After a pleasant evening at a popular restaurant in Accra’s East Legon section, a bunch of international volunteers, including myself, piled into a taxi to head back to our base in Teshie. The taxi driver didn’t mind that we outnumbered the seats in his car, and we didn’t think twice about it. It was much cheaper than splitting up into two cabs, and the cramped conditions added to our sense of adventure. Little did we know how adventurous our ride would be.
Shortly after passing the military hospital at 37 (the name of a junction in Accra), a swerving car drove up next to us. For a moment we thought the man driving must be drunk, but the taxi driver promptly blurted out that this driver was forcing him to pull over.
We oburonis (the Twi word for foreigner/white person) exchanged confused looks, for the maniacal car was not a police vehicle. After both cars had pulled over to the side of the road, the man hurried over to the passenger-side window with great indignation. Furiously, he lectured us about our overcrowded car. “Ei! You cannot do this in your country, so why do you think you can do it here?” he shrieked. In Twi, I tried to apologize and butter him up. It only aggravated him more.
After further lecturing our driver dejectedly handed over his license in exchange for a business card. The man demanded that he come to his office the next day to ‘work out’ the incident. We knew this meant he was going to have to pay a bribe to get his license back. As the man stood back and watched with approval, some of our group filed out of the taxi and flagged down another.
As we pulled away, I looked down at the business card in my hand. It was such a shock that it took me a minute to process what I was reading. The maniacal driver was a gynecologist at the military hospital.
Everyone burst into hysterics at the absurdity of the situation, but our driver merely shook his head. A few minutes later, we drove up to a military “checkpoint” that had not previously been there. A couple of uniformed men peered into the windows with their flashlights, and then luckily waved us on. As we exhaled sighs of relief, our driver began to laugh, saying “God is good.”
The situation, he explained, could have been much worse had the gynecologist not intercepted us first. The fact that he was going to have to pay a random gynecologist to retrieve his license was, somehow, a blessing.
I’ve reflected more deeply upon this experience while interning for the Africa Department at CIPE and thinking and learning about the dynamics of corruption and how to tackle it. What intrigues me most about this episode of the taxi driver and the gynecologist is that it underlines the sociological impact of corruption on society. The driver knew that what happened to him was illegal, but after coming across the military roadblock he realized that having to deal with the gynecologist was much more preferable.
What was clearly bizarre to the passengers made perfect sense in a place where corruption has permeated all facets of life, from mismanagement of funds at the highest levels of government to average citizens paying daily bribes–even to gynecologists with questionable driving skills.