Waiting for Light: The Story of Electrification in Rural Ghana

Monday, 3 February, 2020 - 15:00

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The chapter is part of my forthcoming book A Dam for Africa: The Volta River Project and Modernization in Ghana (Indiana University Press), which explores the history of the Akosombo Dam, the country’s largest development project, completed in 1965. Ghana experienced an electricity fever, when President Nkrumah inaugurated the Akosombo Dam in January 1966, one month prior to the coup that swept him from office. After witnessing the construction of this enormous dam, the country was ready for cheap power. Initially, Akosombo’s hydroelectric plant had an installed capacity of 528 megawatts that fueled the foreign owned smelter of the Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO) and powered a 500-mile grid. Although there were no immediate plans to provide electricity to rural areas, official statements and press reporting had created expectations that the whole country would benefit from the wonders of Akosombo. Ghanaians anticipated that the state would provide them with electricity. Thanks to Akosombo, Ghana became one of the first sub-Saharan countries with a large hydroelectric plant and a power grid. Although the VALCO smelter was to consume over 50 percent of the electricity generated at Akosombo, Ghana had a large power surplus until it began exporting to neighboring countries in 1972. This chapter traces the popular expectations and technopolitics around electricity in Ghana from the 1960s to the 1980s. Drawing on the archive of the Electricity Corporation, it examines petitions and government initiatives for rural electrification. The chapter explores how Ghanaians struggled to gain access to electricity as a claim of citizenship, and how they repeatedly challenged changing governments, civil and military, to deliver on their promises. The availability of electricity became a yardstick of how ordinary Ghanaians measured their inclusion into the promise of modernization and into the new nation. * The documentary film Ghana’s Electric Dreams (dir. R. Lane Clark) will accompany the book. Immediately after the seminar, we will screen an excerpt of this film.

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