Of course there are varieties of ways people/decision makers can use to size up unfolding events in an attempt to understand and if necessary devise action plan(s) to address those critical emerging issues. From personal observation, one of the most effective means to connect, gauge, or figure out an unfiltered mood of the Ghanaian society is to ride in taxi quite often. Perhaps every Ghanaian knows this already, but it is worth emphasizing that most of the taxi drivers in Ghana have a lot to say and possess troves of information regarding the socioeconomic pathways in the country today.
Admittedly, I don’t live in the country of my birth (Ghana) now, so when it comes to what American politicians will describe as the “bread and butter issues” of the ordinary Ghanaians, I can’t provide any good account that reflects everyday realities on the grounds. Nonetheless, within my three weeks stay in Ghana, I learned a great deal about the true state, including the socioeconomic trajectories in the country. Through the perspectives of the average, nonpartisan Ghanaians driving to make a living every day in the dusty, pothole-infested streets in the nation’s cities, towns, and so on, l got a fair idea of the state of affairs in Ghana regardless of my long absence from home.
Thus, if I were advising President Akuffo Addo now, I will make an impassioned plea to him to consider finding ways to randomly engage and interact with some of the taxi drivers in the country every now and then. By the nature of their trade, taxi drivers get the chance to talk and extract information from a cross-section of Ghanaians or people of all backgrounds. Many of the passengers who board taxis usually interact and engage in friendly conversations with the drivers, and in the process end up sharing information, deliberately or inadvertently. More so, some of the taxi drivers are social/political activists themselves so they may tend to be abreast of the pressing national issues.
In Accra or in Kumasi, l relied on taxis for my movements around town. Throughout those rides stories of indiscipline on our roads , near absence of law and order, socioeconomic rot in our society, including the events that precipitated ex-President Mahama and his government ouster from power, came up. Most of the taxis drivers I got in contact with had consensus of opinion that the previous regime deserved to lose because the key metrics that encourage economic growth were nonexistent.
To many of the drivers, public corruption was out of control in Ghana, and the general hope is that the government of Nana Akuffo Addo will not also fall into that selfish trap of public corruption and mismanagement that bedeviled the previous regime of NDC. Clearly, these average Ghanaians drivers know more about the societal trends and the general feelings of majority of Ghanaians than the decision makers think. Also, they can quickly figure out the background of most of their passengers no matter how one tries to disguise one’s identity. For instance, although I insisted that I am not a so-called “burgar,” yet some of the drivers kept calling me “burgar” because they claimed my “skin looked too smooth to live under the constant hot sun of Ghana”—whatever that perception meant…
In conversations about the deplorable state of many of the cities’ roads in the midst of mansions and fancy cars owned by some of the public officials in Ghana, some of the drivers questioned the sense behind buying all these expensive cars for the pothole-jammed and the third-class roads. One taxi drivers asked me: “burgar, do you have these types of dusty and poor roads in US, Germany, Canada cities…why can’t our leaders do the same good things in Ghana since they see better things in abroad every day that they and their families visit there?”
Another taxi driver sarcastically told me “Ghana is the only place that the severely sick person goes to the emergency room/hospital in a taxi but the dead person is carried in an ambulance.” Ghanaians spend more lavishly on the dead/funerals than the living person struggling to survive. They’re building ostentatious funeral homes all over the place irrespective of whether or not they will worsen traffic problems in that area. One of those overelaborated funeral homes I saw during my stay was called the “Transition” located along the busy Dome-Kwabenya main road in Accra. I learned many residents in the area initially protested against putting up such a building because of the potential inflow of heavy traffic in the event of a funeral ceremony but to no avail. According to some of the taxi drivers, there is a strong suspicion that one or more top Ghanaian political leaders have interests in that funeral home that was probably why the residents’ protest couldn’t have any impact.
“Massa burgar, this is not a lie, do you know that some of the top people in Ghana have put their names on many streets in our cities but just look at all the potholes and how bad the roads are?” Keep in mind these poor taxi or trotro drivers pay taxes all the time for the upkeep of the nation’s roads so they deserve better. Those taxi drivers are more than right. There are uncontrollable traffic jams everywhere in Accra and in Kumasi. The country’s population is fast exploding; and, it looks like everybody wants to buy a car to show-off their level of success in life while driving in the same old tiny roads. One sad and shameful observation is that Ghana’s two major cities—Accra and Kumasi—in this age of (MTN/TIGO) 21st century communication networks can’t even boast of a second-class highway linking the two premier cities let alone first-class one.
Regarding the conduct of some of the MPs, many Ghanaians/taxi drivers think the parliamentarians change their contact numbers as soon as they’re elected into parliament on the pretext of security reasons, so it is hard to get in touch with them. The MPs would show up once in a while in the constituency office or become more accessible and smooth talkers when another election is coming up.
President Akuffo Addo appears to be popular among those taxi drivers I talked to both in Accra and in Kumasi. However, one of their concerns was that the government might relent in terms of keeping the galamseyers’ feet to the fire. Many regular Ghanaians support and expect the president to stand up to the illegal miners and their collaborators, especially the traditional rulers and the Chinese who have almost taken over Ghana’s natural resources. There will be a huge disappointment among a lot of Ghanaians if Akuffo Addo-led administration behaves the same way as its predecessor NDC with regard to the handling of galamsey. Ghanaians can’t take over China resources neither should any Chinese be allowed to run Ghana under any circumstances. Mr. President, ask or talk to the average taxi drivers; they’re closely watching you. They know a great deal about what is going on in the country, I bet you!
Author: Bernard Asubonteng is a US-based writer