You know you live in a third world country when on your journey home from work you get excited on realizing that the lights are on in your neighborhood. Power outages in Ghana are so frequent that people here are pleasantly surprised when they have uninterrupted power supply for more than 24 hours. Weekdays or weekends, you can always rely on your electricity to bail out on you at any time of the day. Electricity consumers are not only with regular power outages, but also with the manner in which the lights are taken.
I don’t quite envy the proud owner of that freshly-purchased-from-the-Accra-Mall 42-inch flat screen TV—especially if he didn’t invest in a Universal Power Stabilizer (a devise that protects electrical devices from power fluctuations. The power can go and off several times in just a space of a few minutes and this has caused many people to lose their expensive electrical gadgets. Fridges, deep freezers, desktop computers have all fallen victim to the electricity menace.
The power outage issue in Ghana is a perennial issue, so people have gotten used to and have found ways around it. Generators are the most common solution with an ever-increasing percentage of households owning one. In the 90s, generators used to be a big deal, afforded only by the wealthy, but these days they come a dome a dozen in all sizes, prices, and environmental friendliness. Small scale enterprises like barbering shops and beauty salons are among those have invested in generators since business is directly tied to power availability ( and they charge a higher price for hair-cuts that use generators power because of generator fuel costs).
But the situation is not all gloomy. Last Monday the minister of energy assured Ghanaians that situation will resolved by December this year. That means the nation has to steel itself for another eight months of you-know-what. The problem, he explained, is due to transmission and distribution problems, not capacity issues as some people believe. Through capital investment and technical assistance from the World Bank and Swiss government, the Ghana government is embarking on a number of projects that will provide permanent solutions to the aforementioned transmission and distribution issues. Ghana’s main source of electricity is hydroelectric power from its Akosombo dam (which banks the largest man-made lake in the world, the Volta Lake) and according to the minister, the government is working to reducing the pressure on Akosombo by providing alternatives such as gas-fired thermal plants.
Not trying to condone mediocrity, but after a while one gets used to not having regular power. I sigh when I remember that in America we left Playstation games on pause for several months because we expected the power to be on when we returned to it, whereas here in Ghana, people on life-support can lose their lives when power goes off for extended periods. These days I view having regular electricity as a privilege that one must make use of when one has it—and this usually involves ironing as many shirts as possible over the weekend for you don’t know when you will come home from work to meet a power outage that lasts overnight. Hopefully by early 2010 the lights will stop going on and off like we live in a full-time disco. We can’t wait!