Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

The Okada War in Urban Ghana: A Polemic Issue or Policy Mismatch?

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

The Okada War in Urban Ghana: A Polemic Issue or Policy Mismatch?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Efficient urban transport infrastructure and services are the backbone of any efficient city system, and the public provision of these services remains the most socially desirable option. (1) In 2013 three international think tanks (Sustainable Development Solutions Network, High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, and the Global Compact) separately and collectively underscored the importance of efficient transport systems in ensuring equal accessibility to cities. Such systems are critical to reducing the risks posed by urbanization and ensuring equal participation of both the governors and the governed. In general, to provide such infrastructure services, governments and policy makers have a menu of policies to choose from, such as privatization and public-private partnership. (2)

In recent times, however, there has been a decline in organized public transport in the face of rapidly urbanizing cities and rising numbers of private vehicles, resulting in increased congestion, reduced mobility, and more accidents. (3) These negative externalities affect particularly the poor and vulnerable members of society, who are locked into a web of perpetual "transport poverty." (4) Thus, in light of government inactivity, prospective commuters are being forced to develop creative solution to address their daily travel needs. The socially unacceptable decline in organized public transport has led to a rapid growth in nonconventional transportation modes, such as the commercialization of the motorcycles popularly called okada. While positively filling the gap left by a declining public sector, and providing easy maneuverability and demand-responsiveness, okada have not escaped blame for increasing road accidents, traffic management problems, and pervasive noise.

In our opinion, the entrepreneurial inspiration behind the proliferation of okada in cities can be traced to the failure of public transport to meet commuters' needs. This can be attributed partly to the challenges and policies adopted after the inception of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in the 1980s in Ghana. (5) One major outcome of these programs has been a significant reduction in wage employment in both the public and private sectors, resulting from various fiscal reforms, privatization, and deregulation. It has been argued that until the SAPs, the state-owned Omnibus Services Authority (OSA) and City Express Service (CES) bus companies provided safe, comfortable, and reliable intra-urban services; but these public transport systems later closed owing to mismanagement and stiff competition from the private sector. (6) This has resulted in chaos on most urban roads, which are heavily congested during rush hours, and caused serious delays and continuous deterioration of roads. (7) In the government's quest for sustainable urban development, one would have expected policy makers to battle against the policy deficiencies that lead to such chaos on most urban roads. In fact, Ghana's National Transport Policy (2008) identifies an effective transportation system as a sine qua non for national growth and poverty reduction, particularly in urban areas. Nevertheless, transport policies all too often tend to receive scant attention. (8) As Gomez-Ibanez and Meyer noted, in the name of economic efficiency twentieth century governments adopted a posture of minimal intervention in the market, and thus "governments around the world are reducing their roles in transport." (9) Accordingly, the deficiencies in various aspects of government policy planning, financing, implementation, and management have made okada, which simply fill the void created by the public sector, the most preferred option. The resultant efforts by government to regulate the situation have placed okada onto the political agenda and caused them to be unjustly maligned--hence the promulgation of LI 2180 as a shot-in-the-dark intervention that papers over the broader issue of inefficiencies in Ghana's public transport services. …

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