A swath of the sky behind our house was flickering orange, and we didn’t know it at the time, but a gas station was burning and a mushroom cloud of fiery gas had shot into the sky only a few minutes earlier. The burning sky looked as if the source lied just beyond the trees.
There’s a narrow, dirt road next to the house that brings you behind the block, and Victoria, Joseph and I ran down it in the dark—me, stumbling and them, expertly navigating the rocky terrain. Running the other way was a woman, a baby wrapped tightly to her back, shouting in twi.
“She said she’s running for her life,” Victoria told me as we came to the end of the path.
She had a broad grin on her face and giggled as we ran down the road. I think Victoria was giddy with the excitement of the chaos. She’s 17, but seems much younger to me, and as we slowed down by corrugated metal homes I thought—I should’ve told her to stay home.
Fortunately, the fire was much farther than it appeared. Unfortunately, at least seven people have died because of the explosion. Since 2007, at least 250 people have died from fuel explosions in Ghana, according to reporting from CitiFM.
The cause of the explosion is under investigation but, one news outlet pointed at a kebab seller for trying to light his grill amid a nearby gas leak. This theory was rejected by Ghanaian investigators. Instead, outcry on social media has placed blame on various public institutions responsible for safety, maintenance and licensing of these stations and on the private companies that refuse to conform to the adequate standards. There also seems to be an expectation that not much will change. No one will resign, and no one will be fired. The National Petroleum Authority did say, however, that it will hire 200 more safety auditors at fueling stations across Ghana.
On top of the failure of oversight, firefighters lacked the proper equipment to handle the intensity of the fire. “We have about 160 working fire tenders that serve the whole country,” wrote Citi reporter Kojo Akoto Boateng. “We need 2,155 fire hydrants in Ghana but we have 956 with over 500 not working,” he added. Boateng appears to be citing a 2013 audit from the Ghana National Fire Service.
On the other end, most intensive care units in Ghana, according to Dr. Opoku Ware Ampomah, have less than 10 beds. In an interview with Citi, Ampomah calculated that serious burns costs about 30,000 GHS and the national insurance covers up to 1,000 GHS for burn victims.
It’s a heartbreaking failure at almost every level, and I felt rage that I felt—and still feel— I have very little right to. Admittedly, I probably would have never known about this tragedy or any of the others without living here.
Nana Ama Agyemang Asante is an editor of CitiFM online, host of its popular morning show and the host of her own podcast, Unfiltered. Only a few days before the Atomic Junction explosion, Asante published “Everything in Ghana is going to kill you.”
In the article, Asante goes off.
“By the nature of the Show, I’m required to know more about everything we discuss, which means I know that only 2 out of 10 pupils in Primary 2 can read and write. I know that 36 percent of Ghanaians with salvageable injuries die because of the lack of emergency care services. I know the doctor-patient ratio stands at one doctor to 10,450 patients . . .
I get angry that some live fabulously on taxpayers’ money while babies die in hospitals because of the lack of incubators. It terrifies me that able-bodied young men are spending the best years of their lives, wiping windscreens for lunch while politicians spend millions on needless things like embossing John Mahama’s face on a bus. I fear what will happen to all these young men and women hawking China in traffic in their old age of no-pension-no-health-insurance. Overall the state of the nation infuriates me – the filth, the lawlessness, the public and private corruption, and the broken systems.”
I landed in Accra three weeks ago. I knew broadly of Ghana’s troubles but most of what I read was about how Ghana is a bright spot in Africa with a stable democracy and isolated from civil unrest and terrorist organizations. I mentioned this to a friend and she told me of a speech she once heard from a Ghanaian writer. He said most of these comparisons place Ghana next to an other African country with an autocratic ruler refusing to leave power and various ethnic factions warring or regular military coups. He didn’t want to be a bright spot among the barely lit, he wanted Ghana to shine in its own right.
I can’t fully understand the frustrations of Ghanaians who have lived here their whole lives. Although, some of them seem resigned to the Ghana they’ve always known, one of inefficiency and corruption. There’s even a saying, “That’s Ghana for ya!” to express the low expectations here and the general acceptance of it all.
You’ve seen me posting pictures of beaches and sun-filled days. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea. I’m not here to vacation, and it’s not easy. Ghana is frustrating as hell. I’m here to conduct research that will hopefully help get women more involved in journalism at community radio stations throughout Ghana. I’m here to learn from the women and men who have already succeeded in a place where the odds seem insurmountable—where everything can kill you.