African viewpoint: Road rage in Ghana

Traffic on the George Walker Bush motorway in Accra, Ghana

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene falls victim to road rage in Ghana.

One of the things I pray for all the time is that the road network in Ghana is modernised.

To enjoy driving as I do, you need good vehicles, good drivers and good roads.

But it looks like I have to change my mind about the importance of good roads. Every time a new road is built or an old one is upgraded in this country, the accident rate on the stretch rises.

I do not think I have mentioned in these columns that there is now a George Walker Bush Highway in Accra.

This is the star attraction in the projects that have been executed in the country as part of the US States Millennium Challenge Account grant that was awarded to Ghana back in 2007.

There is nothing quite like this 14km road anywhere else in Ghana.

It is a three-lane dual carriageway with two interchanges, 23 minor junctions, six footbridges, bicycle lanes, and it is well-lit and signposted.

It was opened to traffic back in February this year.

The first time I drove on the road I was confronted with the sight of a young man carrying a long plank of wood on his head and trying to cross the six lanes of highway.

Image caption Vendors tend to weave in and out of moving traffic in Ghana

I saw a young lady flag down a taxi in the middle lane of the highway and the taxi stopped and picked her up.

And of course I saw any number of pedestrians stroll, walk, jog and run across the six lanes of highway.

The drivers moved from lane to lane without any warning and I counted six broken down and abandoned trucks along the way.

The newspapers and radio stations have been totting up the number of accidents that have occurred since the formal opening of this road and I hear there have been about 35 deaths so far and some spectacular crashes.

There have been loud complaints that there are not enough pedestrian crossings and yet I have seen people walk across the road right underneath the pedestrian footbridges.

By-passing by-passes

If you are new in town you will find the road usage habits a little strange.

Since you can do all your shopping while sitting in your car in the traffic, you have to accept that the hawkers who are weaving in and out of the moving traffic have the right of way all the time.

I am not quite sure that jay-walking is a crime here, because if it is, nobody has ever been prosecuted for it.

Image caption Main roads, wherever they are, tend to become centres of commerce

When it comes to out of town driving we run into even bigger difficulties.

If a by-pass is constructed to divert the highway from a town centre, the town will move eventually to the by-pass.

If a major road passes through the middle of the town, which is our preference, ramps are built on the highway.

Take for example, the 160-odd kilometre road from Accra to my village; there are now more than 50 sets of ramps on this road and what would have been, and indeed used to be a pleasant drive is now a stressful, obstacle course.

The ramps are of unpredictable heights and widths and different textures and it is not uncommon to see a group of local young men digging up trenches across the road to force drivers to slow down in their town.

A stretch of road is therefore part highway, part town road, part residential road and part pedestrian walkway.

I have now accepted that driving is no longer something to be enjoyed, at least, not in my home.

I feel lucky to be alive every time I get back home in one piece.

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