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FEATURED: Ghana Needs A College Of Common Sense To Function Well...

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Regional News | May 28, 2004

The ‘Northern’ Experience

ERIC MENSAH-AYETTEY

I BRING YOU GREETINGS from the northern part of this country and a sincere apology for my absence last week. My job took me far away from Accra so I could not sit down to compose any script. I was busy experiencing life in 'far away' Wa, Jirapa, Tumu, Navrongo, Bawku, Bolgatanga, Tamale and Berekum.

As a typical Ga born, bred schooled and working in Accra. I dreaded travelling outside the city. Therefore anytime the opportunity had offered itself, I declined. My phobia about travelling has not been helped by the almost weekly reports of carnage on our roads. Accidents here, accidents there.

This time around, I mustered courage. Nevertheless, along the way as we drove sometimes in the night, I tried as much as possible to see where the accident, if any would come from. Occasionally, I found myself stepping on a non-existent brake pad at the back seat. At a point I could not help shouting at the driver to watch out when I saw a cow crossing the road.

The trip was very educative. It has made me more convinced that Ghana is a rich country in terms of natural resources. Right from Accra to Tumu I saw a vast virgin land and large deposits of rocks. In Wa, there is so much land that is sold for only ¢500, 000. I hear, only about two years ago, it sold for ¢150, 000. For the first time, I saw what Kumasi looks like. I also saw the shear nut tree and the fruit for the first time.

The trip also brought me to the realisation that the 'north', as we normally refer to Upper West, Upper East, and Northern regions is not that far. With the exception of the Bole- Bamboi and Wa-Tumu roads, the entire road network in the 'north' has been asphalted. Therefore with a well-conditioned trekking vehicle and a good driver, one should be able to transport him or herself from Accra to Wa in less than 10 hours.

I wish to lay emphasis on the need for a good driver because the experience gathered on this trip has convinced me beyond all reasonable doubt that the numerous accidents on our roads are caused largely by the drivers. They are impatient and reckless. With a little patience, like ours did, I believe no accidents will occur on our roads except ones that may result from mechanical problems with the vehicle.

As indicated earlier, the Wa-Tumu road is a very bad one. Thus one would have thought that any driver worth his salt would drive slowly and carefully while plying on it. When I saw a crashed Nissan Patrol deserted under a 'dawadawa' tree along the road during the tour, I did not know it involved our Honourable Minister for Women and Children's Affairs, Mrs. Gladys Asmah.

While in Wa, I heard she was being expected there by air for a programme on the domestic violence bill so I least expected that she would be involved in a road accident. It was later in the day that I got to know via GTV news that the Nissan Patrol 'parked' under a tree nearly became a bad news for the country.

I guess the driver has learned his lessons from over-speeding on a rough road. Or was it madam who ordered him to speed on that road? Bosses of long distance drivers should please let them drive. That is their profession and they should be allowed to take the decisions once they assume that all important seat in the vehicle. I wish Auntie Gladys and members of her entourage speedy recovery.

As I was saying, the trip was really an eye-opener. I learnt about the significance of communal eating in Wa. So significant it is that even at the hospital, the relatives of the sick would eat from the same bowl with him or her. Tried as Public Health Authorities did, they have not been able to convince members of the community that during the process of 'communal eating' the sick could infect healthy ones.

The sick could also be denied the needed nutrients to recuperate as the food prescribed by the dietician and served on the ward is allegedly exchanged with the homemade one. This is said to be a cultural practice and it is not easy trying to change it.

Another observation I made was the mass use of bicycles and motor bicycles. Children, both male and female, pregnant women, and the aged all ride their bicycles whether motored or not, with ease.

The good news is that there is not much vehicular traffic to obstruct their movement. The most fascinating scene for me was when I saw a family of four riding on a bicycle to the hospital. The mother, who was carrying a baby, was seated on the carrier while an elderly child was seated in front of the father who was riding.

The confidence with which even full-sized women rode their motorbikes was equally fascinating. It seemed almost everyone in those parts of the country owned a bike. One source of worry though, is that some of the children ride it so recklessly that it is harming them. I witnessed a few accidents that resulted from reckless riding and I think the municipal or district assemblies must put measures in place to forestall any disaster.

Down here, we do not really appreciate the value of any of the two bikes. We consider it as being good only for the dispatch rider or the messenger. Up there, nurses, teachers, administrators etc, etc, use it as their means of transport. I think the Ministry of Roads and Transport and Ministry of Energy should take a critical look at popularising the use of motorbikes in other parts of the country especially, Accra and Kumasi.

The two ministries could mount a joint educational campaign for the use of the motorbikes. Apart from easing the traffic congestion, it would help in the campaign for the efficient use of fuel. Unfortunately l did not ask about how much the bikes are sold in the North. I suggest it should be made very affordable for all. The government could even subsidise the price for the average worker up north to be able to buy one and rid

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