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Addressing Ghana's Dependence on Used Vehicles: A Comprehensive Approach

The global sale of electric vehicles is on the rise, with 2 million sold in the first quarter of 2022 alone. However, the majority of these sales are in high-income countries. As wealthier countries transition to electric transport to reduce emissions and combat climate change, the number of internal combustion engine vehicles entering the used vehicle market is likely to increase. Africa, including Ghana, is already a major destination for used vehicles, with 40% of the 14 million used vehicles exported worldwide between 2015 and 2018 ending up on the continent.

While used vehicles serve important needs in Africa by providing mobility and supporting livelihoods, they also contribute to public health and environmental problems through pollution and accidents. Many of the used vehicles exported to Africa run on fossil fuels and are old, highly polluting, and prone to malfunctioning. In some cases, modifications to these vehicles, such as the removal of catalytic converters to obtain valuable metals, make them even more polluting.

Africa's reliance on used vehicles is often attributed to low incomes and weak regulation, but a recent study on Ghana's dependence on used vehicles suggests that this explanation is incomplete. The study argues that a more comprehensive view of the issue reveals a complex set of factors and offers more policy options than simply imposing bans and import restrictions.

Used Vehicles in Ghana

Ghana has updated some of the planning laws inherited from its colonial past, but attitudes and practices around planning, transport, and land use among Ghanaian politicians and professionals continue to reflect colonial frameworks and mindsets. These practices, which prioritize road construction over public transport and encourage spatial separation of work and other activities from residential areas, contribute to the demand for private vehicles and the supply of used vehicles to meet that demand.

The construction of more and more roads, which are primarily designed for cars and lack pedestrian, bicycle, and crossover lanes, and the high social status attached to car ownership, encourage higher-income individuals to import vehicles for personal use. The demand for private vehicles is met by importers focusing on cheaper used vehicles, which are in abundant supply. Corruption in the Customs Service also hinders the effective enforcement of regulations on the import of used vehicles, resulting in benefits for powerful actors connected to the sector.

The minibus (commonly known as "tro-tro") sector, which plays a crucial role in providing public transport in Ghana, also drives the demand for used vehicles. The sector is highly fragmented, with operators often unable to afford new vehicles and turning to used imports instead. In addition, the lack of regulation and oversight in the sector leads to poor maintenance and safety practices, resulting in accidents and pollution.

Policy Options

The study recommends a range of policy options to address Ghana's dependence on used vehicles and the associated problems. These include:

  • Investing in alternative modes of transport, such as public and non-motorized transport, to reduce the demand for private vehicles and make them less necessary for daily life.

  • Strengthening regulation and oversight in the tro-tro sector to improve maintenance and safety practices.

  • Addressing corruption in the Customs Service to improve the enforcement of regulations on the import of used vehicles.

  • Revising land use policies and practices to promote compact, mixed-use development and reduce the need for long commutes.

  • Promoting the use of electric and other low-emission vehicles to reduce pollution.


Ghana's reliance on used vehicles is not simply a result of low incomes and weak regulation. A more holistic view reveals a complex set of factors that must be addressed through a range of policy options. Investing in alternative modes of transport, strengthening regulation and oversight in the tro-tro sector, combating corruption in the Customs Service, revising land use policies and practices, and promoting the use of electric and other low-emission vehicles are all necessary to address the problems caused by Ghana's dependence on used vehicles. By taking a comprehensive approach to the issue, policymakers in Ghana can address the mobility and livelihood needs of its citizens while also improving public health and the environment.

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