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Travels To The “Dark Country”

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

The term “Dark Continent” is an antiquated (and to many, offensive) euphemism for Africa that once got veteran NPR broadcaster Jean Cochran into trouble when she used it on air. Now I’m taking the liberty of coining the phrase “dark country” to refer to Ghana, with its now legendary rolling blackouts, or “load shedding,” as it’s often called.

In the "dark country,", you need a high-powered generator to keep the lights on

In the “dark country,”, you need a high-powered generator to keep the lights on

Popularly known as “dumsor,” from the Twi, meaning “off-on,” the pattern of outages in Ghana’s capital Accra, where I’ll be for the next 3 weeks, is pervasive, disruptive, and inequitably distributed. A Citi FM article finds that some neighborhoods–read, “affluent”–get more constant and reliable electrical power than others–read, “poor”. But an industry expert points out that the Electricity Corporation of Ghana (ECG) schedules according to where it “thinks it will get paid.” Places like Nima, a densely populated, working class section of Accra, would not be an example of a “payor.” Stories abound of its residents siphoning off electricity from the street lines to power their air conditioners, refrigerators and microwave ovens. In Children Of The Street four years ago when Darko was digging around in the Nima’s maze of passages, he noted with a sense of irony that even the most miserable of hovels had a TV satellite dish.

Apart from being utterly maddening, an erratic electrical supply takes a terrible toll on Ghana’s local and national economy. An estimate quoted from the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), a Ghanaian based think-tank, is that the country has lost at least 24 billion dollars since 2010 as a result of the energy crisis.

The effect on industry, employment and the basic functioning of the country has been devastating. Small businesses have had to layoff workers because an inconstant supply of electricity has ground work to a halt. I was once at a local auto mechanics shop in Accra when the electrical power went out. The story was they did have an old generator, but guess what? It was out of order. So what followed was a lot of standing (or sitting) around because many machines in the shop, even small-scale as it was, needed electricity to function. That’s an awful lot of lost revenue. Blue Skies, an Accra company that produces sumptuously fresh tropical fruit drinks, suffered badly in 2015 from the energy crisis and other adverse factors. Dumsor is such a pervasive part of life in Ghana that it appears frequently in the upcoming Darko Dawson novel, Gold Of Our Fathers, and the one after that in 2017, Death By His Grace.

As I head to Accra, I’ve been told that dumsor is “worse.” If that’s the case, I should see and experience it for myself in the next three weeks.

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