Just a quick update on stuff which might be relevant to some. I haven't been on line much during the past month, so I'll ask in advance to be forgiven if I'm repeating information posted elsewhere.
I've been riding rented motorbikes around southern and eastern Ghana, with a few bits of Togo thrown in for comic relief. The initial results of the election runoff in Ghana have been contested—reports of missing ballots in certain districts, late-opening polls, etc. Media reports that the opposition party had won were met with—at least in the area of the Volta Delta where I was riding that evening—wild street parties and other forms of celebration. The official announcement that these reports were premature were met with protests and, if you believe at least one Western media outlet, troops in Accra firing upon crowds using rubber bullets. Note that this is uncorroborated, but take it as a cautionary note.
My direct experience suggests that the folks with guns are feeling a bit nervous—this is based upon impressions of demeanor at roadblocks, of which there are currently an unusual number. I've also been asked for bribes at roadblocks several times in the past couple of days, and have heard stories from people I consdier reliable that this has been widespread—not the norm here in Ghana. Further, I've seen lots of remains of burning tires and other trash in the middle of roadways—this suggests a certain amount of mayhem during the night, when I'm not out there riding around to see it.
All of the above implies a degree of breakdown of the normal order of things which I, at least, take seriously. Probably it will all come to nothing...but I don't want to be the one who cluelessly runs headlong into the thick of whatever might be going on. Most Ghanians remain proud of the peaceful nature of their electoral process (and correspondingly disdainful of contrasting tendencies in neighboring countries). But a lot of passions have been aroused during the campaigns, and it might not be wise to stand in the way of their expression.
More relevant to users of this website, a group of motorcyclists was apparently chased down and shot at by armed troops today on the coastal road west of Accra. I was broken down by the side of the highway when eight or ten big displacement sportbikes roared past—I didn't notice brands or models, being in a morose mood at the time, but if you imagine a whole posse of 'busas you'll not be far off. In itself, this is rare, perhaps unheard of, in this part of West Africa; in fact, I'd not seen a single such bike here, let alone a whole group of them doing twice the speed limit. Later, my bike running again, I passed groups of soldiers, then soldiers with guns tranined on former riders, then three crashed bikes. I asked some locals what had happened and was told (allow for misunderstandings here, given the language barriers, but the gist of it is correct) “The soldiers said they are Arabists, but we think they're just strangers, so the soldiers chased and shot at them. Only one of them died.” At this point, I thought it might be time for me to ease on out of the picture.
Surely there's a lesson to be learned here: something like “don't run from troops with automatic weapons,” or “if you're planning to do twice the speed limit, at least do it alone,and preferably not during a time of heightened tension and excessive military deployment. Myself, I'm driving much more cautiouusly through police checkpoints for the time being, and I'm trying to steer clear of large crowds chanting political slogans, too. But I'm not curtailing my activities, and from the looks of it neither are other white folks (I.e., recognizable tourists).
Hope this is helpful to someone, somewhere. Oh, and for what it's worth, the mountains of western Togo and eastern Ghana are (relatively) cool, rugged, friendly and fun.
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