Transport in Ghana is a cross between Mad Max and Wacky Races. The main road between Accra and Kumasi (the 2nd city) and the road along the coast are generally OK. Everything else is dilapidated, under-maintained and even laughable, embarrassing or dangerous. As if in sympathy with the conditions of the road – many of the vehicles that use it can be described exactly the same way. That said, there are some very expensive cars to be seen – mainly around Accra.
For whatever reason, its a country that has not embraced either mopeds or motorbikes, unlike the surrounding francophone countries. This is a land of cars and Tro Tro’s. And trucks that are stunningly overloaded, listing like a stricken ship. And potholes. The potholes are the most common feature – particularly as you head west where they outnumber (by area) the asphalt. Most people get around in TroTros – minivans that criss-cross the country and attract a huge amount of attention from traffic police.
The traffic police are ever vigilant – on the constant lookout for people who might have enough money to pay an on the spot fine. A spot, in Ghana, is where you go to get a drink – which is certainly what happens to the fine. Fine dining. The police are dressed in any number of uniforms with no particular rhyme or reason. My favourite ones are the guys in crisp white, epaulette-festooned uniforms (nb. with gold string arm loop and pith helmet). Its almost a privilege to pay bribes to these guys.
The trucks are often so old and so overloaded that any hill of any gradient is a major challenge. Queues of semitrailers inch along behind each other, burning as much oil as diesel, just waiting to spring their last sprocket and grind to a halt just shy of the crest of the hill. The ubiquitous “God will save us”or “Jesus is my mechanic” or “Prepare to meet God” stickers on the back of the trucks could actually be a last ditch attempt to keep the vehicles on the road. The latter is more likely a warning to the light vehicles that are now forced to overtake blind into the oncoming traffic.
Drink driving happens in Ghana. The weekends (mainly Saturdays) is the funeral circuit (finishing one set and causing the next lot). Funerals are serious events here – religious and social. Its easy to spot the drink drivers on the road – they’re the ones driving in straight lines.
Breakdowns are a fact of life. Usually steering rods and axels. Somewhere in Ghana is an enormous mechanic training academy called “McGyvers Auto Solution Academy”. Sponsored by Ghana Paperclips and Mentos/P.K.
There are an encouraging number of bikes around – but these are rarely seen on the main roads. They stick strictly to the villages and towns. There are a vast array of mountain bikes available. Dual suspension is common. I am yet to see disk brakes. I guess they’ll arrive as Europe starts to jettison the next generation of bikes.
Probably the most picturesque form of transport available are the fishing boats – carved from huge logs with traditional chainsaws and hatchets (all – yes ALL – the anthropologists who ever read this will have noted that hatchets are not traditional West African tools. And while its true that chainsaws are a relative newcomer too, you have to suspect that West Africans have wanted chainsaws for thousands of years and are making up for lost time). The traditionally crafted boats are emblazoned with all sorts of flags and pennants and when grouped together in harbour are the type of colourful scenes that make jigsaw manufacturers go weak at the knees.
However, like everything else here, the hazy margins of possibility and probability create opportunity. If safety, engineering, regulation and dogma mean nothing to you – the car of your dreams is only just around the corner in Ghana!