With the recent reduction in power cuts in Ghana, many people are already moving on with their lives and burying “fond” memories of one of the worst energy crises to ever hit the country.
While Ghanaians wait anxiously to see just how permanent the luxury of electricity is, taking stock of the extent of damage so far can serve as motivation for a thorough resolution of the crisis. Besides the loss of time, property, life and the endless inconveniences that made the crises unbearable, there are other elements of the crises that should make dumsor (which means ‘light on, light off’ in Twi) an unfortunate and long gone part of Ghanaian history. The narratives of students at the University of Ghana Legon during the crisis show how the lack of one utility can seriously interrupt campus life. For students, the crisis has a dynamo effect that disorients a stable learning environment.
Firstly, dumsor puts a strain on other utilities, one of which is water supply. Water distribution on campus depends on electric-powered pumps; with power cuts lasting up to 24 hours, the delayed availability of water is enough to disrupt student schedules. For the student constantly hassled with school work, a lack of water means pushing laundry and chores like cooking, which are usually handled over the weekend, to already packed weekdays. It goes without saying that the wasted time and added stress disorient any attempt to stay organized over the semester.
Of course there is the option of paying for someone else to take care of these household chores since laundry and cleaning services are available on campus and students can opt to buy food on a daily or weekly basis. But there’s a catch. When dumsor is in its element, demanding these and other services, at the cafeteria or hair salon for instance, attracts extra costs since they require generator-powered electricity. On a considerably expensive campus like Legon where the average student budget ranges between GHS50-GHS100 per week, these added costs make life even more frustrating. This, not counting the expenses involved in “chasing” electricity from one end of campus to another nor the amount of money wasted on rotting food due to the erratic power schedule.
Then there is that age-old phenomenon where some people take advantage of vulnerable situations to create even more chaos. The dark nights have been accompanied by an increase in theft cases on campus, both within hostels and on campus streets.
One of the more serious incidents involved the stabbing of a level 100 student upon her return from a church activity, but there have been several other cases in which property has been lost. Power cuts at night are especially lucrative for thieves; most students abandon their rooms for other parts of campus that have light and this enables thieves to break-in and steal property. They typically adopt two strategies: direct theft or ambush. In the first instance, some thieves are so emboldened by the darkness that they steal sets of keys from the front desks of hostels while others simply scale the walls and break into rooms with impunity. In the second, thieves position themselves on poorly lit roads to ambush and mug students returning to their residences.
Internal security within halls and hostels is actually very tight, so most people believe that the thieves are students who take advantage of fellow students by using their knowledge of the inner workings of their halls. Apart from the entry checkpoints in the university there was no significant increase in security during the power crisis, especially on crime-prone roads like the Evandy-TF road, although some hostel authorities took the initiative to paste notices warning students about dangerous routes.
So what happens to the learning environment? It is only in the absence of electricity that students of this generation can understand why the older generation is constantly harping on about how lucky the current generation is to have electricity. The lack of electricity draws out the learning process, frustrating both students and lecturers alike. In lecture halls, learning aids like projectors and mics which are electrically powered go out the window. Without generators, lectures held at 5:30pm are either rushed or cancelled. Scheduled in-class films and other visual aids are either cut short, postponed or cancelled altogether. For students every assignment deadline, every interim assessment, all research and study time is rescheduled by 12 or 24 hours, leading to unproductivity.
If being a university student generally requires a student to be smart, being a student of the university during the crisis requires you to sync your educational schedule with the sporadic power schedule of the Electricity Corporation of Ghana (ECG).
Once the semester has begun, the syllabus isn’t really workable; all the material and time lost due to dumsor (not taking into account sheer laziness or lack of initiative) are accounted for during examinations. In the end, this affects the performance and grade point averages of students.
Over the past year, the Vice-Chancellor Professor Ernest Aryeetey has succeeded in providing generators for the newer halls, known collectively as “The Diaspora”, and the privately-owned hostels Pentagon, Evandy, James Topp Nelson Yankah and Bani. The traditional halls which constitute the main campus do not have generators, although they were exempt from power rationing until the power cuts intensified after June 2015. Besides the Jones Quartey Building which has a generator, all other lecture rooms – including departmental lecture rooms – do not have backup power supply. In principle, the available generators are only used in the evenings for two to five hours at most.
Unfortunately, the generators operate in the same vein as ECG’s schedule – students never quite know what they’re getting, when they’re getting it or if they’re getting anything at all. To make matters worse, the caretaker’s schedule also determines whether a generator might be left idle while students strain their eyes over candlelight, or not. Consequently, despite the fact that some might take comfort in the availability of generators and some (possible) relief from the intensity of the crisis, the truth is it doesn’t offer sufficient stability within the university environment.
As the premier university of Ghana, authorities should make it a priority to ensure a constant supply of electricity to the University of Ghana. One option might be to look at the prospect of engineering a separate grid for the university, which is not completely unheard of in other parts of the world. Authorities need to consider formulating a budget for other energy sources that can effectively cater to the university. Students and lecturers shouldn’t have to take a step into the dark ages to prove their ingenuity or intelligence. It’s important to recognize that Ghanaian students are part of a global community, attempting to find a place in what has become a very competitive world.
Written by Germaine Bombande. Edited by Jemila Abdulai.