Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Third World Living: Mesmerized by Road Works

I have always hated the expression the "Third World" . It seems so condescending and patronizing yet it has an undeniable ring of truth to it. We do things differently down here and not necessarily in a good way! Anyway, Saturday morning brought much joy to my neighbourhood. The sound of loud machinery and the smell of tar signaled the start of road work on our street and the adjoining road. I should explain that we have had a house in our 'hood for over 20 years and have endured all the dust, dirt and grime that comes from living close to an un-tarred road. We have even put up with the endless fake/pretense moves to tar our roads. I cannot even begin to count the number of times some truck has arrived under the cover of darkness around 3am to dump mounds of sand on the street as part of a scheduled job that never actually happens. Eventually, a contractor will run out of money or something else will come up and the road work will be postponed.The strange thing is that most of the roads in the wider 'hood are tarred! Note: I'm ignoring the scary potholes -the -size-of-moon-craters-issue because that is a whole different topic.

So when real road tarring started on Saturday morning, it was hardly surprising to find people in our 'hood had pulled up chairs by the roadside and were eagerly taking in all the action. I myself watched completely mesmerized and in awe for a whole 10 minutes without moving. I was half-expecting street hawkers to show up selling plantain chips and cokes to the gathered crowd. By the way, how is it that hawkers always know where the traffic jams are all over Accra? That is something that has always baffled me. Back to the road...while we watched, my mother pointed out with amusement that it was like we were all transported to the pre-independent Gold Coast where the inhabitants of a remote community had gathered to see a tarred road for the first time in their lives. Yes, it was actually that exciting!

Our freshly-tarred adjoining road. So beautiful to walk on. was all too good to be true. My new-road joy has already turned sour. Although our adjacent road is complete and has already turned into a speed demon's Grand Prix highway (or more like Grand Pricks highway), our actual street has been left abandoned. Apparently the contractor has run out of supplies. The road is half-tarred, half-complete and not a single peep about when work will continue. Now ain't that Third World living for ya?!

This is not a shadow. This is the Yin-Yang pattern that is now our street!


Maya Mame said...

Abena! I look forward to each of your posts as they brighten up my day, but this takes the cake! I laughed so I scared the baby when I got to the bit where it turned sour. I also dislike the term Third World but it seems we're not doing much to get rid of the tag.

Either way, thanks for making my day, especially with the photographic evidence!

Edward: said...

About the hawkers knowing where the traffic is? I have also asked myself that question so many times. But this shows clearly that we have some entrepreneurial DNA in our blood....even if we are a 3rd World country. All we need is the chance to prove ourselves. We can sniff money from afar..!

Abena said...

*LOL* Thanks Maya! You have put a smile on my face! I have a feeling that our road is gonna be like this for sometime to come. At least I know that I have to stay on the left side always :)

@Edward: Hehehehe! You do have a point there! When it comes to the sniffing out of money...the innovation and ingenuity of the West African goes unchallenged worldwide. Just ask those poor people who have been dumped by internet scammers. They always think they are cleverer than the fraudsters. Big Mistake!!!

Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Wow, all that wit, and you procrastinate with your blog posts? You have to admit that over the past 9 years or so, slowly but certainly, they road makers are approaching all neighbourhoods. Hope your street becomes all "Yin" soon.

Nana said...

Your half-tarred road is too funny. Seriously, if seeing was not believeing I would have had a hard time imaging a half-tarred road. Only in Ghana (or any of the other developing countries)

posekyere said...

Eish Ohemaa.
There surely must be a politician living on the completed road. I suggest you either pay a bribe or get the community organised into action.
One thing though. I really see the artistic dimension of your new street.Hehehe.

Sankofa said...

Only in Ghana indeed! How can you have a half-tarred road? Add me to the voices who dislike the term "3rd World" and even "developing world". Which country is the marker we're all supposed to follow?

Anonymous said...

Hi! I've been reading your blog for a while but never commented. As a West African, I can completely relate to the half public work projects our governments undertake. What irritates me is the lack of vision and foresseing. I prefer no road than this half thing. It's funny b/c I now work in government (in South Africa) and I'm currently working on a project on financing for infrastructure. We are looking at case studies in various countries and the story is the same pretty much everywhere: a road, port or whatever is planned, contractors are hired, the project starts and...the funds run dry. So the project stops until new financing can be obtained, etc, etc. At the end of the day, the government is left with an uncompleted project, debts and angry populations...

Abena said...

@Nana Yaw: Thanks! I think that's a compliment? I admit some of the main roads have improved dramatically with time. It is the smaller residential roads I'm worried about.One thing I can say for certain is that Ghana has improved dramatically in many ways over the past 10years. Even people who last came here 5 years ago are shocked at the changes. BTW: there is no sign of any "yin" happening soon. Apparently the equipment has been taken to TAKORADI but the workers are still hanging around soaking up sun and chatting in our 'hood (??)

@Nana: LOL, still trying to figure out if half-tarred is better than not-tarred at all.
In fact, this is an "Only in Ghana" classic.

@Posekyere: That is amazing! How did you know there was a (so-called) Big Man with a house on the completed road? He does not live there but there is a "To Let" sign on the gate. Hmmm... BTW: There is an even Bigger Man on the side of our street that is (strangely) complete. Apparently his presence really started the machines rolling in the first place. As for organizing the area residents...we are just worn out from trying.

@Sankofa: I'm beginning to see that a half-tarred road = half-assed job. I totally agree with the 3rd world label. Who are the 1st world and aren't there also 3rd world elements in the 1st world?

Abena said...

Hey Anonymous, Thanks for stopping by. Very interesting comment.You have hit the hammer on the nail...general lack of foresight, contractors running out of cash (probably some lack of transparency in the award of contracts in the first place) and shoddy half-done work. I guess it is a real pan-African pandemic! As for Angry populations rising up..That hardly happens in Ghana!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

it is interesting... this is Ghana for you...nothing is ever done fully. Things done by halves are never done right.

Kodjo said...

Very funny post! As you are well aware the contractor runs out of money sometimes means the goverment doesn't pay. I have family in construction in Ghana. This is how it works (at least for the responsible contractors who don't buy a fancy care with their contract):

1. Contractor gets awarded contract
2. Takes a loan at 30-40% interest to finance the project.
3. Government pays 1-2 years later.
4. Assuming the contractor's profit margin initially is 50% of value of the contract.
5. In addition to the 10% bribe contractor pays for Minister of Finance to release his money he's practically underwater on the bank loan.

In most "developed" countries you can never start a building project unless you show enough financing to complete it. That's why we are still a Third World country :)

Kodjo said...

I meant fancy car! :)

Abena said...

@Nana F-A: So true: halves can never make a whole. I sometimes feel that we just do not try enough in Ghana with anything. Well, unless there will be some large immediate monetary pay-out.Then you will see 110%.

@Kodjo: Thanks! You have actually helped my understanding of the issues. Sometimes I feel that our systems are so corrupt and inept that we should scrap everything and start again. Shut down Ghana and start from scratch!
PS: fancy care still makes sense ;)