Ch2: Inhabiting the roadside

Road blocks and emotions

07-01-17-b

Suhum, the neighbouring market town where I have my second residence, was hot the other day. A corpse was found lying near the highway to Accra – the fifth discovery since last December. And after the District Commissioner’s declaring, on the radio just a day earlier, that there was nothing serious going on in Suhum, the inhabitants reacted with great anger. They went out into the streets to let the world know that, indeed, Suhum had a serious problem. Young men erected road blocks, set them on fire and thus were able to block the entire through traffic for over five hours. At some point the police intervened with tear gas, shot one rioter into his leg and freed the highway again.

07-01-17-a

People demonstrated in Suhum because, for some time now, they felt let down by local politicians and the police. Rumour has it that ritual murders are being committed but not properly investigated. No one has come out with a full proof yet, but people make all kinds of speculations: about suspects, the murders’ circumstances, cut-off body parts, rituals, and the responsible’s possible involvements. They also speculate about the white guy (maybe a BBC reporter?!) taking pictures of burning tires and the youth singing war songs. [more]

Socialising on the road

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Pothole ethnography: why they need to be repaired

Quite easy to tell, these pictures were taken during the rainy season. The trees are lush, the grass on the soft verge asks for serious weeding, and the potholes need to be repaired. Heavy rains - with the help of vehicles constantly bumping into the eroding asphalt - created this particular pothole in front of our house. I was sure, though, that Ofori was filling it with soil for the sake of the passing vehicles: they risk to have their tire or chassis damaged when hitting the whole. Wrong. Ofori is concerned about his own safety. This pothole is potentially fatal, he says, as a driver hitting it could easily lose control and swerve off - right onto the pavement where he spends lots of his free time socialising and watching the road. And who wants to get killed while chatting with friends anyway?

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Walking and chatting on the pavement

Chap. 2: Inhabiting the roadside: Practices, appropriations and commercialisation

  • Walking, watching, gossiping: quotidian roadside practices
  • Street jams, rituals and roadblocks: manipulating roads and traffic
  • Money from busy roads: hawkers, traders and other entrepreneurs
This chapter explores the tangible and creative ways in which the residents of roadside communities inhabit the AKR in everyday life. One focus is on the quotidian practices of using the roadside for walking, chatting, observing, etc. Another focus is on the commercial activities in which people engage, as well as on the specific entrepreneurial strategies that some employ to make more money from travellers and passersby. Finally, I deal with incidents during which residents actively appropriate the asphalt of the through road, such as by manipulating traffic through roadblocks in order to publicly stage a particular agenda. For the exploration of roadside inhabitations, I draw from encounters with residents, hawkers and traders in towns and on road sections located on the southern part of the AKR.

This chapter then looks at people’s road experiences and practices from a primarily stationary (‘road-residential’) perspective, whereas Part II and III of the thesis considers how the AKR is used, experienced and embodied in a mobile mode, namely by road travellers and commercial drivers.


mini-06-08-25_19

More details:
The second chapter of my PhD thesis is kind of a mini-ethnography of people living alongside the Accra-Kumasi road. In Kyebi, the roadside community in which I spent the first part of my fieldwork, I resided in a household located just a few steps away from the main road. Soon I got fascinated by the various ways in which inhabitants make use of 'their' road, talk about it and occasionally mis-appropriate it:

(1) As part of their quotidian routines, people walk, stand, sit and, through that means, socialize on the road. What I enjoyed most was my friends' roadside gossip when observing familiar pedestrians and travelers from beyond the local.

(2) The tangible presence of the road in people's life gives rise to narratives, discourses and imageries. There's much talk about dangerous strangers and spiritual forces at accident-prone road sections. Incredible road rumors are highly revealing too.

(3) Finally, the road being used, even manipulated, as platform for entertainment, as public arena for claiming religious and political authority , and for staging protest, fears and emotions.

[Overview Chapter 2]

The 'Airport' myth

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The sharp bend at Potroase, one of the 'black spots' on the Accra-Kumasi road

When people talk about Potroase, many jokingly refer to the village as ‘Airport’. Initially, I thought that the nickname was given because of the names’ funny similarity. However, each time I mentioned ‘Airport’ myself or inquired about the nature of this nickname, I was told exactly the same story:
A stranger, some say it was a white man, once travelled from Accra to Kumasi in the night. Upon reaching Potroase, he realized that he had run out of fuel and decided to get some. That night, the village appeared to the traveller like a big city with lots of animation, many lights and even a filling station. Hence the name ‘Airport’, some narrators suggest. But the story goes on. After buying fuel, the man continued his journey only to realize later that he had forgotten to get his change. He decided to collect it on his way back. When he stopped in Potroase again, in another night, he was surprised that there was neither a filling station nor lights. The place had turned back to what it usually is, namely a little dull village somewhere in the middle of the main road.All my friends in Kyebi were persuaded that the ‘Airport’ story was just a myth disseminated by the older generations. Still, some confessed that they always feel a bit afraid when reaching the Potroase spot on a trip to or from Accra. [continue]

Roadside gossip

mini-06-08-25_18

The road with its pedestrians and passing vehicles is perfect entertainment. Roadside dwellers enjoy observing and critically commenting on the road's activities. There's the drunk neighbor in search of more akpeteshi; hardworking farmers carrying foodstuffs; families rushing to church; a secret couple in the pitch dark; show-offs with their new cars; crazily speeding buses from Kumasi; an overloaded cargo truck that will never make it all the way to Mali.

Long-distance mouse

07-01-23-Burkinatruck

These three young men from Burkina Faso are waving at their rescuers. They helped this tipped-over truck to get back on its wheels – with the assistance of a simple tractor and a long steel cable which had to be stretched over the Accra-Kumasi road. Too bad I was about 20 seconds late for a nice shot of this uplifting moment.

Everything about this truck was somehow oversized, as the exhausted though proud driver and his mates narrated. Their cargo trip had started in Ouagadougou three months earlier. It took them so long because their truck first suffered from a transmission trouble, followed by engine troubles, then dangerously loosening freight and finally broken tires. For the former, the three men had to wait in a northern Ghanaian village for several weeks until a mechanic finally arrived from their home country. [more]

Road blocks and emotions

07-01-17-b

Suhum, the neighbouring market town where I have my second residence, was hot the other day. A corpse was found lying near the highway to Accra – the fifth discovery since last December. And after the District Commissioner’s declaring, on the radio just a day earlier, that there was nothing serious going on in Suhum, the inhabitants reacted with great anger. They went out into the streets to let the world know that, indeed, Suhum had a serious problem. Young men erected road blocks, set them on fire and thus were able to block the entire through traffic for over five hours. At some point the police intervened with tear gas, shot one rioter into his leg and freed the highway again.

07-01-17-a

People demonstrated in Suhum because, for some time now, they felt let down by local politicians and the police. Rumour has it that ritual murders are being committed but not properly investigated. No one has come out with a full proof yet, but people make all kinds of speculations: about suspects, the murders’ circumstances, cut-off body parts, rituals, and the responsible’s possible involvements. They also speculate about the white guy (maybe a BBC reporter?!) taking pictures of burning tires and the youth singing war songs. [more]

Cargo cult

oel-mini-06-11-23_14

This articulated lorry – people here simply call it articulator – had been loaded with tons of vegetable oil before leaving Tema Harbour, near Accra. On its way to Niger, after driving only just 60km on the Accra-Kumasi road, the lorry lost its trailer. Searching for the cause, the driver showed me one joint which had gotten spoiled, allegedly due to the bad roads and their potholes. Not a single word about overloading.

People see such a tipped-over cargo truck as a material blessing, and they make kind of a cult out of the incident. Roadside residents who come rushing to the accident scene are keen on the landed load such as cement bags, boxes full of tomatoes, yams, timber or iron rods. Or they tap petrol from a stranded tanker if it hasn’t gone up in flames yet. In those villages which are clearly divided by the highway, the inhabitants are said to compete for which side is supposed to get a hold of the fallen load. Sometimes the police of military rushes to the accident spot in order to avoid looting. Of course the owners have to pay for their assistance. In the case of the vegetable oil, the driver and his conductor had to wait for two days and nights at the roadside until a replacement truck reached the scene.

The young men from the neighbouring village were happy about the landed goods. Not because they were given some of the yellow canisters, but because they were paid in cash for their help in reloading them onto the truck which was parked downhill for easier loading.

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The “Come Back Street” boys (Old road I)

come-back

These young shoemakers have their stall just by the Accra-Kumasi road, a stone-throw away from the Kyebi bus station. The guys have been complaining that a bypass has been built over a year ago. It means that the main traffic to and from Kumasi doesn’t pass any longer through Kyebi and the neighbouring villages. Therefore the ‘old road’ is now quiet, even dull. Hardly any long-distance travellers make a stop in Kyebi these days, and the shoemakers have less work to do.
Jovial as these guys are, they have founded a sort of club and named their roadside neighbourhood „Come Back Street“, which is now written on the asphalt in capital letters. This somehow conveys their intention to relocate the busy highway back to Kyebi. Of course they know that this will never be done. What they can do, however, is partying. Every once in a while they organise a street party, close down one lane of the road and make the town’s youth dance to deafening highlife/hiplife music.
One such „Come Back Street“ party was to take place last week [Oct 06], but was called off. The guys simply had missed that it was the time of the Ohum festival, a period during which palace traditionalists don’t allow any noise in the kingdom.

Experiencing the Accra-Kumasi Road (AKR):

An ethnographic project on roads, commercial driving and everyday travel in Ghana [more]

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Ch1: Accra-Kumasi Road
Ch2: Inhabiting the roadside
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