mute on a matter this weighty, no one should.
The streetlights that mark the edges of our roads and highways are begging to be lit. I’ve always loved night driving; less traffic, very few trotros, and the opportunity to test the limits of my car engine. But what you won’t enjoy about night driving is the discos – the upsetting streetlights flickering on and off along the N1, the Madina-Aburi stretch (I think that’s N4), the Pokuase Ablekuma linkages, and the Tema motorway. All across the city, nothing’s more reliable than streetlights that don’t work. And even when they do they flicker.
I quizzed a colleague who frequents the Tema Motorway if his commute was any different. He affirmed my suspicions howbeit with an edge of defense; “it’s the streetboys o, they keep stealing the lights”. He was convinced beyond repentance that it was the unscrupulous residents of the bramble bushes along those highways sneaking upon those poles to harvest the bulbs at night. Those 18-foot poles. I can’t blame him. He must have heard that from one politician on the radio. I can bet everything on this.
So what about the disco kind, those ones that still have bulbs but won’t stay on. 80% of Accra is this way – lights that won’t show up, nor stay on. The things we’ve come to accept as normal in this part of the world; utterly disgusting. I should quiz my colleague on this also. I should ask, “so what of them poles that have bulbs but won’t light?”. Maybe this time it’ll be the old ladies who fly at night responsible for the faulty lights. Shameful.
I’d like to sign off on this road matter, but there’s another troubling concern of mine. Before the last election, certain overhead camera’s were mounted across a few roads in the city, similar to what you have on the Kotoka airport enclave roads. I understand for surveillance.
For these new equipment to be mounted most of these roads were dug across, cables laid and then covered up. But unfortunately, this little setup was not spared from the Ghanaian half-assery. Because in classic fashion the cover up was poorly done, and began to erode rapidly. Now all around the city where these cameras hang, there are tiny trenches across the roads. Classic!
If for some reason you’re having trouble visualising, Allow me to explain the hazard; you’re driving off from a long wait at the Kaneshie First Light traffic stop at 10pm, heading towards Hansonic. It’s dark. No streetlights. But just past Accra Academy School on the stretch hangs one of these rigs. Unmissable. As you approach, outta nowhere a bright white flash lights up your windscreen, momentarily blinding you, the camera at work, you squint. Unbeknownst to you, right beneath you’re one second shy from being derailed by the trench developing in the middle of the street. It’s catastrophic. It’s dangerous. Almost too perfect to fail; a blinding light atop a rough burrow. I’ve caught myself being flung out unto the next lane, narrowly swerving another driver.
I can’t for the love of God fathom the wisdom behind this setup. I’ll pause for a drink. This upsets me greatly. I hand over to Angela.
Thank you, Samuel.
Let’s begin with drivers. When the roads are not well maintained by the government, the drivers bitterly complain and when the government finally gives them their heart’s desire, they drive recklessly killing pedestrians and passengers. As if to pay back the nation for it’s delayed kindness, with death.
Remember when our President Nana Akuffo-Addo tagged 2021 The Year of Roads, and then used our money to spray Makola market for millions of Cedis due Covid? Yes, he used our road money to mix disinfectant to spray the market. Well, its not the only crazy thing the government has done lately, but if drivers can-when the roads are bad, thread carefully because they don’t want to damage their vehicles, and once the roads are good, they drive recklessly, destroying lives and property, I won’t ever pin that on the government. That’s all on us!
Safety comes first whether on good roads or bad roads. Former President Flt. Lt. J J Rawlings, (may his soul Rest in Peace) once said, ”It’s only in Ghana that good roads cause lots of accidents”. So until we decide as individuals to do right by this nation, we are going to be our own demise regardless of any development steps the government takes. As citizens of this country, we need to do better. The nation belongs to us and we must take care of it. I won’t descend into why nations with better roads, record half a fraction of the road incidents we do today. I won’t.
Our youth like to leave to another man’s country – you should see the queues outside the Canadian embassy – but forget that if we work hand in hand and do our parts as citizens, we will and can become a great and developed nation.
Now to our leaders: Not so long ago, the road construction that began in Assin-North Constituency Area, because of the by-elections to be held there, seized a day after the elections were ended at a loss to the ruling government’s candidate. Had the residents not taken up arms the government would not have done the needful. It’s so childish, I couldn’t explain it to my younger brother. Does it make sense that you’d punish the people of Assin-North for making a decision about who should represent them in parliament? Someone needs to remind those in power what a democratic nation means in principle. They had a right to choose and they chose. Period.
Samuel, I don’t know if this clearly shows which one is our nemesis, bad or good roads but I know it clearly shows that our behaviour, citizens and leaders alike, is our greatest foe.
Back to you, Samuel.
Where do I begin on this? In my opinion, whenever you’re fortunate to have a go at picking for yourself the choicest location within the city limits to lay a residence, locate your politician buddies and situate your domicile right by theirs. This is sound advise.
For if ever the State Authorities decide to redo the roads as elections approach, they’ll begin at yours. Even more remarkable is, if you happen to know any other top political big-wig, but of the opposing party on the same stretch of street, chances are his frontage will be skipped for “technical reasons”, giving you something to gossip about for a moment.
I witnessed this once. I laughed for an entire week at the trifling deed. Ultimately, it appears someone may have “begged” on his behalf, because before the job was completed, they returned to complete the patch.
Whoever sat on that project recounted that, he had received a call from higher up to avoid laying any asphalt on so-and-so’s frontage if he valued his life. I struggle to type this with a straight face. I can’t make this stuff up.
At some point Something Must Change – but if not now, when?
"A man's gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men." (Proverbs 18:16)