Bad roads, poor transport means: The travails of the rural northern Ghana traveler(DEC 20, 2016)

The road looks like an afro hair that has just been cut by a drunk in darkness. Everything about it is notoriously bad —dusty, rough and bouncy.
Wild grasses grow by the side and feed hungry cattle in search of fodder and many trek it daily to find bread and butter in markets and farms.
It is the Yendi-Zabzugu-Tatale road where a smooth ride is luxury and back-breaking is apt to describe travelling to and fro on it on a hot sunny afternoon.
Left with no choice, Fati Ziblim, just like many in rural Ghana, wakes up at 4 a.m. in her quiet village, Jagrido in the Mion District in the Northern Region, to get ready for her two-hour truck ride to work in the Tatale Market.
The only alternative is the rickety Benz buses that qualify for a scrap yard, which load from stations in Tamale and Yendi, leaving those living in outskirt communities to hustle for the trucks.
“It is easy for us to arrange with the truck owners to come and pick us to the various markets on market days. We don’t easily get the buses,” she said before opening a new bag of millet to serve a customer.
A tough journey               
Passengers compete with cargo for space                                         
Across many districts and towns to Tuvvu, a quiet little village in the Yagba-Kubori District, also in Northern Region, Wekem Akaba, a trader, wakes up at 3 a.m. to get ready for her almost two-hour truck ride to work in the Walewale Market.
From Tuvvu, Wekem journeys routinely on bumpy and pothole-filled roads to the market where she sells millet and rice.
Tuvvu is among scores of communities in the Northern Region known as ‘Overseas’ because they are cut off from civilisation during the rainy season when floods occur. The Tuvvu community’s most prized asset is a 35-metre steel bridge which was completed in 2013 on River Gongowu.
On the days that drivers of two vehicles decide to do the journey together on these roads, visibility becomes so poor because of the dust that clouds the road. The journey on a KIA truck begins with loading the truck with all the goods. Bags of maize, millet, sorghum, tubers of yam and any other commodities that could be sold in a market are packed in the vehicle before the passengers get on board.
At every village, a passenger with goods joins —no space is spared. Gallons and mats find room on the rails of the truck which leaves the passengers dusty. Passengers squeeze in like a packet of matches, with some hanging on the rails.
“Most of the time when I get to the market, I have to wipe all the dust from my body before I start work. I have my head covered all the time before we set off,” Wekem said with a sigh, through an interpreter.
The daily routine takes her through Kpasenkpe where she crosses the White Volta Bridge, then to Wulugu before Walewale —a voyage to and from the market, that leaves her worn out.
“It is not easy going to the market and coming back home. If only the roads could get better, I’m sure we could get much better commercial vehicles operating in this area. For now, it is tiring,” she said before her KIA truck which was making its way back to her village roared to life and took off.
Ideally, that two-hour journey could take about 45 minutes or even less on a good road.
Wekem’s story is a tip of the daily struggle people in Ghana’s rural environment have to endure to put food on the table for their families.

Tricycle popularly known as "Mahama Cambu" operates within the Tamale metropolis
Wekem’s daily fare varies  between GH¢6 and GH¢8 and she said it was much better than the days she had to walk to the Fumbisi Market in the Builsa South District in the Upper East Region. This could take almost two hours. Sometimes, the fare depends on the driver’s mood and the weather.
On some occasions, she had to resort to the use of motorbikes to the market. Although motorbikes are faster, she is never comfortable with the dangers they present.
“During the rainy season, the motorbike riders and the drivers increase the fares arbitrarily. This happens because they know we have no other choice. They know you can’t walk all the way back home on this long journey.”
In the absence of cars, buses and trucks, motorbikes, tricycles and bicycles fill the gap. Motorbikes are the main means of transportation, so the roads in the rural environments are teeming with them.  They serve as everything — a mule and vehicle for carrying goods and passengers.
Tricycles to the rescue
However, in recent times, people in rural areas, particularly those in the three northern regions, have found a good use for tricycles.
A tricycle owner, Mr Dawud Alhassan, who owns a fleet in Bolgatanga, said the tricycles were taking over from the motorbikes and the bicycles because they could carry more goods and people at the same time.
“It is a thriving business. The only difficulty is that most of the time, they have to be bought and moved all the way from Accra. Given that almost all communities are using it in our rural areas, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to open a factory here to assemble them.”
On the outskirts of the Northern Regional capital, Tamale, it is the major means of transport for traders and farmers who haul their produce from the farm to the market.
Long before motorbikes and tricycles became popular, bicycles held sway.
As Talata Abdulai, a Tamale resident, would recall, her family used to haul food crops from the farm to the house and then to the market with her father’s ‘Busanga Volvo’— a rugged bicycle that is the beast of burden in most rural communities in northern Ghana.
Without the mule and bicycles, transportation in most of the communities in northern Ghana would be crippled virtually.

        Bicycle is a source of transportation for schoolchildren
Unlike cities in Ghana where riding bicycles on busy roads is a veiled suicide attempt, bicycles in northern Ghana are most important than any other thing that keeps people on the move.
On a typical market day at Fumbisi, different types of bicycles are always on display — both men and women jostle for space to park their ‘iron horse,’ as the bicycle loosely translates in Buli — the local language.
The bicycle has several advantages for the rural dweller. Apart from holding its own against the terrible roads, they are cheap and they don’t need fuel.
It is a common sight to see rickety vehicles that are better described as ‘coffins on wheels’ plying routes in these areas. Lives are constantly in danger on these roads.
 From congestion to roadworthy issues, vehicles constantly pose danger to the rural dweller and the motorists themselves.  Regard for road safety is non-existent because police officers are usually nowhere in sight.
There are a few questions to ask.  Does Ghana have a rural transport policy? If we do, how effective is this policy in dealing with the dangers and health hazards rural dwellers face in commuting from one area to another. That is a subject for another day


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