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24.06.2009 Feature Article

Accra Is Becoming Ungovernable

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You do not need to be a sage to know that Accra , the capital city of Ghana , is becoming ungovernable. Accra today is a place where some people break the law with impunity and get away with it. The situation is so bad that sometimes when you see people doing certain things which do not look right or normal you ask yourself, “Do we have laws?” It is not that we do not have the police to enforce law and order, but many residents of the city have become a law unto themselves. It is a city where you can do many things including breaking many city ordinances and get away with it. Finito!

There was this guy walking with this fine lady until they got very close to a friend's house. I was then standing in front of the friend's gate. Before I could say jack, this guy was urinating in the gutter very close to where I was stan ding. He had no shame, he did not care that exposing himself in public was disgusting nor did he feel he was breaking any law in doing that. But that is just the tip of an iceberg. I would like to draw the attention of the Accra Mayor to some of the issues that have engulfed Accra , and what he and all of us need to do to arrest it.

Accra with a population of more than 4 million currently has so many social and economic problems that taking a strong political will in confronting those problems are the only way that could help in bringing some form of sanity into the city. The problems are such that the longer they wait for action, the worse they become. In fact there are so many 'mountains' to climb, that the New Mayor would have to brace himself for a tough fight. Many mayors have tried but failed because of the stubborn nature and careless attitude of many residents.

For instance, the numbers of hawkers who sell their wares around major traffic lights are increasing daily. These hawkers are on the streets around 6 a.m. and they do not leave until it is well past 8 p.m. You can find them at the Airport Junction, Mallam Junction, TUC Traffic Light, Graphic Road , Kaneshie First Light, Circle, Korle Bu and Achimota among others. Apart from contributing towards the huge traffic congestion, they also contribute hugely towards the dirtying of the city. Just visit some of the major traffic lights after these hawkers have gone to bed and you would see the huge gar bage they leave behind. At these traffic lights these hawkers virtually sell anything and do not pay any form of taxes that could be used to even clean the garbage they leave behind.

Now even tubers of yam, goats and smoked fish are being sold on the streets and street corners. Talk about school going age boys who have abandoned the classrooms and are on the streets cleaning car windscreens for tips. These hawkers many of them young school going kids apart from being a nuisance in the city, therefore putting a halt to their activities require strong political will. The city has to be rescued from these hawkers who do not care about anything but just to sell their wares.

If Ghana uses the same yardstick in examining vehicles to certify them to operate on our roads just as it is done in the United States and other Europeans countries, I bet more than 60 percent of vehicles operating in Accra today would be off the roads. Those vehicles would simply fail the test. And in the United States you cannot drive a vehicle with smoke coming from the exhaust pipe. But in Ghana about 15 per cent of the vehicles on our roads have smoking exhaust pipes. I remember in the United States even fuel caps are tested. Many trotro drivers use newspaper pile as fuel caps. We see them everyday and the police including most residents think it is normal. Has it occurred that these smoking vehicles contribute towards environmental pollution and other diseases? Is the Minister of Environment listeni ng?

I was a little kid when I saw people pouring garbage and feces into gutters. This terrible thing has not stopped and some residents in Accra still carry out such uncultured acts. They carry garbage and feces from their houses under cover of darkness and pour them into the gutters. And who betide you if you dare to challenge them. The huge insults they will pour on you would make you shiver till the rest of your life. Accra and for that matter the country has reached a stage where such unpatriotic acts cannot be allowed to go on. We the residents of Accra should help the Accra Metropolitan Authority (AMA) and the police to challenge and even report people who throw feces and garbage into gutters.

Trotro and taxi drivers stop and pick passengers anywhere they feel like. This attitude which creates problems for other motorists has gone on for years and most of these drivers who cannot even read basic road signs only care about their daily sales. Sometimes these drivers use unauthorized routes and also drive dangerously just to make it to their destinations in time with passengers not saying anything to these drivers. What comes to mind is whether these passenger care at all about their precious lives. Because passengers do not challenge these drivers, they do it everyday. I am waiting to see the day that all passengers in one vehicle would stand up and challenge the driver, refuse to pay the fare and get down to look for another vehicle to take them to their destination.

Motor cyclists in Ghana think they have a different set of traffic laws; as a result they drive anyhow. Most of the time you see motor cyclists driving the opposite direction and they do not observe traffic signs as other motorists. And the most disheartening thing is to see police officers looking on while these motor cyclists break traffic laws with impunity. It is high time the police act because the population of motor cyclists is increasing daily.

Traffic lights in Accra are a major problem. While most of them don't work (Check the Zongo Junction traffic light which has not worked for more than 3 years), the timing on the traffic lights needs to be reprogrammed. We have more vehicles on our roads today than we use to have 20 years ago when most of these traffic lights were put in place. When the green light comes on it stays for only 30 seconds and changes to red making only four or five cars able to beat the green light at a time. Therefore during peak hours you have police officers directing traffic when even these lights are working. It is so appalling and the City Engineers or those responsible need to change the timing on these traffic lights from 30 seconds to at least two and half minutes.

Unnecessary and dangerous overtaking has cost many lives especially on the Accra/Cape Road but some of these drivers still do not care. Are the police living up to their task by way of checking over speeding? Hefty fines and imprisonment could have done the trick, but it seems a “donation” of two Ghana cedis to some cops by these over speeding drivers have “demobilized” the cops from arresting and prosecuting these drivers. How long would this continue as we lose precious lives?

Anytime there is traffic congestion you see some unschooled trotro and taxi drivers driving at times even on pavements to beat the long traffic flow. They do it with impunity and it beats your heart why there are no policemen around to check these acts. In fact the traffic problems in Accra are too many and if it could be resolved it would need the collective responsibility of all residents in Accra .

Due to lack of maintenance, we have so many broken down vehicles littered around the city of Accra . These broken down vehicles slow down traffic every single day in Accra . While we have some towing trucks operating in the city, they are woefully inadequate making it difficult for the city to handle the rampant breakdown of vehicles on our roads. It is disheartening to see some of these broken down vehicles sitting on major roads for days. And the most insulting part is seeing mechanics repairing these vehicles on the roads instead of workshops during peaks hours of the day.

We have too many unschooled drivers who cannot read traffic signs on our road. These are the dangerous drivers who have no respect for other motorists. Let them break the traffic laws and attempt to correct them. The insults they would hurl on you are unprintable. These are the people that the police needs to adopt some measures to deal with them.

Accra has too many Circles and it probably has not occurred to any of the city officials that these Circles contribute towards traffic congestion during morning and evening rush hours. There is always confusion if the police are not around during those periods. And anytime it rains and the police are not around traffic pile up to the extent that a journey that should have taken drivers just 10 minutes takes one hour or more. Do we need all these Circles? And should the police who are supposed to be fighting crime be turned into traffic regulators every day?

One of the best legacies that could be left to Ghanaian motorists is when the Mallam/Tetteh Quashie Interchange road is completed. I am also adding the Achimota/Nsawam and the Legon/Medina roads. These are road projects that need to be completed on time because motorists are burning in traffic every single day. And since most of these motorists are workers it affects their performance at work and the country's prod uctivity in general.

The AMA should also do something about the huge sand deposits in our gutters and on road shoulders. Many people still do not understand why after 52 years of our independence we still cannot cover our gutters. Can't the government send some engineers out to go and study how Western countries cover their gutters, yet their gutters are not chocked when it rains. Because our gutters are not covered that is why people throw their feces and garbage into them.

There was lamentation and gnashing of teeth when the heavy rains that hit Mataheko and Kaneshie last week caused a lot of havoc by way of property destruction. Part of the problem could be attributed to the rubber bags and sachets used in selling water. These rubber products cannot be recycled therefore when they are buried under the ground it prevents rain water from seeping through the ground. That is why we see floods all over the place whenever it rains. If we do not do something about this there shall be more lamentations. I am not trying to be a prophet of doom, but that is the reality.

Accra needs to be rescued. It is crying for help but whence shall it help come from? It should come from you and me. We are all residents of this city. This is where we live. This is where we make money. And t his is where we would live for a long time to come. Therefore, making is safe, better and cleaner is our collective responsibility. The AMA and the police could do their part, but if we residents help them their work would be complete. Are we ready to challenge drivers who drive recklessly? Are we ready to report people who throw garbage and feces into gutters? Are we ready to help make the city better? These are the questions that should flood through our minds as we drive to and from work daily.

By Ekua Kwansema
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Ekua Kwansema
Ekua Kwansema, © 2009

The author has 75 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EkuaKwansema

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