Market place chatter

When should a sign be believed, and when should it be ignored? Well, that depends. Who is posting the sign? When is it being posted? Let us look at the example of the Ghana Highway Authority to see what we can learn.

What a difference four weeks make! That is how long it has been since the bridge over the Pra River on the busy Cape Coast/Kumasi highway has been closed. This is the main highway used to connect the Central and Western Regions of the country to the Ashanti Region. This is the route used to transport people and goods between Accra and the Adansi area of the Ashanti Regi0n. It is also the main route for goods being transported from the Takoradi Harbour into northern Ghana and the ECOWAS countries to the north. The economy for many miles on both sides of the river has been severely crippled due to the lengthy closure and there seems to be little hope that it will reopen soon.

The original signs were posted to promise a closure of the bridge beginning on May 31, and ending on June 15. Those signs have been painted over twice. In the first instance, the date of reopening was extended to June 21. When that date had passed, the sign was painted over again and the date was changed to read “7th to Notice”. No explanation. No apology.

On three occasions in the past three weeks, I have been to check on the status of the work. On each occasion there were no work was being done. The first time, I was on the Assin side for the bridge, hoping to reach New Edubiase. The contractor was at least on site that day. He gave the appearance of someone with whom a great deal of power had been entrusted. He seemed to relish that power which enabled him to prevent anyone from interfering with the important work for which he had been contracted. He appeared to have no sympathy for any of the people who were being inconvenienced.

Road(no)works at River Pra

Road(no)works at River Pra

Several days later I returned to Adansi Praso to inquire about progress. The contractor was not present. I was told that he had gone to Accra, leaving the bridge closed with no work being done. The locals with whom I spoke had no respect for this man – they said that he did not appear to know what he was doing and did not have the equipment required to do the work. On that occasion, I noted that the sign had been changed to indicate that the bridge would reopen on June 21.

Earlier this week, I went again to check on “progress” (if that is the correct word to use). The deck of the bridge had been cleared down to its base so I could see that something had been done since my last visit, but once again the contractor was not present, and no work was being done that day. This time however, a Police Land Rover was parked in the approach of the Assin side of the bridge to ensure that no one could move the trees and various other items which have been used to block the road for motor vehicles. Is it possible that the Ghana Police were called to intervene? Even more troubling was the sign, which had been painted over once again to read this time “Till Notice”.

Throughout the past three weeks I have had numerous conversations with people from various walks of life who have been affected in adverse ways. Farmers are unable to get their produce to market. Market women have no customers because people are unable to travel to the market or to get produce home. The important markets on both sides of the Pra are like ghost towns – instead of drivers being forced to edge along the highway through places like Fumso and Assin Foso on market days, one drives through the same the town as if it were a normal day.

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

Shop keepers in towns up and down the highway and on feeder roads leading off of it are unable to travel out to replenish stocks. On the Adansi side of the Pra, many petroleum stations have run out of fuel because the tankers cannot get to them. Chop bar owners along the roadside which usually do a brisk business are sitting around waiting for customers.

And throughout this, where is the Minister of Highways? Why is his Ministry tolerating this situation? How did a contract be let out to a contractor who was not serious about his work or qualified to do it? Have we become so casual about inept and slow contractors that we just casually sit back and watch our local economy collapse?

One of the men with whom I spoke three days ago was attempting to deliver urgently required repairs to the mining sector in Obuasi. He commented that such a situation would never occur in a country that was serious about its economy. Rather, workers would have worked in shifts around the clock to ensure that the repairs be done in as short a time as possible so as to cause the least amount of disruption.

So, we ask, Mr. Minister, please check out this situation, and see that the correct thing be done. Let us make it possible for us to move “forward ever, backward never”.

Starts? or Stops?

Starts? or Stops?


It has become almost an annual ritual, one which I approach with eager anticipation combined with fear for my demise. I am referring to the mushroom season in Ghana – the time of the year when wild mushrooms are in abundance. The mushrooms provide a unique source of ready cash for many people, both old and young, who live in forested areas of the country where wild mushrooms can be found. Mushroom hunters go out each morning before dawn  to those places where they know the mushrooms can be found and bring them back for sale, usually on the roadside to passing travelers.

Some of these short term sales people are spontaneous and in for the quick sale, with only a few mushrooms to sell. Young school boys most often fall into this category, hoping to make a bit of spending money before they head off to classes for the day. Others are much more organized, offering a range of types and sizes often attractively displayed on wooden trays.

Mushroom season is also snail season and where you find one, you will most likely find the other. Forest snails are large with shells measuring up to six inches (15 centimetres) in length. They are also very flavourful and are a delicacy to be enjoyed.

My anticipation is of course for the scrumptious meals which I will enjoy at the end of the journey. Fresh wild mushrooms and snails are great in local soups when served with my favourite meal of fufu. The mushrooms also add great flavour to pizza toppings and spaghetti sauces.

As with many things in life, there is a downside, and now I refer to my trepidation mentioned earlier. My wife and I traverse often between Busua, on the coast where our hotel is located, and her home village in the Ashanti Region, where many of the best mushrooms are found. Unlike the ubiquitous fast food places in North America which display signboards well before you reach their location, mushroom sellers show up at the most unlikely locations along the road and without any warning.

At this time of year, Comfort is focused on her mushroom purchases while I am keeping my attention on safely navigating us to our destination. It is not unusual for us to be clipping along at a nice pace, often times just after I have finally managed to pass a slow moving truck that we have followed for many miles, when, without warning, Comfort will  exclaim “Oh, there are some nice ones!!!” with the expectation that we will abruptly stop so that she can apply her substantial negotiating skills to acquiring more mushrooms to add to the growing pile that she has assembled by her feet on the passenger side. Lorries suddenly appear at our rear and narrowly swerve around us, and the slow moving truck that we have just passed grinds his way by, the driver no doubt enjoying a certain satisfaction from knowing that slow and steady does indeed win the race, and that it will be many miles before I will find a safe place to pass him again.

Experience has taught me that refusing to stop may be a bigger danger to my health than an unplanned and unsafe stop, and so I have learned to grit my teeth, hold my breath, and roll as safely as I can to the side of the highway. Each year, we go through the same experience, and I must admit, we are still quite alive, and yes, I do enjoy the delicacy of those wild mushrooms. There is one more bonus – the guests who eat in the dining room of our hotel also get to enjoy that same delicacy, and I am sure that they are grateful for Comfort’s persistent roadside stops even if they are unaware of the price my nerves have paid!!