Thousands march against prolonged Ghana blackouts

Ghanaian celebrities lead demonstrations dubbed #DumsorMustStop, drawing thousands to the streets. Dumsor is a popular Ghanaian term used to describe persistent electric power outages currently facing the country.

ACCRA, GHANA (MAY 16, 2015) (REUTERS) – Thousands of Ghanaians marched peacefully through parts of the capital Accra at the weekend to protest the government’s failure to solve a three-year long electric power crisis that has sapped businesses and hindered economic growth.

The march, organised by Ghanaian celebrities and artistes, drew a gathering of academics, civil servants and private business people which stretched half a kilometre through the streets of the city’s eastern districts.

The marchers, draped in black and red, held kerosene torches and candles as they chanted anti-government slogans.

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, #DumsorMustStop.

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.

“As Ghanaians we’re suffering. We don’t deserve this. Ghanaians deserve better. This has nothing to do with party A or party B this is non-partisan. We need our lights back; we deserve better as Ghanaians. We need our lights back. Dumsor must stop,” said actress and model, Yvonne Nelson.

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.

Protesters blame the government and say the energy crisis has crippled businesses and angered ordinary Ghanaians. Currently, the electricity company provides power for 12 hours out of a 36-hour cycle.

“Why won’t I participate in this vigil it might yield a result though the president says he’s the dead goat, he’s prone to…but I think this vigil will shake him up even if it doesn’t yield results will at least improve something, it will quicken him to at least do something for us because seriously dumsor must stop and it must stop now,” said Maame Bonkuah Odum,an Accra resident participating in the protests.

“If I go to work we’re no more using our genset (generators) because we can’t afford to buy diesel. If I go to work we have lights during like working hour only two times in a week. How can we be productive? So we have to lay people off that one is also there. People are packing off. The government is not aware people are packing; people are leaving the country because of this dumsor, so it’s time for us to demonstrate. It’s time for us to come together. It’s time for us to do something for the government to know how serious the issue is,” added Emmanuel Osei Kwaku Amankrah, another protester.

Economic growth in Ghana, once a favourite of investors in Africa, has been slowed by fiscal crisis that forced the government to seek International Monetary Fund support and undermined its reputation abroad for financial management.

“The dumsor as it’s reducing productivity activity is also limiting the ability of entities within the country to contribute to revenue mobilisation and so at the same time that you doubt; sustainability is threatened because of lower growth as a result of dumsor, on the other hand your revenue mobilisation is also threatened and so the fiscal challenge is also on the volatile trajectory,” said Economist Analyst, John Gatsi.

The government has blamed the problem on unmatched power demand over the years. It outlined plans to deploy emergency power barges and build additional plants to raise installed capacity by more than 3,000 megawatts to 5,000 by 2017.

But restoring power may prove no easier than stabilising an economy beset by debt of nearly 70 percent of GDP, a stubborn budget deficit and a weak currency. The cedi is down one-fifth this year after falling 31 percent in 2014.