Joseph Nyame was doing very well as senior plant operator at the Sha- Sha Natural Fruit Juice company near Ghana’s capital Accra until a wave of power cuts forced the firm out of business. Now Nyame makes his living on the street, selling cheap Chinese plates to office workers, a victim of the West African nation’s energy crisis. His dreams of getting ahead are on hold, he said, as he unpacked plates in the small house he rents with three other families.
“My heart is not in what I am doing,” Nyame told Reuters. “I’m a shift leader at the plant and that’s what I do best. But I have to look after the family so anything goes for now.” Economic growth in Ghana, once a favourite of investors in Africa, has been slowed by a fiscal crisis that has forced the government to seek International Monetary Fund support and undermined its reputation abroad for financial management, But it is the energy crisis that has most sapped business confidence at home and angered ordinary Ghanaians ahead of elections due next year.
Blackouts are a failsafe way to raise a nation’s blood pressure. In Ghana, they last for up to 24 hours, plunging homes into darkness and cutting off fridges, TVs, water pumps and fans. Costs for those who can afford generators have soared. The frequent outages have acquired bogeyman status and the slang word for power cut in the local Twi language, “dumsor”, is the subject of comedy skits, protest marches, and a hashtag campaign, #DumsorMust- Stop.
The blackouts have become a symbol of Ghana’s abrupt downturn just a few years after it started producing oil in 2010, making a nation that already exported gold and cocoa one of the hottest growth markets in Africa.
Restoring reliable power is critical for President John Mahama ahead of next year’s election. Discontent over power and the economy could tip the balance in favour of opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo, whom Mahama narrowly beat in 2012. The government says Ghana has a long term problem generating enough power given that demand is growing at 10 percent a year, but that argument has failed to soothe voters, prompting Mahama to take personal responsibility for solving the problem. He created a Ministry for Power in November and aides say he is involved in the details of electricity generation.