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Masters of the Road

Masters of the Road

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Issues relating to road governance and policing in Ghana
Issues relating to road governance and policing in Ghana

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Published by: Kwasi Agyeman-Boakye on Jul 11, 2012
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07/11/2012

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MASTERS OF THE ROAD
In the year 2008 it was reported on the air waves that at the Dansoman - MallamJunction, Accra there was a man with mental disorder coordinating traffic. Apparentlyhe had been doing it for an hour or so till things began to get out of hand when peoplerealized the traffic warden was mad. Though the mentally disordered man
’s
prolongedconduction of traffic over the hours began to produce chaos, he initially saw the trafficcrisis at the junction and opted to help
 –
in any case his services calmed the commotionat the junction initially. The irony of the whole episode was that a psychologicallyunstable man was trying to stabilize a traffic commotion!Maybe this is an extreme case of the normal citizenry trying to maintain law, order andsanity on their streets and in their neighborhoods. However there are thousands of examples of such acts counting from mob justice,
citizens’ 
area watch, creation of satellite taxi ranks serving remote locations, hawking on streets to middle men workingto facilitate processes at government agencies, departments and institutions.Interestingly all these things, some may call them necessary evils, help to make dailyliving easier and more convenient. The only problem is how sustainable and safe theseactivities are. Are they a recipe for disaster or a ticking time bomb waiting to explode?If one would want to examine each of them loads of papers will not be able to fullyanalyze them. Nonetheless a few of them that are incessantly troubling is the control of traffic and repair of roads by so called area boys.These boys are often found at junctions where there is a lot of conflicting trafficmovement. One cannot exactly tell who or how they are employed but they are there just when the traffic conflict is at its cadence, whether day or night. What they wearoften shabby, their language rude and conducting crude, they somehow manage to getthe job done. The description is not different for those who do repairs on deterioratedroad sections. The only difference
is that in the latter’s work he carries a tool, maybe a
spade or pickaxe. The distinctively common thing about their activities is that for everyvehicle that by passes them they have an outstretched hand soliciting for money forservices rendered. After all such services are needed and they are the most readilyavailable suppliers, and off course a worker is worth his wages. If y
ou haven’t seen one
before, try the bridge near the abattoir connecting Community 20, Tema to the motorway or when the police or NYEP (National Youth Employment Programme) wardensleave their posts at some major intersections in Accra at peak hours after 5pm,incredibly.In effect the public pay surcharges on taxes paid to the MTTU (Motor Traffic andTransport Unit) of the Police Service which is responsible for the control and
 
management of traffic and the Department of Urban Roads which collaborates with theMetropolises and Municipals for the maintenance of roads in urban areas. The GhanaHighway Authority is not left out of these supposedly responsible institutions since italso has the duty of maintaining the trunk roads in Ghana.It is always a relieving site to have these area boys come to our rescue and supportwhen our institutions fail us but how sustainable or secure are their services, not tomention the growing and unbecoming nature of it in recent times. It has become aregular norm for the boys to identify problematic spots of the road section in their areawhere they camp and assume duties pretending to be repairing it, though some may doit genuinely. Some have made it a source of income and one can say have high jackedproblematic sections of the roads for perpetual repair works.
In some localities there are cliques of area boys’ 
repairers or traffic wardens whooperate in turns or jurisdictions. In other places the area boys coerce with hawkers orrobbers. With hawkers, they arrange to cause congestions such that commuters canpurchase items from the hawkers with ease. In the diabolic case where they coercewith robbers, they function as decoys causing distractions such that thieves can stealfrom passing vehicles.
 A milder way of extorting money from you is bluntly letting you know that if you don’t
give them something there is no way they are going to let you through. Implicitly theymake one aware they are the mobile toll booths. Deliberately if one avoids them andmanages to go through without paying royalties he or she is parted with, with cursesand insults.One would say they are doing a fairly good job but looking at their activities with anengineering lens it is frightening to know that the kind of materials sometimes used tofill potholes leads to further deteriorations in the long term. Ignorant about therepercussions of their activities some create more lumps by just piling rubbles inpotholes. They disrupt the drainage ability of the riding surface making it lessconvenient and comfortable for motoring.In discharging their self employed traffic coordination duties they make unreasonable judgments sometimes which even the authorized conductors are perpetrators of but notregularly. They have their own hand throwing gestures which seemingly signalopposing traffic to move simultaneously
 –
very terrible indeed. In locations where theyman road sections with bottlenecks which require a stream of traffic to pass through ata time, they have created a system whereby they count the number of vehicles for onestream and count the same number likewise for the other stream. It works occasionallybut without taking cognizance of the queues and their spill backs into other heavy
 
trafficked link roads it can be problematic. A typical situation is found at the bridgeclose to the abattoir adjacent the motorway at night where, by even allocation of anumber of vehicles from one direction crossing the bridge and the same for theopposing stream, the queue forming on the section near the abattoir spills back andtotally blocks traffic movement on the motorway whiles the queue in the direction of Community 20 does not lead to any harm.Questions that remain begging are; what do the police do when they get to suchlocations manned by these area boys - do they give them their doles or a part on theback? What happens when they get knocked down by a vehicle
 –
will it be death in theline of duty or careless interruption of traffic? There remain countless unansweredquestions on regulation, accountability and safety. A possible solution could be the introduction of a modern Turnpike Trust, a situationwhere localities receive permits from the local authorities to undertake repair works ona section of the roads in their vicinity in exchange for money. This was a concept usedin the 18
th
century in Britain for maintaining their highways. In this system people inlocalities known as trustees are empowered with permits to control sections of highways, effecting repairs and collecting money over a period of years and then thedelegated responsibility given back to the authorities for re- tendering. This in our localparlance would be
termed ‘Power to the People’ an improvement of the decentralization
process and the involvement of locals in the development of their communities.Or an improvement of the NYEP in road maintenance would help rid these boys fromthe streets into a more regulated form of road maintenance. The question also there is;would they be able to cover all the roads requiring maintenance? Can they reallyidentify and quantify the urgency and importance of maintenance in a particular localityas compared to the residents? These and other many questions need to be answered.The site of an unsafe, unregulated and unsustainable management of problematic roadsections by area boys is alarming and if nothing is done about it may deteriorate intothe creation of scattered satellite ownership and mastery of our roads. Similar problemhave been created by the unregulation of hawkers on the streets, roads used aswashing bays, taxi ranks on bus lay-bys, kiosks and shops encroaching on road spaceetc, and if care is not taken the canker may spread beyond control. As the old saying
goes, ‘Prevention is better than cure’ 
, and something must be done quickly to curtailsuch activities before we encounter a similar problem like the uncontrolled sale of landand building of houses in unauthorized locations.The least that can be done is for government to strengthen, expand and equip ourinstitutions mandated to maintain our roads and control traffic such that they are able

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