Ghana power crisis shows 'massive corruption:' Opposition

Power outages across Ghana are becoming longer and more frequent. The crisis and accusations of corruption have led to protests in the streets as people worry about their ability to make a living.

Thousands take to the streets to protest power outages that are crippling business

Cobbler Charles Oduro sews a pair of leather shoes in Kokomele neighbourhood in Accra, Ghana. His business is often idle for one to three days due to power outages. (Carolyn Dunn/ CBC)

When the power is on, cobbler Charles Oduro knows he has to make the most of it. 

So, he’s stitching leather with the industrial sewing machine he has used over the past two years to fashion a bustling shoe business.

The sewing machine and a sander that shape the soles of his handmade shoes require a constant flow of electricity, "Without it, you can’t do anything," Oduro says. 

But these days the power to his business is more likely to be off than on, "Sometimes it’s 24 hours, sometimes it’s more than 24 hours," he says.  During the last three-day outage, Oduro had no choice but to shut his business.  

Ghana’s power shortage, steadily getting worse since 2012, is now a crisis.  

A couple of years ago, people mostly shrugged off regular power cuts of three hours or so as routine, common in many African countries.  

But being in the dark 12 hours or more every day or two is wearing thin. 

So are the array of reasons for the shortage, from low water at hydroelectric power plants to constantly failing equipment.

Tens of thousands of fed-up Ghanaians took to the streets of Accra this week in protest.

They carried sewing machines, televisions and refrigerators, appliances they say are becoming useless.  

If they don't do something, we will all go hungry.- Dromobi

A woman named Dromobi seethes about the money she’s wasted on food that has spoiled, "We have to throw out our fish and our meat and everything goes to waste," she says,  "The government should do something about this because at the end of the day, if they don’t do something, we will all go hungry."

Ghana’s Ministry of Power is promising the situation will ease by the end of this year, as new projects are brought on line to help increase generation capacity.

But, Paul Awentami Afoko, the chair of Ghana’s largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), insists the government promises are empty, "I believe that this is a symptom of a deeper malaise: A lack of proper management of our economy generally and the impact of massive corruption," he charges.    

This is a symptom of a deeper malaise ... and the impact of massive corruption.- Paul Awentami Afoko, Chair, NPP

Ghana’s auditor general added some weight to the accusation, revealing the energy ministry recently spent the equivalent of $2.2 million Cdn, which was earmarked to bring power to communities, on a fleet of 38 luxury cars.

Little wonder people like hairdresser Comfort Bilakinam are finding it tough to even bother showing up at work. "Where will I get the money to pay for school fees because light is what we used to get to work?" Bilakinam asks, flicking a powerless light switch on and off in her Accra salon to drive home her point.

"When there is no power, there's no anything."

About the Author

Carolyn Dunn

National reporter

Carolyn Dunn is a longtime national reporter for CBC News. Her Canadian postings and assignments have taken her from St. John's to Calgary. She has reported extensively abroad including East, West and North Africa and has done several tours in Afghanistan. Have a story tip? Email carolyn.dunn@cbc.ca.

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