GHANA AT SOMETHING-SOMETHING - PART 2

I believe I fell in love with my homeland, Ghana, from the very minute I was conceived. Why? Because I think I had a good life back then. My parents were not rich, no family money, far from that actually. The breadwinner in the house has always been my mum, she was a young secondary school teacher back then – a boys’ school at that, but somehow she made her children feel they had the world (at least I did). That young secondary school teacher raised her children on her salary (I don’t want to call it meager).Okay, now let’s fast-forward from the late 90’s to 2006/2008. At that time with the prospects of an oil and gas producing country, the “government” of Ghana saw it fit to greatly subsidize the price of LPG in the local market because we wanted to:
1) Reduce the destruction of our forests for firewood and charcoal.
2) Make it easier for ordinary Ghanaians to buy and use gas in the kitchen.
3) Make the man on the street feel the benefit of the oil and gas exploitation.Here’s what the “government” of the time didn’t factor in their equations. That no matter how well you plan to improve the living standards of all the people, there will be that “super smart” “Mensah” who will try to exploit it. With the price of gas going down, a lot of taxi drivers took advantage of the situation by changing their petrol engines to run on gas (very smart, huh?). Now, as time went on, the pressure on the “system” became too much and the prices hiked to an extent that it was even higher than that of petrol. Here’s where the supposedly smart ones decided to reconvert to the petrol engine…the catch? Petrol engine can be converted to gas but not the other way round. So our smart citizens were in a limbo – to keep using the expensive gas or buy a new petrol engine (and yes…life has always been that fair). By now the damage had already been done, the gas became too expensive, Ghanaians run back to the good ol’ charcoal and the “government” plan fell through. If you follow this story closely to today, you’ll see how it has played a big part in our current “challenges”. At this point a bird flew by, looked at me and was like, “hey, so you’ve identified a cause, the effect, what next?” A solution?!

 I want to say I sat and meditated over this for some time but no, the answer has always been right in front of me. TRAINS! How many of us remember the time when one had to stop for quite some time at a rail-road intersection and watch a long snake-like metal contraption pass along the rail tracks with that nostalgic tut-tut sound before one could move on. Here is the beauty of trains (I enumerated a few):1) No longer would I have to sit in a rickety minibus and pass on roads which have numerous potholes (I see them as manholes though) and get pains all over my body.2) Less pressure on me to buy a car so I don’t add to the congestion on our few good roads (who doesn’t detest waiting in a traffic jam?)3) More people ride trains which is cheaper, meaning less cars on our roads, which means the need for rapid road expansion is curbed (seen the amount we are pumping into the new Accra-Kumasi stretch?)4) Now what most of us don’t realize is that a major contributory factor to the damage on our roads is those huge trucks which carry goods like oil, timber, cocoa and what have you all across the country. This put a lot of pressure on our roads so if these goods are now transported by rail, our roads live a longer, healthier life.5) Less cars on our roads means less road accidents. I won’t even go into the amount of human resource the nation has lost to road accidents( *three-times lucky Dr. Edmund Delle, Terry Bonchaka, Suzie Williams). It might interest you to know that in 2005 the country lost half of her neurologists in a single car accident.6) Rail networks spread all over the country (and in the long run ECOWAS states) will enable us better exploit our resources  and facilitate trade for the benefit of all.Now, I won’t be hypocritical and say trains are 100% safe. Of course it has its own dangers, looking at the train disasters in Japan, India and some European countries. But that is almost negligible in contrast with the benefits. At this juncture I think my dear reader would exclaim and say “wow! What are we still waiting for?” This where the “beautiful” truth comes in to explain our lack of progress. Most of us (Africans) don’t have the habit of thinking “tomorrow”. All our plans (yes, even the future ones) are rather centered on “today”. This is where my brother angrily retorts “So, Mr. Smart writer, what shows you are right?” and here is my response to him – Investing in rail transport, particularly from scratch ( our rail transport is virtually nonexistent) is a very, very expensive venture…… that is if your thinking is based on “today”.

If we took a moment to appreciate the immense returns of such a venture on our “tomorrow”, we wouldn’t even consider this investment as a penny out of our pockets.Oh! Did I forget to mention how towns and cities develop from areas where train stations are cited? This would be nothing new to Ghana because most of our prominent towns (some reduced to villages) grew as a result of train stations. I’m talking of Koforidua, Takwa (gold), Huni Valley, Prestea, Tema (harbor), Twifo Praso, Kade, Sekondi – Kojokrom, Kotoku, Achiasi, Dunkwa and many others. All these were done from 1901-1974.  Trains played a huge part in making Gold Coast/Ghana what it was.But allow me to play devil’s advocate and say let’s rather invest more in our road infrastructure because guess what? Riding in the latest Bugatti is way, way cooler than riding in a bullet train. Bragging about riding in a bullet train? I mean Who does that?Reader, ponder and imagine the Ghana you and I could be living in… don’t look so gloomy though, there’s plenty of hope. After all Ghana still has you and I ,  right? *wink wink*. More Hope !!!

 * Dr. Edmund Delle is a survivor of three accidents in 1995 and 2000. Watch Out for Part 3 of this Series

Written by :Wogbe-Dogoe Robert Dzidedi Kwaku (Bsc. Chemistry Student, KNUST)

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