An Intimate Portrait of a Dumso Victim (01-05-13)
People often wonder how Ghanaians keep an outward display of cool in the face of some of the most intractable challenges known to humankind. We may whine and moan from time to time but by and large, we grin and bear it. The secret is humour. We joke our way through national crises and catastrophes, and the current electricity cuts popular called “Dumso” (literal translation: “off and on”) has spawned more jokes than any other national problem in recent memory. Even a picture of a signpost showing the way to a town called Dumso which I posted on Facebook courtesy of Nanabanyin Dadson, is making waves.
However, we all know that this thing, far from being a joke, is a national calamity. Here is the logic of pain and loss which this nation is bearing with the usual dose of humour mixed with fatalism (give it to God)—and helplessness. If electricity contributes anything to the social and economic wellbeing of this country, it stands to reason that any reduction in electricity supply must have a negative impact on our development. In some countries, it would be possible to quantify the extent of the negative impact and its multipliers as they work their way through the different levels of the economy.
Even without having any such statistics to work with, we know that some people are losing their jobs because of this prolonged power cut situation, and with no solution in sight, more jobs will be lost as employers see no point in holding on to redundant staff over the longer period of inactivity. Even people in regular employment, especially in self-employment such as hairdressers, barbers, dressmakers, mechanics and the like are all working on half-time and sometimes less because electricity is useless to their work if it comes back at ten at night.
So the big picture of loss at the national level must be obvious and it will be surprising if the Minister of Finance manages to tell us that we have hit any of our economic and financial targets at the end of the year. In economics language, we could call the national pain as the “macro-pain”; but there is a more intimate pain at the personal “micro” level of dumso victimhood that is immense but hidden from view. I am a victim of dumso and I am sure my experience is similar to that of most Ghanaians except perhaps politicians, preachers and sellers of power generators whose fortunes are on the up and up.
The effect of the dumso pain can be debilitating. I have had malaria twice in a month which I link directly to dumso. I live with a small colony of mosquitoes in my house. I suspect that they are from one family and they have been living behind a bookcase for a number of years. I even believe that the numbers of the original invaders have been bolstered by other mosquito families joining the colony in the last few years. My mosquito guests and I have an unwritten agreement to keep to their side of my living room while I leave them alone. We arranged this agreement after I failed to dislodge them with every form of weapon of mosquito destruction at my disposal. I have tried to zap them with insect sprays, swat them with brooms, and hose them down with water. Still they flourished. In the end, we settled for a non-aggression pact of sorts which is generally observed by both parties.
However, anytime dumso strikes and the room becomes dark, hot and humid, the mosquitoes consider the atmosphere either provocative or inviting and the end result is they break our agreement and invade my patch. In the rampaging humidity, a mosquito does not need direction or better and further particulars. A mosquito that has been deprived of human blood for a considerable mosquito-time bites with the ferocity of a politician returning to power after years in opposition: it is all or nothing. The result, with greedy politicians and mosquitoes alike, is an unbearable condition—in this case, malaria.
Malaria is a dangerous disease but it can be treated; and when treated, you feel better again. The more treacherous dumso-related disease is one neither a microscope nor a doctor’s feel can detect. It is the energy-sapping syndrome of random dumso panic attack. Under normal conditions, a human being going home has every right to feel joy in his or her heart, except if you suspect that a creditor is lurking in wait to pounce! I used to set off for home with only one fear in my heart—the dreaded Spintex Road traffic but even that can be tolerated because at the end of it is home where a football match, a good book or even the GTV News await. But now there are two fears—the traffic and the possibility of dumso.
The fear of RANDOMISED dumso attack is an unnecessary condition because after years of practice, our beloved ECG should be able to give us far more precise information than they provide at the moment. Take what happened last Monday night. I drove home with the old traffic fear in my heart, and soon got the confirmation that the dreaded dumso was indeed on. That was not a problem even if it meant enduring four hours of high decibel neighbourhood generator engines accompanied by filthy gaseous fumes and an imminent attack by my mosquito house mates. The rule of thumb is that power would return at ten that night. But ten came and went. A quarter past ten passed; ditto ten-thirty. I decided to call the ECG call centre where a melodious voice responded only to tell me “it will come, maybe in the morning”. This was no good and getting nowhere so I asked to speak to a supervisor.
The supervisor came on the phone and told me that ECG cannot EVER predict when power will be restored to any area because “it depends on how much power we are able to generate before we decide where to restore”. So could he give any information at all with which citizen-victims might plan their lives? The answer was ‘NO!’ I asked him if the ECG was, in effect, operating a lottery with the power supply; he said he wouldn’t “go that far.”
Folks, I will go even beyond that and argue that the real tragedy is not with the power rationing but its randomness that is a cruel mistreatment of customers. After years of operating power on a deficit, ECG ought to give us a more precise time table than merely depending on luck, God-willing, Insha’Allah, and maybe.
As a victim of this randomness, it is not the power outage that is playing the havoc; the problem is not knowing when the last mosquito would understand that the lights are coming, redemption is at hand, and a Better Ghana is really just around the corner.
The news of the Convention Peoples Party victory in the Kunbungu Constituency is splendid not only for supporters of that party but for our politics in general. That seat has always gone to the NDC and the CPP victory signals that the stranglehold of the NDC and the NPP can be broken by the so-called smaller political parties. The good news for the NDC is that all over the world, third parties often win by-elections against the two main parties; the bad news is that such by-election contests often serves as referenda on the performance of the party in power.
In that sense Kumbungu is a message to the government that people are not happy, although the government did not need an electoral defeat to get the message; it has to listen more to the people and less to its own propaganda machinery.
For the CPP, victory for their candidate—Mr Moses Yahaya, an Assemblyman for the Saakuba Electoral Area—gives them a seat in Parliament again and potentially revives the party’s electoral fortunes. But they would be the first to know that unless the party works hard, such by-election gains do not last long.