Wa, The Regional Capital With One Traffic Light

A fleet of automobiles adhere to its commands,both in the day and night. A mix of motorcycles, saloon cars, trucks and pedestrians make the only traffic light in Wa an interesting sight to behold.

Commuters on the ever-busy Sombo dual-carriage road have become accustomed to the stop-go-stop commands of the traffic light sited about 250 metres from the Wa Regional Police headquarters.

Their posture, when the light turns red, could be confused for a Formula 1 race contest at a Paris Grand Prix, but both drivers and riders carry the kind of serious look that underline the hustling part of life in the capital of the Upper West Region.

Far from being the first of its kind anywhere in the country, this traffic light is virtually the only point of involuntary stop, for especially the horn-honking motorcycles whose humming engines constantly fill the air with their unmistakable presence.

Wa, the capital of the Upper West Region and the last among 10 regional capitals in the country, has soldiered on from its modest circumstances, its growing population competing for space on the rather limited tangible infrastructure, including roads.

That Wa has just one traffic light has come to symbolise the dire straits of the town and the larger Upper West Region, despite contributing its quota in both food and human resource to national development.

From large scale to peasant farming, almost every native household has a share of livestock products from cattle, goats, and the variety of poultry on the market, while the region has a reputation for being a major source of yam, millet, rice, beans and other staple foods.

It is this region which produced Ghana’s third president in Dr Hilla Limann and political leaders such as Alban Bagbin, Benjamin Kunbuor and Rashid Pelpuo, all of them serving members of Parliament.

Yet the grim faces behind the wheels or on the bikes at the traffic light hardly reflect the richness in talent or some other attainment. It reflects, if nothing at all, the industry of the people, both male and female, their resolve to confront the hardship of life in their deprived environment, and the risks that accompany the struggle for survival in the region.

There is a striking beauty about how registered nurses in uniform, security service personnel and other identifiable uniformed personnel and baby-carrying mothers on their motorbikes stream past each other in a free flow of traffic .

The sight of women of various ages riding their motorbikes in jeans trousers, skirt and blouse, straight dress or the traditional hijab could be a marvel and a show-stopping scene for the average southern dweller in Ghana, but such spectacle is commonplace in the Upper West Region. Indeed, if ever the issue of gender balance has been conclusively settled in any form anywhere, Wa and the Upper West Region will compete for it on the basis of how women compete with men on motorbikes in town.

The motorbikes and the innovations that have come with them – in the form of cart-like tricycles – are becoming the backbone of economic activity within the region, transporting bulky goods and materials at a convenient cost.

Three ladies who wheeled various food stuffs to a restaurant in Wa in their mini-truck of a tricycle said they were as comfortable on the machine as they would have been on a motorbike, stressing that it provided a means of livelihood for them and their families.

Their motivation may echo the general feeling of both men and women in the carting business, yet not one of the many motorbikes on the streets is devoted to carrying passengers for money in return.

At a time when the ‘okada’ business imported from Nigeria and Ghana’s neighbouring French countries has become a virtual plague that has put national security on edge, it is significant that Wa and the Upper West Region has voluntarily refused to be tempted by it.

Instead, they line the streets in their multiple colours, sizes, make and brands, and turn the Sombo road into Wa’s version of Oxford Street at Osu in Accra, both day and night, providing the region a unique identity that portrays the humility, determination and hard work of the people.