Beep Beep: The sounds of Accra

I feel as if it’s an unwritten rule – which makes it even more fascinating that thousands of people have caught on.

Note: This guest post is by Haroon Dawood, one of our Junior Fellows, who’s working in Accra, Ghana with Mobile Business Clinic. It was originally published on Haroon’s blog.

The use of the horn by vehicles here in Accra is so interesting to me.

If I were to walk down a fairly busy street around noon, I would hear what seems like a thousand horns blowing at once. Now a lot of them would be taxis trying to give pedestrians a ride, but some of them would be telling us to get the hell out of the way because they’re about to pass real close and they aren’t going to stop, and others would be directed at other cars on the road for a variety of reasons (i.e. you’re moving too slowly, or get the hell out of the way because I’m about to pass real close and I’m not going to stop, or give me your right-of-way and the right-of-way of the car behind you).

The use of the car-horn is multi-purposed, and the reason it has become so is something I’ve been thinking about – why has such a car-horn-use culture developed? I can only hypothesize, but here are my thoughts.

I believe this culture has developed due to a lack of infrastructure.

For example, when walking down the street, there are no sidewalks, so you have to walk as one with the cars (just kidding, you walk off to the side). Most roads I’ve seen so far are two lanes wide, with room for a pedestrian on either side. As a result of this, when pedestrians take too much space on the road, a car will honk to let a pedestrian know that he is about to pass (car’s never stop unless it’s gridlocked, maybe this has something to do with most car’s being manual, meh maybe not).

Right-of-way road rules are currently unclear to me, but from my observations so far, if the path is unclear in front of your car (and there isn’t insane traffic) you essentially honk until you have a clear (enough) path to your destination.

What interests me even more is that everyone seems to understand the horn’s use. Pedestrians will move out of the way, cars will allow cars to merge and turn, barely anyone seems to get mad – it’s sort of an ugly beauty, a functioning chaos.

Honestly, at my current level of understanding of Accra, all these rules could be written out somewhere and I could be writing complete bull, but I feel as if it’s more of an unwritten rule – which makes it even more fascinating that thousands of people have caught on. If so, I think it could possibly be speaking to the oral-nature of the Ghanaian culture that one of my Ghanaian friends was telling me about (definitely more on this oral-nature in a later blog).

I like to think that it also speaks to the adaptability of humans when governing systems around them have failed to create structure. But who the hell really knows. Till next time.


P.S. Day 5 of eating egg-n-bread for breakfast. I recently moved to more permanent residence and the street-vendor-lady who makes it near my new place isn’t as good as the old one. She’ll do for now, but the hunt to find someplace better is on.

P.P.S. I may start signing-off as Kofi henceforth. Try and guess why.

P.P.P.S. Yes, I just wrote about car horns.

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