The first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah built the Tema Motorway as part of his vision to link Accra with the industrial city of Tema. The highway was opened to traffic in November 1965 and its construction was fashioned after the Autobahn in Germany and was purposed to be the first in motorway systems to be developed from Accra to link other highways and emerging cities in West Africa and the rest of the African Continent. Telephones were installed on the motorway at one kilometer intervals for emergencies and the major problem that existed at the time it was opened, was that of poor illumination. Sadly, the problem has persisted for years despite several attempts by various Governments to provide illumination to the highway. Today, some parts of the motorway continue to be in the dark by the kind courtesy of armed robbers and shoddy work of contractors, leaving some areas illuminated, and rendering other dark areas dangerous for night driving.
Tema, the giant industrial city of Ghana, did not emerge as envisaged by Osagyefo but notwithstanding, the motorway has served its purpose and cannot be described as having outlived its usefulness but rather its usefulness has been overstretched, denied the appropriate maintenance and improvements, making mockery of its autobahn status. The economic benefits derived from its existence are beyond description and deserve better maintenance, exit routes, flyovers and underground passes for new emerging roads to access its facilities to the full. For its fifty-five years of existence, what previous Governments had bestowed on it suggest that not much attention has been paid to this highway. In August, 2009, rehabilitation work began on the road at the cost of 500,000 Ghana Cedis which was obviously a joke, cosmetic and a big deception because what is required to put the motorway in its proper perspective is in millions of Ghana Cedis.
As a Captain in 1968 when I had my first car, I considered the motorway the best testing ground. I still remember the joy and the speed, the smoothness of the surface of a solid concrete road, no intersections and the speed limit could only be determined by the driver and the type of vehicle being driven. Indeed depending upon the individual’s safety, driving from one end to the other could take about ten minutes. Today the picture is completely different as many potholes which occurred on the concrete surfaces have been repaired with asphalt thus creating some dangerous bumps for top speed drivers on those portions of the highway. The rails along the shoulders of the both lanes have been an eyesore as many damaged by careless drivers have not seen much repairs or replacements for many years. The drivers who damage them are not arrested or punished for their deeds and the mangled rails are a constant reminder of drivers’ indiscipline and recklessness and the Ghanaian attitude towards maintenance.
The shoulders of the lanes are awful, pot holed, untarred, and unkempt and have been littered with sachet water plastic waste and others. Since there are no exits, except the one recently created to Community 18, pedestrians and some unscrupulous drivers have frequently created their own routes in and out of the opposite lanes in order to have access to the highway and no matter the attempts made to bridge them, they continue to rear their ugly heads anytime the existing and newly created ones are blocked. The blockages have not been successful and will never be successful because they are ad hoc solutions and waste of public funds. The permanent solution lies in creating permanent and appropriate exits and overheads at certain points of the highway to give motorists access or exits to and from new emerging roads.
There are no ethics driving on the motorway and articulators, heavy sand dumpers, low loaders, ‘’aboboyaa’’, ‘’trotoro’’, saloon cars, motorbikes etc. all struggle for space. In addition, lack of reflector sign boards, broken down vehicles, indiscipline and uncouth behavior of some drivers make motorway a very dangerous highway to drive on. The dangers posed to motorists are enormous for those who ply on the highway on daily basis but it seems it is not a priority to those who manage the highway. On most highways there are fast and slow lanes for vehicles who ply on the road but these rules do not apply on the motorway and all vehicles drive as they please making the driving on the motorway a very risky business.
Why do we allow the “aboboyaas” driving at very low speeds to use the highway when it’s obvious that they are obstacles to other motorists with high speeds? Why do we as a country allow some frivolities become norms? “Aboboyaas” are not manufactured to carry refuse but many of them have been converted to carry refuse and because of the poor conversions, they rather spill the refuse as they drive on the highway littering the surroundings with their contents. In some developed countries, vehicles driving the speeds below 80kph are not allowed to use highways. Discipline and courtesy do not exist and those who commit offences are the first to accuse and insult those whom they have offended. We need a lot of education on the use of tri-cycles on our highways in order to save lives.
It is an awful experience on the motorway when it rains or when an accident occurs. Over the years, oil leakage has made the road surface slippery and any small amount of rain turns the highway into an interesting “ski” event. Many motorists unfortunately ignore these obvious facts and many accidents occur when it drizzles. When that happens, it takes less than two minutes for long traffic jams to build up and many hours before recovery assistance arrive. The usual belated arrival of the Police at the scene becomes embarrassing as the drivers do what pleases them especially driving on the shoulders creating more confusion whilst the Police demonstrate their weaknesses. When an accident occurs, the shoulders of the road are the only spaces available to manage the traffic jams but once motorists turn them into drive ways, the scenes become chaotic and messy. I have spent three hours on the motorway before and i can assure you it’s an unpleasant experience but commuters are subjected to this ordeal on daily basis. It is also fair to remark that the chaotic situations are always aggravated by the misconduct of many drivers and the maintenance of the highway has nothing to do with such misconducts.
The population of Ghana in 1965 when our only autobahn was opened to traffic was about six million people. Today, Ghana is about thirty-one million and if one considers the population growth and the development, East of the motorway especially immediate environs such as Tema, Ashiaman, Afienya, Dawhenya, Prampram etc whose only access to the capital is through the motorway, driving in the morning and evening has become a nightmare. The heavy traffic during the rush hours do suggest that a four lane dual carriageway is long overdue on the motorway and beyond and the Ministry of Highway must do something about it.
The three dual carriage highways we have in Ghana are the Motorway, George Walker Bush – Kasoa overhead and Accra –Nsawam- Suhum. With the exception of George Walker Bush which is in the middle of the city of Accra, the remaining, lack all the qualities of a highway and once you are locked in, there is nothing one can do but to exercise patience. With over fifty years driving experience in Ghana, one thing I can confirm without reservation is that many Ghanaian drivers lack PATIENCE and DISCIPLINE.
I recently travelled to Mankessim in the Central Region for a funeral, and conscious of the traffic menace in Kasoa I started the journey at 5am from Tema. I don’t want to recount the ordeal I went through before I reached Winneba Roundabout at 9.45 am. Yes the traffic was heavy but what contributed to the chaotic situation was indiscipline of drivers, the use of unauthorized sirens, absence or ineffectiveness of the Police in managing the traffic especially after Kasoa overhead. The journey to Winneba Junction after Kasoa Overhead, was chaotic and absolute madness and this is how I can simply describe it.
There is the need to build more roads and highways to make driving safer, but even if we build modern autobahns, sanity will not prevail on them unless drivers change their attitudes and the Police are made to do their duty by enforcing existing laws and regulations. Existing laws are enough and what is lacking is ENFORCEMENT and the POLICE must justify their existence and the monies spent on them. If these are not done now, I am afraid driving will continue to be the most dangerous vocation in Ghana and many lives will be lost.
By Brig-Gen (Rtd) J. Odei