Have Map App, Will Travel: Why Are Ghanaians Still Bad With Directions and Locations?

When I had a desk job back in the day, a female co-worker once asked if I knew where a particular business was located. This is how the conversation went:

Female Co-worker: “Do you know where [BUSINESS] is?”

Me: “I don’t think so”.

*Female co-worker plays with her phone*

Me: “Just open Google Maps and see if it’s there.”

Female co-worker: “Umm…I don’t know how to use Google Maps.”

Me (totally perplexed): “You don’t know how to use Google Maps?”

Female co-worker: “Nope.”

*Takes female co-worker’s phone, opens Google Maps, searches for [BUSINESS] address and gets directions*

Me (handing the phone back to co-worker): “Here. It’s that easy.”

Female co-worker looks at phone with confused look on her face

Female co-worker: I don’t know how to read the map.

*Instantly ends friendship with co-worker*

That was a true story by the way (with exception of me ending that relationship with my coworker). It did seem odd to me that my coworker, who spent most of her time on her cellphone didn’t know how to use Google Maps on her phone. But apparently, she’s not the only one. I have seen people, holding smartphones capable of doing dozens of computations and services, still struggle to find their way around the city despite having GPS and Google Maps on their phones.

How is this possible??!

If you’ve ever lived in Ghana, you know that we have a major problem with directions and locations. Asking a pedestrian for directions sometimes feels like asking someone on the street how to launch a spaceship to Mars. You sometimes never get good directions and you end up getting more lost eventually. Landmarks such as buildings and trees eventually become your best friend for finding businesses and pathways.

Landmarks > Street Signs

Street signs In Wa

For me, without street signs, I could still use Google Maps to get around. But for others, it’s almost like they’re invisible. When I’m giving someone directions on how to find where I’m situated, I just give them the street name. That never goes so well and I eventually just start giving them the typical Ghanaian directions:

“Take the rough road and take a right turn when you get the house with the brown wall”

You would think more experienced people like taxi drivers, who travel back and forth in the city, would adapt and use a map application on their phones to get better routes to a passenger’s destination. If they’re not on Uber, they’re probably using past journeys to remember routes to take. There have been a couple of times where I’ve seen taxis pull over and ask a passer-by for directions when dropping off a passenger. And yes, that taxi driver likely had a smartphone in his car.

I even wonder if Firemen and Police use map applications to get to a particular destination. I kid you not, the other day I saw a firetruck parked and one of the firemen was asking a pedestrian for directions…. *face palm*

Everybody just seems lost. It’s really surprising given the fact that the street naming project seems to have been completed and almost all lanes and roads now have street signs. That should have helped make finding places easier right? But that doesn’t seem to have happened. It’s like the general public can’t be bothered with street signs. Businesses don’t seem to be taking advantage of street signs when listing contact information on their websites or even business cards.

Google Map Is Your Friend

Turn by turn directions on Google Maps in Accra

It’s been a couple of years now since Google officially rolled out voice and turn by turn directions on their Map application. Most places and destinations in Accra can easily found just by searching on the app.

If I ever have to go to an event, I always use my map to see where’s it located. If I’m driving, I use the turn by turn direction. Believe me, it’s been a tremendous help getting around the city!

It’s not always 100% accurate but Google Maps gets it right 90% of the time. So why doesn’t the general smartphone user use Google Maps or other mapping applications on their phone? Is it an awareness problem? Or are people just resistant to new ways of doing things?

Hard To Change Habits

There’s still work to be done as far as digitally mapping the whole country but Accra seems to have all destinations on a digital map. So it’s interesting how the average Ghanaian, who has access to a smartphone, still can’t use a Map application.

I think it’s even worse that we finally got street signs and people still can’t switch habits and get accustomed to them. Maybe we all need some sort of awareness program to help with the use of street signs and maps for directions and locations.

Whatever the case is, I hope we all adapt to either using more street signs or mapping applications because the next time someone asks me for directions in the street, I might as well just open up my map application on my phone and show him/her the way.