A recent round trip from Kumasi to Tarkwa in 24 hours has generated feelings of nostalgia, shame and anger. Some three or four decades ago, the journey would have been pleasurable. During those days, one booked a bed in the sleeping coach of the Kumasi to Takoradi night train.
By the second cockcrow one arrived at Tarkwa, alighted and freshened up to do one’s business. Or, one continued, arriving at Takoradi at 6:00 a.m., if that was the intended destination. For a day’s business, by 6:00 p.m., one was on the return journey on the same couch. That is how convenient and civilised a mass transport system is supposed to be.
Now with the railway system neglected and destroyed, a round trip to Tarkwa requires some serious hazard analysis: A 52-seater DAEWOO bus that starts loading at the Kumasi Abinkyi Market 9 a.m. and finally leaves Kumasi at 12 noon through Bekwai, Assin Fosu, Yamoransa, Cape Coast, Takoradi, Agona Junction and finally arriving at Tarkwa at 8 p.m., completely broken down in limbs. The alternative is to consider taking a 15-seater Ford Sprinter bus that plies the Obuasi- Bogoso Road and takes only four hours to get to Tarkwa.
This road known by various combination of names that feature regularly in the President’s State of the Nation Address, is like an open wound that never heals. Long stretches are very bad, all year-round, especially between Ayanfuri to Dunkwa. When it rains, it is a veritable quagmire. For sure, signs of constructional works are visible. But one wonders why the job does not get completed. From the number of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) flags that one sees along this stretch of road, this area is clearly Akufo-Addo territory. The people may not vote National Democratic Congress because of the condition of this road.
This scribe set off by the DAEWOO bus option to avoid the Obuasi Junction-Dunkwa- Bogoso stretch. Between the Agona Junction and Tarkwa the graceful rubber trees of the Ghana Rubber Estate Limited (GREL) seemed to wave at the visitor. Not many Ghanaians are unaware of the saga of the divestiture of this former state asset to a group of French investors. But briefly, the scribe explained to his partner that the divestiture process did not produce oligarchs on the scale of Russia. Nevertheless some politically connected people hived off 15 per cent of the shares of GREL for themselves through a shell company called NEWGEN INVESTMENTS LTD. They are even said not to have paid a dime for the shares.
The story of GREL epitomises the manner in which some state assets have been divested. Regretfully, some of the politicians and technocrats who had treated divestiture like candy-dishing are still in the system as political advisers. They still craft crooked agreements that leave the state poorer. Indeed, GREL evokes anger.
The second source of shame and anger can be found at the once famous Tarkwa Railway Station. Most of the tracts are covered with weeds. The offices appear decrepit with broken glasses and doors advertising vandalism. The Railway Quarters, a complete township of its own with sections built at the same time as Dansoman, appear abandoned or occupied by squatters. Though some new quality buildings have been springing up in other parts of town, without the railway, the town is a poor shadow of itself. Some gold is still mined here but Tarkwa no longer bubbles with economic activity generated by cash in the pockets of miners and rail workers.
Weighing a boring eight-hour DAEWOO bus journey against a rough four-hour Ford Sprinter return trip, this scribe opted for the latter. No sooner had the bus set off than most passengers started complaining about the driver. He attacked the road like a maniac, overtaking anything that moved. He was not deterred by the very bad Ayanfuri-Dunkwa portion. One wonders what really gets into the heads of the Sprinter drivers.
Well, one cannot blame them. Our planners and politicians have decided to scrap the Railway System and introduce these nippy Japanese and American contraptions that compete for fast turnaround time. Having realised their folly, political parties remember to make some feeble noises about revamping and extending railway transport from Accra to Paga. What do they have in their manifestos this time?