Let there be light… and there is no light!

Mon, 22 Oct 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Isn’t it troubling that Ghanaians continue to suffer from the curse of load shedding (power rationing) every year while those in authority look on unconcerned until election time approaches when they emerge on rooftops to project the Father Christmas in them?

The denial of electricity to the people traumatizes them in many ways but there is nothing on the horizon to suggest that the problem will be solved soon. It has been so for decades and won’t end soon, no matter what the politicians promise. In Ghanaian politics, the “promise-and-fail” norm is beyond debate.

Our politicians are swarming the nooks and crannies of the country, pestering voters for their support to be or remain in power. All manner of promises are flying about and they are glibly adding more to what our ears are already stopped to.

All these promises are mostly being made on the spur of the moment just for cheap political points. Those promising “free everything” (senior high school education and health care, construction of more infrastructure to support teachers, establishment of new universities, increased salaries for workers, and many more) are wasting their breath. They don’t appeal to me and those who think like me because they don’t know what the real national problems are.

Without a constant (uninterrupted) supply of electricity, how much can those institutions and people do to add anything new to the national complexion?

The causes of our national underdevelopment are many; but I single out the electricity sector, which is pivotal but given little attention in the workings of our leaders and their opponents seeking office.

The perennial power-rationing (load shedding) exercise is a real threat to our survival. It lowers productivity and imposes enormous hardships on the people. Don’t our leaders know how important electricity is to human existence in this 21st century to solve this energy crisis once and for all?

In other countries, a second of electricity outage is disastrous, which is why all possible sources of power generation are explored and utilized to enhance national development and a congenial living situation for the citizens.

In such systems, hardly do the citizens troop out in search of greener pastures and better living conditions as we do in our part of the world just because there is so much diffidence in our own system—fuelled by a sagging economy—largely attributable to the incompetence of our leaders.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with Ghanaian intellectuals and technocrats seeking better conditions abroad. After all, every human being wants to get the best out of life, and if working abroad is what will fetch these well-trained Ghanaians the succour that they need to live their lives in comfort, no one has any right to question where they use their talents and skills. Or where they live.

But there is a lot wrong with what we have seen happening over the years in terms of the unregulated exit of such skilled workers to other countries just to make a living because conditions in Ghana aren’t favourable for them. We have all along been complaining about the brain drain phenomenon that has snatched away highly qualified Ghanaian technocrats and generally unskilled labour who “kill” themselves for the betterment of countries accommodating their interests while denying their own country that benefit.

And these are people on whom the country has spent huge resources educating and training for the job market. These are people who have benefited from all kinds of scholarships (sometimes government-sponsored) for advanced training abroad and expected to return home but don’t. They don’t make their skills, acumen, and experiences available to Ghana because they don’t like the negative aspects of national life that frustrate instead of facilitating their efforts at contributing their quota to national development.

We already know the major problems that repel these technocrats: useless bureaucracy and red-tapeism in government, nonavailability of jobs, bribery and corruption, nepotism and cronyism, horrible conditions of service, and many more.

Underlying all these hindrances are the major inadequacies that irritate these technocrats. This is where the aspects concerning energy and communication network come in. No one will be attracted by a system with erratic power supply and negative attitudes that dampen spirits. No power means no activity.

Regardless of the good intentions behind the politicking going on, nothing will change if the energy sector remains as it has been all these years that the country has depended on hydro-electricity from Akosombo and Kpong as well as the expensive Aboadze thermal plant or others such as the Asogli generating system, a private initiative.

The Bui hydro-electricity project is yet to add anything to the existing grid; but knowing very well that it is also water-based, I have my doubts whether it won’t go the same way as we have become all-too-familiar with.

It is disgusting that we still continue to depend on Mother Nature for the means to generate electricity. We seem to be content with this dependence and thump our chests for supplying this hydro-electric power to neighbouring countries during the rainy season only to stand bemused before them in the dry season when power rationing becomes the only solution to our energy crisis.

I don’t intend to blame anybody for this lapse, but I will say with measured disdain that those from the political camp(s) who are now using all the power and resources available to them to hold Ghanaian voters hostage in search for their mandate to rule the country set the stage for this negative trend.

I won’t mince words. Those “Mate Me Ho” elements who worked against Nkrumah when he initiated the Akosombo hydro-electricity project come to mind. Led by Dr. K.A. Busia and J.B. Danquah, the United Party vehemently undermined Nkrumah’s efforts to the extent of sending a delegation to President Kennedy of the United States not to allow the Kaiser group to give Nkrumah’s government the loan it was seeking to construct the project.

Common sense prevailed and they failed. The Akosombo dam materialized in 1962 for Ghana’s benefit.

As if that undermining wasn’t enough, when the “Mate Me Ho” group entered office, it revisited the electricity issue, especially as it sought to implement its Rural Development Programme. Guess what?

The negativity still beclouded the minds of members of that Progress Party government to the extent that Dr. Busia himself was audacious (or mischievous?) enough to tell Ghanaians up north that “It is impossible for anybody to think that the hydro-electricity project can be extended from Akosombo to Brong-Ahafo and Northern Ghana.”

Indeed, that government and its successors obeyed that self-fulfilling prophecy from Busia. It was only when Rawlings stepped in with the dogged determination to defy that curse that the national grid began being extended to cover the existing 110 districts during his reign. Congratulations to him for taking this bold step.

But this bold step has some negative effects as we can tell from the extreme pressure that it has put on Akosombo, Kpong, and Aboadze. None of the governments has done anything to improve the situation. Neither the current government nor the rival political parties can persuade me to the contrary. Here is why:

• The Kwabenya Atomic Energy plant exists for other purposes than providing the energy that was a major aspect of the motivation driving Nkrumah into establishing it.

• Nothing is being done to look toward solar energy to enhance the energy sector although we are blessed with enormous sunshine all year round. Research confirms how cheap but extremely efficient solar energy is.

• We are lucky to have wind as a major resource but no government has ever dreamt of harvesting it to meet our energy needs.

• Then again, we generate enormous biodiversity (human and animal excreta) that can be easily converted into energy; but we are so shortsighted and self-destructive as not to know how to tap into this resource base to ease our suffering.

• There are many others to consider. We may be scared of nuclear power—not because it is harmful to us but because we can’t trust our government to ensure that if established, the nuclear plants will be properly maintained to prevent disaster. In a country with a disgusting culture of maintenance, recourse to anything of this sort is nothing but the signing our own death warrant.

The shoddiness in government business doesn’t end there. Look at how long it is taking for the West African Gas Project to be functional. Today, we are exploiting our own petroleum resources, generating enormous gas but not knowing how to use it to enhance energy production.

Instead, those entrusted with the responsibility of managing the industry are beginning to fall prey to the pervasive canker of bribery and corruption. We hear them calling for an investigation to be conducted into their procurement practices, and we cringe!

So, as over-dependence on what the Volta River Authority generates has virtually brought the energy sector down to its knees, the incumbent government is happy to announce that the perennial load-shedding (power rationing) will end in December, having disrupted normalcy in the country for several months already.

Trust the shortsightedness of those in authority. The cycle of load-shedding will be repeated next year when Mother Nature takes back its water supply from the catchment areas of the hydro-electricity source.

Then, the massaging of feelings will become the order of the day as we are already noticing in this electioneering campaign period.

For me, until any of these political parties or the current government persuades me that it is doing anything concrete to expand and revamp the energy sector, nothing will move me to support it. How about you?

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.