‘Dumsor’ in the city

I wish I never knew what dumsor meant. But the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and its energy supply and delivery partners have made sure that it is a household name. Dumsor simply means “off and on” in the Akan language and is an apt way of describing the current energy crisis in which more than a few cities and towns in Ghana find themselves.

Ghana, as far back as 2009, began to experience power outages because the Akosombo hydroelectric dam, the primary source of power, could no longer meet the growing energy demands of the country. Since then, there have been various hydroelectric and gas projects to help supplement and boost the power from Akosombo. What has immediately been blamed for putting the country in this present situation is the agreement signed by the Ghana government and the West African Gas Pipeline Company where gas would be supplied from Nigeria. Nigeria has not lived up to its side of the contract, supplying only 40 percent of the required gas, thereby drastically reducing Ghana’s power supply. However, a lack of long term energy planning has also been cited as the real cause of Ghana’s energy woes.

Enter dumsor. Dumsor has ushered in a new way of life, a life which resembles the simpler ways of rural living. With the current ECG load shedding schedule, wide areas, known as zones, are to expect 12 hours of power followed by 24 hours of no power. For instance, if a zone is scheduled to go off the power grid during the day, it would typically go off at 6:30 a.m. and would not come on again until 6:30 a.m. the following day. And then that zone can expect to enjoy power from that morning until 6:30 p.m. that same evening. And then it is off the grid again. Many times, the 12 hours of promised power is not reliable and there may be less. Sometimes, too, the current may be too low to be used productively. This crisis situation is expected to last until after March 2015 when the emergency measures being put in place would, all things being equal, ease the situation.

Dumsor has taken out a lot of the energy of the fast paced grind of city life that we are accustomed to and has replaced it with a simplicity many of us had never before imagined. It has brought a curious new dimension to the ruralisation of the urban space where as my hairdresser put it, “we are living as if we were in the village”. But this simplicity comes with the stress of adjustment. It feels as if the whole country is moving in slow motion.

I have gone back to the basics and no longer fret as much when the power is out. I cook just enough to last for two meals since my refrigerator and freezer struggle to keep cool. I have taken to drying peppers and vegetables out in the sun. To catch up on news, I sit in the car and turn on the radio. I have fished out my old phone – a sturdy Samsung with no internet capabilities – because my android’s battery just cannot cope.

But here in Accra, we are survivors. Aside from jolting people to find alternative sources of energy, in typical Ghanaian fashion dumsor has inspired creativity, finding expression in songs, jokes and Facebook pages. Dumsor is now on Google Play Store and has its own Wikipedia page.

And we pray. You see, as Ghanaians, we are mostly church-going, deeply religious people. And many times, it is hard to separate this from normal life in the city. When the Cedi began its downward plunge in 2014, special prayers were said. In many ways, faith helps to keep the city in check. No matter how bad, ugly or difficult things become, it has a huge moderating effect on emotions. It takes away the edge and burden from the root causes and bravely shoulders our pain. How else can we bear with evasive and harassed authorities?

So like other fellow city dwellers, I hope … and pray that the situation gets better, and soon. After all, moving out of the city was never an option.

Grace Ecklu is an urban geographer and researcher living in Accra, Ghana. She is particularly interested in participatory planning, tourism and higher education. Currently volunteering with the African Business Centre for Developing Education (ABCDE), she also explores cultural elements that make places unique, functional and drive their development.

Image: Managing Ghana’s energy crisis one candle at a time. Grace Ecklu.

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2 Responses to “‘Dumsor’ in the city”

  1. Amanua

    However, a lack of long term energy planning has also been cited as the real cause of Ghana’s energy woes…..I couldn’t agree the more

  2. Bukky

    Wow! Excellent write up Ms Ecklu.


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