TAMALE – A City with Cars, Motorbikes & Accidents 

THE PROBLEM

It is just absolutely incredible to see an entire family of 5 (sometimes six) crammed up on the back of one motorbike- (bikes that are designed to take carry a maximum of two persona – without helmets and riding past helpless police officers who pretend to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. The number of unreported road accidents, the number of unreported deaths and the number of maimed people brought about as a result of the many crashes on these streets will shock even the devil!
Indeed, getting around on the streets of Tamale is not for the faint-hearted. Many of the inner-city roads are not exactly what one can describe as ideal, while many others are just completely unusable, causing even more congestion on the available ones.

THE QUESTION

Driving a car anywhere in Ghana, but especially in a city like Tamale, can pose a challenge even to the most experienced formula one driver. On these streets, one has to look out for other cars, the infinite number of motorbikes, the ever-growing number of “yellow-yellow” or “keke” vehicles and their many unlicensed operators, the “small boys” operating tricycles also called “motorking”, the ever-present bicycle riders, and of course the thousands of pedestrians.

If you lack patience, and slow to anger, then you are not qualified to drive or ride anything in these parts, where there is always a beautiful mixture of everyone and everything from qualified and licensed drivers to unqualified and unlicensed ones, to road worthy vehicles all the way down to vehicles that have lost their “vehicleness” and do not deserve to be on any road! And oh, many road users are not perturbed when you press the horn button. They simply cannot be bothered!
Okada does not exist on the streets of Tamale. Did you ask why? Well, that’s because almost every home has a motorbike. The fact is that unlike in Accra or Kumasi where cars and their drivers are regarded as the “owners” of the roads, with motorbikes and pedestrians considered as “other users”, here, the real owners of the road are motorbikes and their riders. Cars are secondary road users.

So, what alternative means of transport exists for persons, especially women who are left to fend for 3 or more children by husbands who believe that once they are able to buy motorbikes for their wives, the rest of the responsibilities, including taking all their 3 or more children to and from school, lie on the shoulders of their woman?
In the absence of any meaningful alternatives, such persons carry as many of their children as the motorbikes can be forced to carry, exposing them to enormous danger. Do you recall the accident involving a tipper truck and a woman who was carrying two children with her on a motorbike? Today, the children are no more!

BUT WHY?

A man who has ever been bitten by a snake, takes precaution when he sees a worm. On the contrary, motorbike accidents have become so rampant in Tamale that gradually, it is becoming a norm.
Is there anyone who would not rather have their children sit in the comfort of a car as they drive them to school? Is there anyone out there who hates his/her children that much?

The reality is that in these parts, poverty levels are still high. Not everyone can afford to buy a car and there are no reliable public transportation systems. Taxis have almost become extinct due to the arrival of the “yellow-yellow”- the drivers are often too young, untrained and unlicensed. In order to stay safe, it does appear that the rule on the roads here is “each man or woman for him/herself, God for us all!”

DON’T GET ME WRONG

Don’t get me wrong. There are hundreds of cars in this city, but not every car owner uses his/her car at all times. Here, most people who have cars also own motorbikes. The motorbike is moderately easier to buy and maintain. It consumes relatively low fuel and it can even pass through footpaths unlike the car. Additionally, it can easily navigate through rough and hilly terrains. It was fast and required no energy like the bicycle.

Again, don’t get me wrong. The possession of a motorcycle has empowered women immensely. They don’t need to wait for someone to give them “a lift” and then proceed to take advantage of them. Their movement is not dependent upon the goodwill of another person. Once they have somewhere to go to, they mount their motorbike and go and also return at their convenience.
Elsewhere in Accra, being “cool” as a lady requires you to have Brazilian hair and Mexican Eyelashes. Here, once a girl has access to a motorbike, she is “cool” and when they ride the bike, they do so with some panache. They make it look as if it is a Rolls Royce!

THE “YELLOW YELLOW” MENACE

Most of the commercial riders – those who operate the “yellow-yellow” and the tricycles (motorking), are often minors who are being exploited by greedy owners. These minors, perhaps driven by youthful exuberance and silliness, are always in a hurry to make as much money as possible for their masters. Therefore, they ride recklessly and place themselves and their passengers in danger, filling the orthopedic ward at the Tamale Teaching Hospital with patients.

THE “HOME GROWN” RULES ON THE ROAD

As you drive your car in this city, watch out for the “home grown road regulations”.
1. Forget about all the campaign messages from the office of the National Road Safety Authority – very few people wear the crash helmet here. No wonder, the Tamale Teaching Hospital reports that most deaths reported in that facility are as a result of head injuries.
2. Riders can overtake from anywhere and at any time.
3. When a motorbike doesn’t have any trafficators, the rider has the right to simply point to the left or right and that should be enough to tell you that he/she is turning.
4. A rider can ride and text, do snap chat, chat on Facebook and even record tik tok videos and that’s absolutely fine once there’s no accident.
5. Two friends can ride their separate motorbikes side by side and have a conversation until they arrive at their destination. Never mind that there are other road users behind them.
6. If ever there is an accident involving a car and a motorbike, regardless of what happened, it will always be the driver’s fault.

DON’T LOOK DOWN ON RIDERS

If you are driving a car in Tamale, you must be careful about the motorcyclists. They have a right to the narrow roads just as you do. Many of those motorcycle riders have cars and houses. Unlike in other regions where car owners may feel that they are better than a motorcycle owner, such does not apply to Tamale. You cannot know people’s financial status or educational status by their use of a motorcycle or otherwise. In Tamale, the motorcycle is just for convenience in mobility and not a status symbol.

By: Abdul Hayi- Moomen

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