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30.03.2007 General News

‘Obroni’ And Some Megawatts

My favourite topic in history came up for discussion at home and abroad this week as an embarrassed world marked the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade.

The Catholic Archbishop of York in the United Kingdom calls on the UK to apologise for the role it played in the slave trade. Tony Blair says “no problem.” He then says “sorry about the slave trade, folks. It was an accident of history. No hard feelings.” There!

A fat lot of good an apology will do by way of commensurate recompense for a most inhuman and atrocity-ridden enterprise, which wreaked great havoc on the destiny of a whole continent and tragically changed the course of our history.

An apology? Yes, Jomo, but certainly not from Blair, his kinsmen and friends. I do not display my thoughts about the slave trade like graffiti on a wall, which is just as well, for they would most likely make some people mad.

Methinks, Jomo, that if anyone should be apologising to anyone for anything, it is our ancestors who should be apologising to us from yonder, for having allowed history to play out the way it did.

The history of the slave trade portrays us as a geographically unobtrusive and temperamentally docile race, which lacked the spirit of trans-continental adventurism in an era of great global adventure.

Consider what happened, Jomo: Those people distilled some rum, manufactured guns and calico and built ships, see?

Then they drew up some maps, loaded up the ships with the stuff and sailed to our shores.

They bribed chiefs with booze and then armed raiders to chase and capture our ancestors like ruminants, to be carted off in the dingy, suffocating holds of the ships, crammed tighter than sardines.

Yet we had enough timber here to have produced a trillion sea vessels. We have produced oceans of booze stronger than the rum they used to bribe our chiefs — akpeteshi.

From Alavanyo to Kumasi Suame Magazine, we have had such skilled gunsmiths who have produced all manner of guns to feed the armouries of armed robbers and highwaymen. So what stopped us from undertaking similar expeditions to the West, Jomo?

Imagine how dramatically contrasting to our present circumstances our destiny would have been today, if we had looked sharp and beaten them to the game, by setting sail with the guns and booze to the West, captured the white man and bought him here for sale, Jomo.

The white man would have slaved hard in our mines, cocoa and cassava farms, and helped us build prosperous nations with sky-high national incomes. By now, the white man would have been chronically dependent on us for development aid!

We would have been generous to them of course, but not before they had met one condition — accepting to go by the designation of “Highly Indebted, Poor European and American Countries.”

It is too late now, Jomo, and the West is rolling in relative affluence and prosperity and powering their homes and industries 24 hours a day non-stop, while we sit dazed in pitch darkness.

The Akosombo dam has all but failed and the nation is plunging deeper and deeper into longer periods of power cuts.

Various components from a bits-and-pieces project that was supposed to contribute several megawatts of power to an emergency relief stock do not appear to have gotten off to a fast start.

The situation has so deteriorated that we now have 24 hours of power supply twice a week, with a miserly 12-hour supply on the days in between. Add the usual abrupt and unannounced power cuts and you find that the crisis is more than grave.

Amid all that, public officials, information managers and the big propaganda band, with a little help from their friends in the media, managed this week to turn the agenda for public discussion of the crisis upside down, whipping up one murky concoction of the issues at stake.

Do you think the peak for a national energy crisis is the ideal time to discuss alternative sources of energy supply and the fixing of appropriate power tariffs?

Yet all week, politicians and the media found it worth their while to bombard the ears of energy consumers with a lot of talk about energy-saving lamps, the need to develop alternative sources of energy other than hydro and the need for consumers to pay higher tariffs!

Are these not long-term strategic planning goals, which should have been incorporated in a national energy development programme long ago, Jomo?

While we concede that a belated discussion of these national sufficiency goals is better late than never, we have taken exception to information managers flooding the media with a discussion of these issues while we are smarting under the crisis.

We concede that the issue of tariffs is an important one: If consumers pay appropriate tariffs, power producers and suppliers make reasonable profits and are able to maximise operational efficiency. Consumers are then content, and we all live happily ever after.

We are nonetheless, wondering what tariffs have got to do with consumers and the crisis. There is a regulatory commission, which fixes tariffs, taking into account such key considerations as the cost of generation and distribution, consumers' incomes and the ability to pay.

The stark reality is that ours is one of the many developing countries with high levels of poverty and low incomes.

That means it would be conscienceless for developing world governments to refuse to consider the purchasing power of consumers' incomes and, in effect, their ability to pay when it comes to fixing tariffs.

The delicateness of the issue explains why all past governments, conscious of the potential impact of tariff increases on the welfare of voters 'ho, ho', have always resisted attempts by suppliers to increase tariffs by wide margins.

All that need not take us back to square one for another round of the song, “How do we expect electricity suppliers to operate at maximum efficiency if consumers do not pay appropriate power tariffs?”

We are caught in one of the many contradictions in the development efforts of low-income countries and we expect the experts to untangle the web and find a common ground for a resolution of those contradictions.

Is that not why they are called experts, enjoy some prestige and get paid good salaries?

This is not the first energy crisis we have had and the present political administration cannot be said to be responsible directly for a problem which has recurred, but then there is the obvious question of whether the technocrats and energy experts of the present administration have since 2001, been totally blind to a looming crisis the expert eye could not have failed to see.

It is most surprising that in the wake of the crisis, energy experts in the present and previous administrations have not found it worth their while to explain to their countrymen how and why we came to be stuck in this rut.

Article by George Sydney Abugri