In South Africa, they have an interesting name for traffic lights. They call them robots. Yeah, weird, I know.
Like many countries that have invested heavily in infrastructure, virtually every single intersection has fully functioning robots to help organise and direct traffic in an orderly manner. There are, however, a few intersections that do not have traffic lights. Strangely, though, even at these junctions, traffic continues to flow smoothly without any hitch whatsoever. This is because of an unspoken rule – a system that works through silent agreement by all motorists. It's called First Come, First Serve.
It's not very complicated. Whichever car gets to the intersection first has right of way, and all other cars coming from all other directions WILL let it through. Nobody tries to cheat, nobody disputes who got there first, one by one in unity and harmony, everybody waits their turn to cross, and sanity prevails.
There are no policemen mounted on the pavement watching to penalise anyone who violates this naturally established law, no security cameras to catch cheating culprits – nothing. Just an endless stream of individual drivers, each choosing at the critical moment to do the right thing.
Now, I'm not talking about some Utopian science-fictional nation of the future where everyone wears white suits and is injected with a daily dose of happy juice. Heck, I'm not even talking about some European or Asian super-power. I'm talking about South Africa here noor. Just five and a half hours away from us. Same continent.
Can you imagine if it was Ghana? I mean look at what happens when one of the few traffic lights we have happens to break down. The intersection turns into a suburb of Hell. Everybody honking their horns, cars nose to tail, fender to fender, jostling and pushing their way through, eventually bringing the whole mess to a standstill, backing up traffic for miles in every direction, until a policeman arrives and forces some civilisation into everyone's head. All because each motorist is trying to do what is best for themselves only. To hell with everyone else.
So what is it that makes the South African motorist willing to do the right thing even when nobody is watching? Well, it's simple. They believe that it's better for everyone to win than for them alone to have their way. They understand that a moment's patience and courtesy for the next person means there is no need for chaos, and in the end, everyone gets their way.
My friend, look around you. Life is a robot-free junction. There won't always be a policeman there to force you to give way to other motorists, to take your place at the back of the queue, to put your litter in the bin, to flush the loo after using it, to act like a civilised human. But what you do when nobody is watching, the way you treat others when you're not obliged to treat them well, the way you act when there's no traffic light to make you do the right thing, that is your true self.
So this Monday morning, it's time to take another look in that mirror. Let's examine are true selves and ask whether we're civilised humans or wild animals. Are we decent by nature or must we be forced? Whatever answers we come up with, whoever we identify ourselves to be, let's agree we could all do better, and let's spend this week doing exactly that.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and if I say to hell with everyone else, I go to hell, with everyone else.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!