Ghanaians groaning under power outages

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Maurice Archibong,
3-time winner, travel & tourism reporter of the year
[email protected]
08056180050

…Our hospitality industry still growing – Ghana Tourism Authority

It used to be that, after a visit to Ghana; many Nigerians returned home to hurl curses at their leaders, whose deep-rooted corruption has helped to ensure that epileptic power supply is the norm for roughly 40 years in their country. For decades, Nigerians frequently hailed Ghana, which some claim, once celebrated 10 years without power-outage.

Well, things have now changed. Indeed, such is the current situation that blackouts are now a daily occurrence across Ghana. From urban settlements to rural areas, inhabitants are not spared. Whether resident in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, or some other city, town or village; darkness is now commonplace in these climes, where uninterrupted electricity was hitherto, taken for given. On some nights, coming from Nigeria; and crossing into Aflao, Ghana’s side of the border with Togo; the tourist would notice darkness across the landscape, except at places lit by electricity generators.

Yes, Ghana is reeling under darkness and the cacophony of electricity plants, many of them rickety contraptions and the fumes they spew now conspire to rob the old Gold Coast of its vernal ambience. Believe it or not, I had to travel outside Ghana into neighbouring Togo just to have a few pages of documents printed for me. Yes, I had copied a file on my flash-drive and left my room inside Hotel Liberte, Aflao, for a secretarial bureau (business centre) two buildings away, hoping to have the document printed for me. I had typed the document on my laptop inside my hotel room completely oblivious to the fact that the hotel’s electricity came from a private plant.

When I got to the “business centre”, the attendant, a lady rued: “O, I’m sorry; we can’t do it because there’s power-cut”. When I asked, if there was somewhere else in town I could try; the woman suggested exploring the Aflao Border area, where a dozen or so clearing and forwarding agencies have their offices. After walking for roughly 10 minutes, I got to Aflao Border. However, aside from two banks with Nigerian connection, which were running on private power sources, no other office at this frontier had power.

As a result, it was impossible to have my document printed. Sadly, I was forced to cancel my plans to spend a few nights at Aflao and consequently relocated to Kwadzoviakope, the Togolese end of the Ghana-Togo frontier. Interestingly, my experience of how power-outage is afflicting Ghana did not start at Aflao. It began in Accra and trailed me as I travelled from the Ghanaian capital toward the border with Togo. While in Accra, I virtually ran from pillar-to-post to escape not just the blackout but the nerve-racking drone of electricity generators that had cost me my sleep some nights before. One day, I was staying at Eclipse Hotel and the next; I had relocated to Niagara Inn Hotel both in Accra. And, on day three; I had fled to Aflao, which lies more than three hours drive from the Ghanaian capital

. Yet, the power-outage still caught up with me. Yes, things have now got to the point; where you must buy Ghanaian newspapers, Daily Graphic and Daily Guide; where the country’s energy authorities announce which parts of the city and country would be hit by Load-shedding and at what time. To be candid, this geography of darkness as announced by the Electricity Company of Ghana is a helpful guide to the tourist in search of a quiet lodge to pass the night. Eclipse Hotel is one of the places I check into when in Accra. Located within five minutes’ walk from Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Eclipse Hotel’s other pull on me is its proximity to Ghana National Museums on Barnes Road. Usually, the place is very tidy and the surroundings homely.

However, last October 21, I had to flee from Eclipse to Niagara Inn Hotel. Reason: Most of the Adabraka neighbourhood of town was in darkness. Eclipse has no generator, I don’t mind this. Moreover, I actually prefer this hotel’s management’s recourse to solar-power in lighting-up the rooms and passage-ways during blackouts. However, I was nonetheless forced to relocate because of the unsettling noise from an old plant running at a compound behind Eclipse hotel. At Eclipse, my accommodation cost 43 Ghana-cedi per day; whereas at Niagara Inn, I had to cough out 65 Ghana-cedi. Evidently, the change of accommodation cost me over 20 Ghana-cedis (roughly N1,300) extra, but it was a little price to pay to avoid staying awake all night due to the din from some generator.

In the same vein, Constanz, a German tourist resident in Berlin, had to move out of her hotel in Adabraka to a different lodge in another neighbourhood called Odorkor, after going through Ghana’s map of darkness in local newspapers. But, Mr. Frank Kofigah, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Ghana Tourism Authority (GTA) is putting a brave face on things. He said that more and more tourists were still pouring into the country, in spite of the unfolding energy crisis. “Power outage will soon be a thing of the past, when measures put in place by government to increase power generation come on stream”, he remarked.

According to Mr. Kofigah, the Ghanaian Government was constructing several thermal stations as well as making other efforts to complement the output from its hydro-electric dam. The GTA top-brass went on to add that every hotel worth that name must have installed an alternative power source (generator). Therefore, tourists coming to Ghana have nothing to worry about, he reasoned. From barely 500,000 tourists recorded in 2005, Ghana received 802,779 visitors in 2009. In 2005, the roughly 430,000 tourists that came to Ghana spent a total of US$836 million in that country.

The earnings from 802,779 visitors to Ghana in 2009 were US$1.6 billion! The 931,224 tourists that washed into Ghana in 2010 spent US$1.875 billion in that country; and, provisional figures indicate that as much as US$2.179 billion was grossed from the 1,080,220 tourists that poured into Ghana last year (2011). Furthermore, from 1,053 in 2001 to 2,136 in 2011; the number of hotels in the old Gold Coast has practically doubled within 10 years. And, so have the number of beds; from 19,648 to 39,934 during the same period.

As we write, a massive 200+ room affair is rising somewhere near Moevenpick Hotel in Accra. Evidently, these statistics of tourists in-flow and the pace of investments in Ghana’s hospitality industry bear Mr. Kofigah out regarding claims that the number of visitors have never dropped over the last 10 years. To be sincere, Ghana; which boasts the best public transportation system in West Africa, has been enjoying a boom over the last decade. However, the impact of the current blackouts on the country’s tourism and hospitality sectors can only be gleaned from figures that would be available next year and the year after.

Aside from blackouts, prospective tourists may also want to know that hotel tariffs have been increasing in Ghana. The impact of this could be Janus-faced, though. People coming with powerful currencies like the dollar, euro and pound sterling may actually enjoy an advantage here because the Ghanaian currency has suffered devaluation over the last three years. When the Ghana-cedi was launched in 2008, one Ghana-cedi (10,000 old cedi) was worth more than a US dollar. Today, however, one Ghana-cedi amounts to barely half its 2009 value.

So, within a six-month period; I have had to variously pay 28, 33 and 35 Ghana-cedis on three different visits to Ghana; staying in the same Room B at the same Hotel Liberte in Aflao. It’s like the rates are rising by the day, since hotels in Ghana started augmenting their power needs through private generators. Yes, hotel proprietors in Ghana are suddenly coming to terms with the damaging toll, which unreliable electricity supply can take on a nation’s economy. Gas scarcity is at the heart of Ghana’s current energy crisis.

And, to think that Nigeria, three countries east from Ghana; has been flaring gas for roughly 40 years contributing to the destruction of the ozone layer and making life unbearable for inhabitants of the Niger-Delta, whose lands have been providing at least 70 per cent of Nigeria’s income over the last 30 years. After departure from Tudu Park and enduring the traffic bottlenecks all the way to Tema Roundabout, I had thought we were going to enjoy a hitch-free ride to Aflao. I was wrong. Shortly before hitting Dawhenya, the driver informed us he was going to stop at a gas station for refill.

Ordinarilly, that shouldn’t worry anyone. However, like many commercial vehicle operators in Ghana; our driver’s car runs on LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas). Ecologists say LPG is friendlier, environmentally; and, commercial vehicle operators say it is cheaper than running on petrol or diesel. Trouble is, there has been scarcity of LPG in Ghana and some other countries across West Africa for a while. And, due to this scarcity; there is usually a long queue at any gas station with some stock left.

As a result, we lost more than an hour just waiting for our driver to take his turn at the gas pump. Between 1979 and 1983, during the Alhaji Shehu Shagari Presidency; Nigeria had a golden opportunity to pipe gas across the Sahara through the Meditarranean Sea into Europe. That project would have improved the Nigerian economy phenomenally, but the authorities let it slip. Throughout the General Ibrahim Babangida years, the project was never given serious thought. By the time Nigeria’s mostly myopic leaders over the last 50 years woke from their slumber, the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) had crumbled and Western European gas consumers turned to some of the former USSR states for gas supply. Interestingly, Nigerian authorities would later conceive the West African Gas Pipeline Project.

Hopefully, when this eventually comes on stream full-blast, citizens of Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana and other countries in the ECOWAS region; hoteliers and other entrepreneurs as well as commuters, generally, would be spared sundry agonies arising from gas scarcity.

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