Roads are the best instrument for awakening memories.
Whenever my feet touch the soil of Asiakwa, I remember the first time I saw a road being tarred.
I remember how the hard-working PWD [Public Works Department] road-builders piled up sand at the roadside. We watched silently and wondered what they were going to do next. For normally, they gathered a handful of soil at the roadside, depending on how many potholes there were at the vicinity. So we could easily anticipate what they were going to do to fill the potholes. Indeed, they worked so hard and expertly that “PWD” became a metaphor for efficient, painstaking labour.
Well, this one time, the PWD fellows piled mounds and mounds of sand at roadside. Not soil.
Then they brought an ugly vehicle that made a noise a lot of noise: “TOH… .TOH… .TOH”! Each “TOH!” disgorged a puff of foul smoke into the air.
The most noticeable thing about this vehicle was that it had heavy iron wheels instead of the rubber tyres fitted to normal vehicles. We children imagined that if your foot went under one of those “wheels”, it would be flattened like pancake. As for your body, if the vehicle got it… … .! It didn’t bear thinking about!
The PWD people next began to boil coal-tar in barrels, producing an unusual smell in the whole area. They formed small gangs to spray the tar on the road, working to the beat of singing rhythmic songs. They worked in a very painstaking and professional manner, which made us want to learn skills like that, ourselves (without dirtying our clothes like the PWD labourers, though!)
When they’d finished the tar-spraying, they covered the road surface with sand. They then left. We kids didn’t wait for the sand to be blown away by vehicles, but were so anxious to see what lay beneath it that we used our feet to pry the sand away from the road surface in small areas, to see what lay there.
We were quite impressed to find that the sand had mixed nicely with the tar to produce an absolutely smooth, black road surface beneath our feet.
We were grateful to the PWD for tarring then road because we no longer had to cover our faces and hair to avoid them being covered by dirty dusts blown towards us when a vehicle passed through our town. In fact, we wanted more vehicles to pass on our road now, because the more the vehicles that used the road, the greater the amount of smooth, black surface roadway that was revealed. Eventually, we could see whole stretches of road going away from us, all beautifully tarred.
The most important aspect of this macadamised road was that it made us capable of boasting, to the residents of nearby villages (such as Agyapomaa, Saamang and Juaaso) that: “Hey, do you know that yἑakaAsiakwa coal-tar?”[Asiakwa’s road has been tarred”?]
That road brought us nearer to the Gold Coast Government of the day than anything else I can remember. Well, maybe we loved the “Mobile Cinema” that used to visit us periodically, at the instance of the Government, a bit better.
These reflections were aroused in me when I visited Asiakwa recently. We used the Accra-Kumase road, and once we had left the metropolis and begun to drive on the Accra-Nsawam road, I realised how amateurish our current politicians are, compared to the colonial government and the CPP Government that replaced it at Ghana’s independence. How can any enlightened Government allow the road that brings the bulk of the country’s traffic into its capital city allow it to be in such a state of disrepair?
One expects that those of our MPs who do not like flying use that road often? And they see this road in such a state, and they want to wait until it reaches its turn to be allocated an appropriation in the budget?
“Boss, it isn’t that they don’t know the road is bad. It’s just that they don’t care!” said the youngster with me.
He went on: “The National Service recruits aren’t being paid. The food in our schools isn’t adequate to feed the students, because inflation has lowered the schools’ purchasing power. Do you see the policemen who are harassing those drivers? They are extorting money from the drivers, who will increase the fares paid by the passengers to make up for the bribes they pay to the police. Members of the Government know this is taking place but … “
“They just don’t care”? I chorused.
“Yes sir.”, he said.
I use that road as an example because no-one can deny the truth about its condition. Even when one enters the relatively smoother section between Nsawam and Suhum, one wonders where the road-makers who made that stretch were trained. Curve follows curve; incline follows incline. You can never see beyond a few hundred yards ahead of you. Overtaking thus becomes an act of madness.
Yet, because so many heavily-loaded “long vehicles” (some with several wheels) crowd the road, one is often obliged to try and overtake other vehicles. Overtaking becomes imperative, for If you don’t overtake, some impatient driver behind you may think you’re a fool who is trying to sleep whilst driving!!! All of which often makes travelling by road in Ghana today a “practice visit” to the world beyond.
What worries me is that by subjecting our youth to experiences that make them adopt the attitude of the youngster who was with me on my trip, we are teaching them that NOTHING CAN BE DONE BETTER!
I mean, here am I fondly remembering the admirable manner in which the road to Asiakwa was first surfaced with tarmac. What can my young friend recall when he gets to my age? The length of time taken to create an overpass/underpass(?) to ease the traffic jam at the Palace Mall interchange in Accra?
How can he positively relate the quality of brains that set that never-ending imbroglio in motion, against the quality of brains that were available to us when the Accra-Tema motorway was built? Or the Akosombo Dam were designed and built?
Mediocrity – or rather, the tolerance of mediocrity for whatever reason – creates a string/chain of “groupthink” that may never be broken.
You see a hopeless road and your reaction is, “What did you expect? The guys responsible drive about in tough vehicles that are repaired for them at public expense, in the unlikely event of their becoming unserviceable due to broken springs!”.
Yep. Create a mediocre system to cater for the needs of a public with rising expectations and you will end up with a cynical electorate that will take money from, and vote for, the moneybags (however empty they know the moneybags’ heads to be.) See what took place at the recent elections of the governing NPP, if you need evidence.
Good judgement, after all, is nurtured by the faith an electorate cultivates, that things can indeed improve. Cynical voters know from experience that they will be disappointed if they dare entertain such a notion.
That’s how “Johnny-I-don’t-care” came to marry “Jane-throw-it-away”!