Last week I requested an Uber ride to cantonments. Aside the great reception from the driver,he kept asking; madam are you comfortable?, should I turn on the AC? and a whole lot I intend to keep to my self. I paid a little over 10 Ghana cedis (which is relatively cheaper than what a cab would charge for that distance). I was excited, a little overjoyed and when Uber asked me to rate the driver I gave him 5 stars. In fact I have been going on and on about the amazing appearance of Uber in the Ghanaian scene.
Unfortunately for me; my joy was nearly cut short a day after. I negotiated my fare with a cab driver and he kept insisting on a charge I didn’t want to pay. Well, after my Uber experience I wasn’t going to be generous with “taxi drivers sent to dry my pocket”. After a lot of banter I reluctantly sat in the cab and the inevitable Uber conversation started.
What is Uber? the driver asked after hearing me mutter endlessly about how I would rather pay more in my comfortable Uber car which I can even pretend to own (most Uber cars are private and are usually mistaken for one’s own car). I explained what an app was, and how I could request a ride and pin my location on the map to help the driver pick me up exactly where I was. He laughed and reminded me that very few people knew of Uber and could even use the app. He continued; if there is an accident, will they wait for Uber to come before they go to hospital or will they stop a taxi?
He continued to mutilate my arguments limb by limb. How many Ghanaians can use the internet(that was his way of referring to the app), market women and many people usually take taxis, it won’t change easily. What about those who have never been to school?,he smiled victoriously. At this point I kept quiet to think about all the things he said and re strategize. I had to convince this man. Just then I remembered an encounter a friend of mine had two weeks earlier. She had requested an Uber ride and there was heavy traffic from Labone to Achimota. Uber had notified her of surge pricing but she disregarded it thinking, how much “kraa” can they charge. When she arrived at her destination, she was charged 50 cedis.
Before I could finish my line of thought the driver continued his bid to canvas winning points. How do they charge you? At least we negotiate he added. I jumped at his question with full vim to finally win. Its calculated by the distance on the internet I replied sharply. The witty, old Junior High School drop out taxi driver looked unperturbed as he asked a follow-up question. So madam, what if there is traffic, without waiting for an answer he chuckled, then they will charge you plenty. At this point I was done.
I didn’t intend to tell him that the price is estimated before the trip, because I wasn’t prepared to educate him on surge prices and the 50 cedis my friend still regrets paying. But it made me consider how receptive we are to change or how enabled we are for change. Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart is a very relevant illustration of this age-old dilemma. Maybe like Okonkwo(the lead character in the book, who took his own life rather than accept the white man) a lot of us would rather remain where we are or quit the system rather than change. Maybe we don’t change because we don’t know how to change. Because the most technology an average JHS student in Ghana knows is music piracy via Ghana Motion.Com and not how to use Google Scholar. Maybe it is for the same reason a lot of people are missing out on Manifest’s Album “No where cool”, because every thing is on iTunes and up for sale. Maybe that’s why despite Surfline and busy 4G I still rely on Vodafone and MTN to power my blog, because I don’t want to pay for an exclusive internet source, I am used to the old ways. I have concluded that although fear particularly inhibits change, there are several factors that make up the fear. Lack of education, lack of a will to change and a lack of means to change. Most times the first lack mocks at the victims’ triumph over the last two.
And so the issue is not that we don’t want to enjoy Uber, but most people are not aware it exists and if they know it does, they believe it’s for a certain category of educated Ghanaians.
If new businesses will thrive we need education, if Uber will work we need education. With that education, surge pricing will never catch my friend again. With the requisite knowledge she will know how to dodge it. The good thing is that she had the opportunity to complain to Uber via email. Yes Uber grants a fair hearing and orders a better verdict; something the court tried to point the EC to when Nii Ayikoi Otoo complained that NDOMANIAC his client was not heard before Madam EC disqualified him. So on her subsequent trip Uber gave her a free ride billed on a bonus.
In closing Uber will ultimately win, despite my inability to articulate the point clearly to the driver. I believe uber will win because Facebook won over weekly hangouts at a bar, Microsoft won over type writing skills, taxi won over walking, deliveries won over pick ups, instagram won over photo albums, smartphones won over land lines etc.Despite Okonkwo’s suicide, free young smart energetic African youth are still fasting for a miraculous trip from God to the UK or the US, and the stories African children know about are scooby doo, Hannah Montana, sweet valley high…..I have forgotten most of them. But Uber will win.
The world is moving at a fast pace following the wave of significant technological advancement. Illiterates are advised to start learning, because I believe in an uber future. I believe in an African society that improves our efficiency with technology by learning how to use it despite an array of excuses we can resort to.