Urbanizing in the Dark: Accra’s ‘Dumsor’ Chronicles

‘Dum’ and ‘sor’ are two words that are constant utterances in the streets of Accra. Meaning off and on in Twi respectively, the two are combined and used to refer to the inconsistent nature of electricity supply in the country. The genesis of ‘dumsor’ was in 2007 when water levels in the Akosomobo Dam, which is the country’s main source of power supply, dropped. Slight recovery stabilized power supply up until 2012. However, the political minority has always been of the opinion that shortage of gas and financial difficulties of the Volta River Authority (VRA) — an institution created by an Act of Parliament whose main purpose is to generate and supply electricity in Ghana –are the main causes of the energy crisis. Today, in order to manage the crisis, a countrywide load shedding timetable is in place.

Economic impact of ‘dumsor’

Being plunged into darkness on a constant basis is hurting Ghana’s economy. Since 2010, the economy has lost approximately 24 billion dollars due to the energy crisis, according to a report by the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER), a Ghanaian based think-tank. The 2013 World Bank Enterprise Survey reported that the ongoing rampant electricity supply is one of the biggest barriers to the growth of the country’s economy and attractiveness for foreign direct investment. The city’s small and medium enterprises have been hard hit, by virtue of the fact that they cannot afford energy alternatives. This in turn has negatively affected profit margins and livelihoods.

A research committee at Ashesi University conducted a study that looks at Accra’s residents’ strategies for coping with dumsor. The study found that the majority of the respondents did not have a coping strategy, and that they are just simply surviving. On the other hand, a small group of respondents indicated that they use rechargeable lamps, mobile phones, and candles. Generators and inverters are expensive and therefore their use is limited to commercial buildings and those households that can afford them. Furthermore the study found that those who owned their homes were more likely to resort to the use of generators, while those living in rented spaces resorted to cheaper alternatives.

Energy as an urban right

Despite the chronic energy crisis, very little data had been collected until recently. The Dumsor Report is the first scientific analysis of load shedding patterns in Accra. The report, compiled by Kobina Aiddoo of the African Centre for Economic Transformation, reveals that elite neighborhoods, experienced significantly less power cuts than those in poor neighborhoods. Dumsor is characterized by shortage, uncertainty, and inequality, Aiddoo states. Despite a load shedding timetable published by the Electricity Company of Ghana, the blatant insufficient power supply has rendered the timetable ineffective, The uncertainty of the power cuts makes the dumsor experience even more provoking.

The data in the Dumsor Report, which shows frequency of power supply by area, alludes to the assumption that power supply will be frequent in areas where residents can afford to pay for electricity. Whereas in the poor areas of the city, load shedding is severe with households not receiving power for as long as 48 to 72 hours continuously. These results call into question the right to the city, as elite urbanites seem to be cushioned from the dumsor experience. While on the other side of town, the experience is a daily dose of urban underdevelopment. As the report notes, “We did not find a clear pattern linking power supply to affluence but it is insightful to see that some of the areas where most people can afford generators are getting three times as much electricity as the areas where most people can’t.”

The energy crisis in cities across the country calls into question the notion of energy as an urban right. The Right to Sustainable Urban Development in the Global Charter on Human Rights and the City states that, “All city inhabitants have the right to electricity, gas and other sources of energy at home, school and in the workplace, within an ecologically sustainable city.”

Accra, without a doubt, is guilty of violating this right. One would imagine that the 21st century African city would be beaming with lights, but this is not the case. The energy crisis has brought all facets of the Ghanaian society together in agitating for a sustainable power solution. In a recent newspaper article, a well-known Ghanaian comedian made a public statement that dumsor is an Accra problem and not a national issue. This statement is critical in the sense that it implies a fundamental link between the urban and energy. Constant power supply is part and parcel of the urban package. As African cities grow, energy demand will continue to increase. An urgent call for a sustainable energy solution is paramount if Accra is to be a key urban player in the region.


Jane Lumumba is an urban practitioner and PhD candidate in Public Administration and Public Policy based in Accra, Ghana. She is currently a consultant at the Commonwealth Local Government Forum working in the fields of local economic development in West Africa.

Photo: Accra at night. Jane Lumumba



1. The DUMSOR Report – Hard data on load shedding patterns
2. http://www.ghanamps.gov.gh/news-events/details.php?id=2867
3. http://www.uclg-cisdp.org/en/right-to-the-city/european-charter/12
4. Zeiderman. A et al (2015) Uncertainty and Urban Life. Public Culture Vol. 27 No 2 (76) pp.281-304
5. Dumsor is an Accra pandemic not a national disaster – Oscar fends off critics http://www.myjoyonline.com/entertainment/2015/may-8th/dumsor-is-an-accra-pandemic-not-a-national-disaster-oscar-fends-off-critics.php
6. Social Development Outlook 2014 – Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER)
7. On “Dumsor” In Accra. How Do Some Ghanaians Cope? A Short Report Based on a Survey in Accra. Aseshi Research Committee. Aseshi University 2015
8. Adam.M et al (2014) Ghana’s power reforms and intermittent power supply: A Critical Evaluation. Journal of Economics and Sustainable Development, Vol. 5 No.27
9. Unforgettable Effect of Electricity Power Crisis on our National Economy by Peter Antwi Boasiako on 27th February 2015

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