Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa


Able is a taxi driver, but he doesn’t like driving.  He says it’s too busy in town.  Moreover, he feels like he’s cheating people.  He knows the price of maintaining his car and the price of gas, but the fares he has to charge are higher than that.  He says that with the Ghanaian currency (the cedi) falling, people are having a hard enough time surviving as is.  He feels guilty taking their money.

During our long drive to the Accra bus stations and back, Able told me that he wants to travel.  If he went to Europe, he’d take classes so that he could learn why they are doing so much better than Africa.  He could wash dishes or clean houses – he’s lived with white people before so he knows how they like things done.  Then he’d come home to help improve his country.

He said that white people are good to work for because they always pay.  “Bad white people don’t travel,” he declared.  “They stay home in their own countries.  Here, though, black people won’t pay you.  Maybe 1% will pay.  But 80% of white people will pay the wages they owe.”

I tried to explain that our current labour conditions evolved in North America and Europe over several centuries.  “We weren’t always like this.  We have good laws now because conditions were so terrible.  Lots of people died or weren’t paid.  Now our laws protect employees.  Back home, an employer wouldn’t even consider not paying because otherwise they were be in trouble.  There are very severe consequences.”

“Yeah, but we don’t have those laws,” Able countered.  “Our politicians work against us.  Even the president works against someone like me.”

Which, unfortunately, is probably true.

Able told me that his dad was a mechanic and always had lots of cars around.  He taught himself to drive as a kid.  Actually, he learned with a little help from his friends.  After school, they would hang out at his place and push the cars around while he sat in the driver’s seat and learned how to maneuver the vehicle.  His dad was confused because the cars would be in different locations, but they had never been turned on.

When Able was 13 or 14, he was at the family’s farm with his dad when his dad was stung by a scorpion.  Able didn’t know what to do because he was small and his dad was fat.  He rolled him to the car and pushed him in.  He then drove to the clinic, in first gear the whole way.

When his dad recovered, he told Able that he had to learn how to switch gears.  After that, every day when they drove from the house to the farm, Able got to drive.

He met Merlin, the co-director of Amplify, when he was working as a driver for a car rental company.  Soon afterwards, though, he saved up to buy his own vehicle and now work as a taxi driver.  He told me that as soon as he has more money, he’s going to replace the seats in his car.  “When you come back to Accra, you will see the changes.”

As I mentioned at the beginning, however, he doesn’t like driving.  He wants to become a merchant or – as he says – “move into buy and sell.”  But first he needs some capital.

Able was so sweet and concerned for his country – as well as me with my big backpack and no bus to take.  Even though he spoke extensively about money, I never felt like he was hinting that he wanted some from me.  It broke my heart that he’ll probably never be able to travel or go to school like he wants.

Able and his taxi

Able and his taxi


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