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Voices from Ghana: The Black Star of Africa Eclipsed by Energy Crisis; Ghana@50, So What?

The pomp and pageantry surrounding the celebrations of Ghana@50 may be over, but the analysis of what it means for Ghana has spawned a number of ruminations for both Ghanaian bloggers and those blogging about Ghana.

Let’s start with a particularly interesting post by a Canadian blogger-couple A Canadian Couple Relishes Acronyms that present readers with a very serious and insightful look into what Ghana’s Accra Metropolitan Assembly’s decision to clear the streets of street vendors says about Ghana’s increasing Westernisation:

Where, then, should the blame lie for these aggressive actions against Accra’s poor? Granted, the federal government and the AMA [Accra Metropolitan Assembly] should shoulder a good deal of it, as must the global trading systems that ensure that the city, country, and continent remain in a state of poverty. But even with the regularly sighted ‘villains’ of Africa — corruption, bad-governance, and trade abuse — hauled out for their usual tongue-lashing, a piece of the explanation for what is happening on the streets of Accra is still missing. After all, the richest cities in the world, with less poverty and (theoretically) better, more accountable governments, do virtually the same things whenever the world’s attention is drawn to them.
To me, then, there is something bigger at play here: our constant striving for something that I will refer to here as ‘empire.’ What I’m referring to is our constant individual and collective desire to fulfill a limitless potential, to ‘be all we can be.’ This concept isn’t monopolised by any one part of the political or social spectrum, but is held by everyone: as corporations seek forever-rising profits, so too homelessness advocates will settle for nothing short of the ‘eradication’ of poverty. It lies at the heart of Western capitalism, and the societies that embrace it. In these societies, the word enough all but disappears from the national vocabulary, with debates between those holding opposing views becoming endless tug-of-wars, full of violence and rhetoric, in which the notion of compromise appears laughable, at best.

We get a glimpse of his standpoint when he says that the move was an “aggressive action” against the poor. It is both a very curious and discerning comment coming from a non-Ghanaian, and highly- recommended reading.

He continues:

The pace of life and work in Ghana is notably slower than in the Western world. Foreign governments and aid agencies regularly voice frustration with their difficulty in getting anything done within a meaningful timeframe. As work days move slowly, so does corporate initiative

Then, how does a country whose work-pace is slow measure up with any Western, capitalist society?:

I could repeat all the stats about North American crime and incarceration rates, depression levels, suicides, et cetera. We’ve had it explained to us a million times over. The conclusion is that Western, capitalist societies are good for the wallet, but bad for the soul

All that said, what is bad for the soul in Ghana is the energy crisis—or mismanagement—that has tainted the period after the independence celebrations of March 6, 2007.

Ewomi, explains:

In the suburb of Accra where I live, water is rationed for about 10 hours a week. Recently, we haven't had water for about two weeks, before that we hadn't for about two months. This is tha capital city, thank you. And the electricity IS on the blink. Last I checked the report, the water level in the dam was precariously, precariously, low. Ghanaians are actually taking heavy body blows.

Taking a critical look, nothing in the country really works. Yeah – lower inflation, lower interest rates, [somewhat] higher salaries – but you know, if you are honest, that all this just sounds good. If you doubt, just take a walk through Accra. Check out Darkuman official town. Madina Old Road. Etc. Oh, slums exist everywhere? OK. Check out East Legon. Osu. Squatters living in wooden kiosks around the corner from half a miilion dollar mansions. Open drains. Mosquitoes. Take a taxi. Take a tro-tro. Go to a public hospital. Live the Ghanaian experience. OK, the politicians we have are really full of the stuff – they do 1% when even 50% could have been acheived without sweat and really 1000% was required, but they want accolades and praises. And they are chronically unable to provide leadership.

Some months ago, Emmanuel argued that “Accra is in the Dark Ages” and that the country seems to be going backwards as far as energy is concerned.

Don Thieme, US blogger, writing in his blog Life Cycle Analysis, provides a historical perspective of the closing of Ghana’s aluminium smelter in the Ghanaian port of Tema:

The Akosombo Dam on the Volta River had been planned by British engineers prior to Ghanaian independence, but construction was not begun until Nkrumah secured financial backing from the United States in 1958. It became one of the first large projects undertaken by the World Bank, with most of the hydroelectric power that it was to produce promised to the newly created Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO) for its smelter to be constructed at the port city of Tema. As can be seen from the map below, the damming of the Volta River created an immense lake totaling over 8300 km2 (3200 mi2). To administer the lake and dam, the Ghanaian Parliament established the Volta River Authority in April 1961 with Nkrumah as Chairman and six Board members.2As part of the deal made with the World Bank and United States corporations, Ghana gave a written promise that the Tema smelter would not be expropriated. Nkrumah and his economic advisors did envision, however, that local bauxite ore would be exploited for aluminum production in a “vertically” integrated national industry. The newly formed VALCO, on the other hand, was controlled by American investors. Particularly influential was Nkrumah's close personal friend, Edgar Kaiser, a California industrialist who built the Akosombo Dam and went on to found Kaiser Aluminum to use its power.3 Kaiser, Alcoa, and other aluminum companies making use of the smelter have found it more profitable to ship alumina from their existing mines in Jamaica and other locations than to open up new operations in Ghana. The “invisible hand” of international trade seems to have made an unsustainable mess in this case, possibly contributing to the rundown condition of the smelter which has suffered at least two disastrous fires in the past two years. In closing the smelter, Ghana apparently intends to devote the power from the Akosombo Dam to providing more stable electricity to its citizens.

The real truth is that the closing of the smelter notwithstanding, Ghana remains plagued by a serious energy mismanagement. Abocco, of Ghanaconscious, sums up the mismanagement:

I've talked to a lot of Ghanaians back home about the excitement regarding the celebration of Ghana's golden jubilee. A lot of them have complained about the amount of money being spent to celebrate Ghana's golden anniversary of independence when they do not have reliable power (electricity) and constantly have ‘lights off’. Ghana has outgrown the Akosombo dam and it cannot produce enough energy for its population

Meanwhile, The Trials & Tribulations of a Freshly-Arrived Denizen…conveys his visceral disappointment about Ghana in general, and Ghanaians in particular. He concedes that the energy crisis afflicting Ghana is one that has dogged the EU, but at least it encouraged the Europeans:

Ghana is 50, yet we have an energy crisis when we shouldn’t. Let’s face it, though: energy problems are not unique to this country, for in 2006, Europe suffered blackouts, prompting the EU to factor energy as a key challenge and policy area for its burgeoning 27-member EU.

In Ghana, we have just resumed the load-shedding management programme, which started Thursday—some days after Ghana@50 dignitaries left.

In Ghana, no future prescriptions are forthcoming. He points the finger to incumbent energy minister Joseph Adda:

Had this energy crisis afflicted the UK, heads would have rolled, and incumbent Minister of Energy—Joseph Adda—would have been forced to resign. It would not just have been the opposition that would have called for it, but the buoyant and vibrant press.

Finally, two posts ask whether Ghana@50 should have been a moment for more reflection. The first one is from GHANA: WHERE MY HEART IS, who writes:

… it doesn't sound like Ghanaians at home really care too much about the Golden jubilee and I don't really blame them. There are more pressing things they have to worry about and for me the question at hand is always “should we really be celebrating?” Yes it is 50 years after independence but have we reached a status worth celebrating. Yes we can celebrate our age but I think our focus should be finding ways to move forward!

The second post goes a bit further:

I got the distinct impression, people did not have any other reason for celebrating but the fact that Ghana is 50 years old. That’s still a very good reason to celebrate, don’t get me wrong. I just wish there had been a lot more sober reflection and more concrete plans for the future.

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the energy challenge that Ghana finds itself in is one that provides significant food-for-thought not just for policy-makers, but also ordinary Ghanaians.

6 comments

  • Importing power generators for electricity will require fossil fuel, a short term solution for energy crisis in Ghana. Long term solutions will require strong personal, emotional and financial investments by all Ghana people into production in Ghana of solar devices for electrical generation. Drop the failing fossil fuel mentality that is bankrupting developing nations more than any other factors. Expensive grids for energy delivery has been the bane of Ghana and this is only one reason for the failure of leadership. This failure in leadership is evident in all Nations on our planet. That one half trillion US dollar cost in Iraq put to solar development would have marginalized the oil producing nations, minimized the need for conflict. Plenty of news and sensational movies about blood diamonds and few to none about BLOOD OIL.

  • Joseph Conrad

    It is exciting that Ghana has been around 50yrs. Yet is depressing and angering that it cannot produce sufficient electrical power for its people…West Africa, from which the colonials took 12 Million people to the ‘New World’ from the 1500’s to the 1800’s, is awash with oil. Before 2015, the US plans to fulfill 25% of its annual petroleum requirements from West African sources because it sees less ‘risk’ in the region than in the Middle East.

    Over the next decade, West African citizens will surely increasing deprivation as their political leaders reap the vast majority of the rich bounty petroleum will provide. That members of the African Union has been meeting to explore ways to share the financial benefits petroleum will generate is positive. But that these same members see fit to leave their citizens in abject poverty while their leadership groups wallow in ill-gotten wealth is not just absurd – it’s ‘silly’…

    By 2015, the citizens in West, Central and East African
    petroleum-producing nations must achieve the following:
    1. Ever increasing control over, retention of and more equitable distribution of the vast petroleum wealth their leaders now siphon off to off-shore banks.
    2. Ensure their leaders devise and execute rational, comprehensive development strategies that invest in and advance their respective nations rather off-shore bank accounts.
    3. A majority share of the profits derived from their nations’ petroleum. For, right now US and European oil companies – and the leadership groups of West African oil producers – are are stealing wealth beyond the dreams of averice! For the oils companies, I – like you -believe their should receive a fair share for their effort and investment, as the CITIZENS of the oil-producing nations shall decide!
    4. Put an end to the ‘Arms & Aid for Oil’ deals the leadership groups of West African Oil Producing Nations have with the United States and its oil companies. For these deals will only tear the nations apart…ONCE THE PETROLEUM IS ALL GONE! AND YOU WILL BE LEFT POOR AND IGNORANT WONDERING WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR NATION!!
    5. Don’t just let the Foreign Oil Companies PUMP THE PETROLEUM OUT OF THE GROUND AND LEAVE destroying your Nation’s GNP! Make them include the BUILDING OF OIL REFINERIES AS PART OF ANY DEAL WITH YOUR NATION!
    6. Citizens MUST BE AN EQUAL PARTNER IN ANY AND ALL DEALS THEIR LEADERS MAY STRIKE WITH FOREIGN OIL COMPANIES (Take NNOTHING LESS THAN A 75% SHARE OF ALL PETROLEUM PROFITS…OR JOIN OPEC AND GET RICH!!)
    7. Citizens of West African Petroleum Producers MUST KEEP THEIR EYES ON THE PRIZE – THEIR NATION’S PETROLEUM WEALTH – AND NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN STUPID TRIBAL FIGHTS!
    For that is PRECISELY what the US and Foreign Oil Companies want…CHAOS IN YOUR NATION SO THEY CAN COME IN AND GET YOUR PETROLEUM, DIAMONDS, ETC. CHEAPLY!

    Finally, WAKE UP, WEST AFRICA! THE LION IS AT YOUR DOOR AND WANTS YOUR PETROLEUM FOR NEXT TO NOTHING! Remember…
    A FAIR PRICE FOR A FAIR INVESTMENT!

  • Thank you so much for the link. I am so glad that you found me. Somehow I overlooked your blog in making up my blogroll. I look forward to reading your comprehensive compendia of blogging about Ghana.

  • nana amankwa

    i have been on radio in ghana and talked about how does the country industrialised,when basic element of any form industralisation is water and energy. \my friend kofi wayo i constantly said it on radio. our current crop of politician are self seeking and how never else to offer the society exceptionally corrupt, inept attitude hell bent of on keeping the apartheid economic system in place. keep me posted

  • This is a very well written article on a very insightful blog… I think I should put you on my blog roll.

  • thankyou to ALL of you who commented. Your posts are definitely a source of mental pabulum–or food for thought;-)

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