Saturday, 21 October 2017
Traffic in Ghana: A Part of Daily Life

Traffic in Ghana: A Part of Daily Life

By Brittany Norton

My troski rumbles down the street, and the stench of exhaust filters in through open windows as I look out. Cars swerve in and out of lanes; motorcycles zoom through the thin sliver of space that sits between two lines of traffic, and a symphony of car horns fill the air.

I know the only thing that separates me from the chaos five feet away is the thin pieces of metal and glass.
As a student visiting from the United States, I can say one of the most striking differences between Ghana and the U.S. is the traffic. I come from a small town that gives residence to about 160,000 people. In contrast, Accra has about 2.27 million inhabitants. Imaginably, this population difference can make traffic an unexpected challenge. However, I’ve come to learn that traffic in Accra is just part of my daily life here. In many ways, it is emblematic of the rest of the bustling city. It is just one thread that is woven into the fabric of Ghana.
Because a simple trip to work can take 45 minutes, I’ve had ample time to observe my surroundings. The traffic may be an inconvenience to some, but to others it is an advantage, particularly street vendors. This is perhaps the biggest difference in terms of traffic between Ghana and the U.S. There can be traffic and car wrecks anywhere, but where I come from, we don’t have street vendors that walk in the road and sell goods to moving cars. During my first day in Accra, I remember being fascinated by the merchants that peep into car windows with baskets on their heads. Candy, bread, towels and cowboy hats are just some of the purchasing options. In the business of buying and selling, street vendors have a good setup. Consumers are always nearby, and they have the convenience of the store coming to them. Similar to street vendors, in the U.S. there is also not an abundance of shops on the side of the road. As I peep out the window, beautiful wooden bed frames, leather couches and paintings are lined up on sidewalks, waiting for someone to buy them. As one of my peers commented, “In Ghana, you can get anything you would ever need on the side of the road.”
Another way traffic here is distinct from traffic in my hometown is the honking. Here, the loud and sharp blasts happen frequently. In the U.S., honking is a mechanism to get another drivers’ attention in order to avoid a collision. However, some people use it to express anger. But those are about the only two uses for the horn. I’ve noticed that in Ghana honking is used to express a variety of meanings. In some ways, it acts as another language – in addition to the many that are already spoken in Accra. Sometimes, taxi drivers will honk to attract people to their cars and generate business. Other times motorcycles will call attention to themselves as they cruise down the middle of two lanes. There are moments that honks are used to indicate anger as well. And sometimes, people honk for reasons unknown. It happens so frequently that it’s unusual to travel down the street and not hear the sharp blast of a horn. It’s just another aspect that adds to the busyness of the city.
Sometimes, the traffic can be dangerous. Upon arriving in Accra, one of my first pieces of advice was, “If you take a taxi, try to get in the back seat, because there are a lot of accidents in Ghana and the back seat is safer.” Indeed, within the first week of being here my study abroad group and I witnessed two taxis collide at the stoplight of an intersection. Glass and metal rained down on the pavement and the hood of one taxi was contorted inwards. Yet after brief inspection of the damage by each driver, the two cars drove off as if nothing had happened. This was very surprising to me as a crash of this calibre in America would almost surely involve the police and the exchange of information for insurance purposes.
It may be busy, it may be loud, crowded and a little bit chaotic, but experiencing the traffic in Ghana makes my visit to this country more wholesome. I’ve learned that Accra is a populated and lively place. There is always something to do and always something to see. The traffic is no exception.