Shake down, break down….we’re busted

Spend enough time driving in Ghana and you’ll be singing this Bob Seger ditty, too. In my case it only took about an hour for the tune to percolate to the top of my head. Why? Because we’d endured two or three traffic “checkpoints” by then and, well, they mostly seemed to be shake downs.


I’m sure that there are plenty of typical traffic laws in Ghana. Things like no speeding, stay on your side of the road and mostly stay in a straight line. And we were mostly doing those things.There are taxes and registrations that need to be paid as well, and my driver had all of those covered and current. The stickers were right on the windshield. Still, we kept getting stopped and kept having to talk our way out of “fines.”


No seatbelts for part of the trip (I’m actually a bit surprised they worked at all) and apparently that’s an offense. Still, we actually had them on for most of the trip and the attempted fines kept coming. They also insisted on checking the trunk several times. I have no idea what they were looking for or what the rules are about carrying cargo, but apparently they take them somewhat seriously.


At one point an officer showed us a speed on a radar gun. I would guess that it was pretty accurate, but I honestly cannot say that I had seen a speed limit sign for at least 20 or 30 minutes at that point, so I’m not sure we were actually speeding. Still, my driver had the wonderful opportunity to get out of the car and chat with the officers. The speeding ‘violation” conversation ultimately was explained back to me in rather simple terms:

I told them that 85 [km/h] isn’t really speeding. Going 100 or 120 would be speeding but 85 is just normal driving. Once they realized I wasn’t going to pay they waved me on.


Of course, the whole conversation happened out of earshot and likely in a language I have no comprehension of, but my driver didn’t seem all that upset about the outcome so if it was anything else he did a pretty good job of hiding it.


At one of the stops the officer notices a couple small bills in my driver’s shirt pocket, maybe a total of CH¢5 (~USD$3.50). Some comments were exchanged and eventually one of the GH¢2 notes disappeared. The driver simply shook his head, chuckled a bit and we continued our drive. That was actually the only time there was actually a payment, but not for a lack of effort on the part of the cops.


Ultimately, the opportunity to get out of town and to see the countryside and get photos like these was worth a few extra Cedis and probably worth the hassle, too. Especially because the officers were so willing to talk to the white guy and see what I was willing to say.

Oh, and I got to sing this a bit…

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.