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20.04.2007 Editorial

The Dance Of The Crab

Cobblers ought to stick to mending shoes and leave the business of public education on the nature of spread of epidemiological diseases to medical scientists, don't you agree?

Unfortunately, Jomo, ours is one country where a soothsayer's apprentice will deem himself fit to give a public lecture at the University of Ghana's Department of philosophy, on the origins of existentialism.

So, unsurprisingly, the national electricity generation and supply crisis has suddenly revealed what an incredibly huge number of energy experts Ghana is blessed with.

They have a depthless wealth of knowledge about energy development, complete with all the technical details, except why the crisis has occurred and how to fix it in the immediate term, employing emergency interventions.

It is now apparent that it is going to be a really very long haul right into 2008, Jomo, and the best we consumers can do is to dig down and wait out the crisis.

On most nights, we appear to be back in the early days of the firmament, when it was all pitch-dark, and only God's spirit was moving over the waters.

With sitting and sleeping rooms usually stuffy and unbearably warm, due to the power cuts, we often only manage a snooze before dawn. We, however, get a fantastic compensation for the previous night's discomfort when we report for work in the morning: We get paid for doing nothing. Absolutely nothing, Jomo.

Every day hundreds of thousands of PCs with dead screens sit atop office tables, advanced technological tools for information processing, rapid communication and fast transaction of business, which have suddenly been rendered useless by the energy crisis.

I was at the Ministries in Accra last week to make some official enquiries. In some departments which had been cut off from power supply, civil servants were grilling slowly like tilapia in the suffocating confines of small offices, morosely fanning themselves with old file covers and sheets of A-4 paper.

In one office, a despondent lady behind a PC waved a delicate hand at the disabled machine and explained apologetically to several people that she was unable to access data and process information they had come to take delivery of, because power had been cut off.

Paying people for no work done and leaving urgent work undone for days means the cost of our power crisis is far higher than we recognise or are willing to admit, Jomo.

The crisis has other costs which need to be documented for research purposes if you ask me:

The domestic fires from naked flame meant to light up homes, the students deprived of study time, who will flunk their final academic examinations, the steep hike of manufacturing costs, the interruptions of surgical operations in hospitals, the labour redundancies, the nocturnal crimes, the road accidents, etc.

In the absence of traffic policemen at most road intersections, driving through the intersections is often quite scary when power supply to traffic regulating lamps at the intersections is cut off under the load shedding schedule.

The daredevil, suicidal, types behind wheels are so dangerously reckless, they often appear determined to make an exit from this planet, taking as many souls as possible with them, and may they part ways at the gates of Heaven and Hell....

All this makes you wonder whether we shall ever be able to keep pace with the rest of the world in any area of technological advancement which requires the existence of the most basic infrastructure, political commitment and the application of knowledge and skills, by indigenous technocrats.

For laymen like me, one short statement defines and explains our present predicament with electricity generation and supply: Self-sufficient and sustainable energy supply is only achieved by meticulous planning and the consistent, uninterrupted updating and implementation of those plans, yes?

Apparently, floppiness in development planning, and the weird fact of our consistently running sideways like crabs along the highway of progress, instead of running straight, have led to this mess. If I am wrong here, why, I should readily apologise, Jomo.

No sooner have we announced major programmes of advanced technology transfers for key sectors of the economy and launched various business promotion and investment drives in pursuit of the status of a middle income country, than we are back to the basics of development: It is metal laundry boxes fired by charcoal, candles, coal pots, kerosene lamps and dry cell batteries all over again!

Our development history is replete with cases of disastrous attempts at technology transfer.

Do you recall what happened when large-scale mechanised farming became popular with advanced agricultural countries? Ghana jumped onto the wagon and with the help of the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the UNDP, imported large fleets of combined harvesters, tractors, etc.

In a matter of a few years all the equipment had been reduced to unsightly junk scattered on farmlands across the country. We had no back spares to sustain the new farming technology we had imported. No technicians had been trained to service the equipment. End of that story.

Imagine making such noble proclamations about a national programme of ICT transfer and importing and distributing computers to schools and communities all over the place, only to have them reduced to toys by a power crisis. Do folks think computers are run on melted shea-butter or kerosene, Jomo?

As the energy crisis rages on, we gather that Ghana is to develop nuclear energy for the generation of electricity. The first time most people around the world became aware of the existence of nuclear energy was when atomic research focused on its use for the development of weapons of mass destruction, to kill large populations during World War II.

If nuclear energy is safe and relatively cheaper than most other sources of electricity generation as some claim, how come that only 16 per cent of the world's energy comes from nuclear sources, Jomo? Why is it that more than 80 per cent of this 16 per cent is concentrated in the world's most highly industrialised countries and not just anywhere?

Some scientists are arguing that the benefits from nuclear energy, tempting as they may be now, are very small compared to the financial and physical harm that will be caused future generations by radioactive waste from nuclear energy.

It is something to think about, Jomo, especially as we have not been the best managers of relatively less hazardous waste from households, markets and industries.

It takes a minimum of 18 years for nuclear plants to store and begin to generate electricity anyway, and we need power supply tonight!

Article by George Sydney Abugri

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."