The horrendous Tarkwa-Bogoso road explosion last week cost the nation a number of precious lives, besides landing Ghana in unwanted international headlines. Also, it has highlighted some flaws to be dealt with.
Additionally, with scores injured and that Western Region community turned instantly into a wasteland, the accident is undoubtedly bringing in its wake many lessons, mostly about health and industrial safety.
However, after the dust settles, there should be attention to other lessons from the 20 January horror. An obvious one is that local authorities need to return to the practice of displaying the name of their locality at the entry and exit points.
Confusingly, the accident site has so far been identified by a number of similar sounding, but differently written names. Initially the name reported by the media was ‘Apiate’, but a day or two later it changed to ‘Appiatse’. Then other spellings emerged: ‘Apiatse’, ‘Apiati’, ‘Apiete’ and even ‘Apeatse’.
How could that be, I kept wondering. Of course the issue of places with double names is not new in Ghana. For example, Cape Coast is also known as ‘Oguaa’; and Accra has another identity as ‘Nkran’. Nevertheless, the Apiate, Apiati, Appiatse confusion is a different dimension.
One editor explained to me that the change to Appiatse was because “we got ‘Apiate’ wrong … and a local contact drew our attention.”
Another editor told me that his Western Region correspondent “insisted that ‘Appiatse’ is the correct name” – although his paper had used ‘Apiate’ on January 21.
A third editor said he believes ‘Apiate’, is correct because that is the spelling he got from the Ghana Statistical Service.
For his part, a highly-placed Local Government source told me: “It’s Apiate (or Apeatse in Fante)”.
The confusion seems to indicate that there was no specific, or documented, agreed spelling of the name of the community. Moreover, this implies that there were no signposts bearing its name, which even if they had been destroyed in the blast, would still have been remembered, and used.
Another puzzling aspect: w
as it a hamlet, community, settlement, village or small town? From the media reports, it wasn’t clear.
Conceivably, different spellings of the name of a town or community could just be a problem of bad spelling, or carelessness, on the part of whoever first wrote the name.
Yet, I believe that if knowledgeable local authorities, or government officials in charge of that area, had taken an interest in place names as part of their responsibilities, such a confusion could have been avoided.
Surely, if the officially recognised version had been written on signposts conspicuously mounted at both ends of the place, people would have known which name or spelling is the official or accepted one.
I also wonder which of the names the hapless school children from that place write when they are required to write the name of their hometown. If it’s confusing for adults, including experienced media correspondents, then pity the poor pupils!
But of course this matter of names is a minor one in view of the enormity of the task ahead of the community and the Ghana Government: including assisting the bereaved; resettling the displaced and reconstruction.
No surprise that the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources immediately announced the start of an investigation into the circumstances of the explosion. On January 20, a truck transporting explosives to the Chirano mine, had reportedly collided with a motorcycle, causing the explosives to ignite.
Casualties on the spot included 13 dead; scores seriously injured and the community razed to the ground. Sadly, as at January 27, the death toll had reportedly risen to 17.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that the name confusion is a side issue, it’s a reminder that there are actions which though not critical shouldn’t be neglected because they serve a useful purpose.
I suggest that the bewildering, different spellings for the accident spot should be taken as a cue by the Ministry of Local Government, Decentralization and Rural Development to get the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to return to the old, very helpful practice of mounting name signposts for all places, especially in rural areas.
Sad that at present one can drive through swathes of communities and villages and find no information at all to assist visitors to know the identity of that place. This curious lack of appreciation of the importance of signposting localities doesn’t speak well of our country.
Clearly, locality signposts indicate that the people in charge care, – and take pride in their identity. And pride in one’s community, whether hamlet, settlement, village or town, could translate into pride in one’s country.
How did we get to this stage where even local assemblies and village leaders apparently are no longer proud of their birthplace?
My thinking is that displaying names of villages and town should also be of interest to the Ministry of Tourism, which has recently announced its intention to give a boost to domestic tourism.
The drive to encourage interest in domestic tourism particularly, as well as increase international visitor numbers, should include secondary but important measures like place names to identify places.
Otherwise, how does anybody recommend a town or village to a would-be tourist if that place can’t even be identified immediately by name?
It’s also notable that the ‘Apiate’, ‘Apiati’, ‘Appiatse’ bewilderment is not the only matter needing clarification. The motorcycle rider widely reported to have been involved in the accident, has been reported as vehemently denying the allegation.
Allegedly, he insists that he was nowhere near that location at the time of the blowup. If that is true, how could that aspect have been so misreported?
Doubtless, there will be much to learn from the keenly awaited outcome of the investigation into the devastating explosion on the Bogoso road.
And, hopefully, in the near future, there will be action on the need for signposting places.