We May Not Get To Watch The World Cup

If I were government, I would watch the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) like a hawk and ensure that it knows what it is doing.

I am convinced that the company is incapable of ever supplying ALL of us with electricity under any and all circumstances, but then you should not take my word for it because I am a biased and aggrieved customer.

Over the past few weeks, I have had only a relatively small amount of the electricity, I expect to receive by right; mind you, I said a right and not a privilege, although ECG may want to contest that point.

As we all know now, to expect ECG to keep our-electric power on without interruption for a whole week is the equivalent of seeing pigs fly at noon.

It may happen someday, perhaps in the next millennium when all creatures, including electricity suppliers, would have evolved a little bit more into some kind of higher species.

Until then, let it be known by one and all that full electricity all the time is a pipe dream.

Ordinarily, Ghanaians are very patient. We endure all kinds of hard and difficult situations; what we can’t endure we give to God believing that with God all things are possible.

This attitude has served us well. While others have embarked on demonstrations and violent protests, we have remained quiet and sat on our hands and bitten our tongues as teacher said we should.

Even when we have to let off steam and demonstrate a bit, we go strictly by the book: seek police permit, postpone the demo when the police deny the permit and wait for a day that suits the police.

None of this means that we are law-abiding. No. Far from it. It is just our collective mechanism for survival. It is inbred in our genes; an inheritance from our colonial past.

Actually we used to be a rebellious people. All the peoples in the territory now known as Ghana fought the various colonialists with venom so when they overcame us, as they eventually did, they punished our ancestors gravely, usually by burning entire towns and villages in the 19th century.

Thus our people have learnt to keep their heads down in the knowledge that “ehuru a ebedivo”, to wit, boiling water cools eventually.

At the first sound of gunfire we dash under our beds. In the bad old days of coups our people knew the drill. First came the radio announcement and without any further push all officials of the old regime report themselves at the nearest police station.

Most times the police didn’t have a clue what to do with them but obligingly kept them in police cells until someone came for them only to keep them in some military jail at the pleasure of the new dictator.

The point I am making is that Ghanaians know how to hunker down until the storm passes, and even now in a democracy, old habits die hard. But there may come a time and an occasion when even the Ghanaian pretending to be docile can no longer hide their feeling.

This will happen if during the, World Cup they are deprived of watching the Black Stars play.

Imagine the scene: our beloved national football team is about to play their first game in Brazil 2014. The media have whipped us into a nationalistic frenzy, and for once, most of us are wearing our replica jerseys and other paraphernalia.

The government may even have seen the wisdom of setting up huge screens at the Black Star Square and other SAFE public places to take the crowds away from the streets. Then, without warning ECG acting on GRIDCo instruction takes power…

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom but I don’t think people will take this kindly; but this is a very likely scenario unless the government ensures that it does not become the avoidable reality.

Here is my reason for concern. In the past few weeks the power supply has been unstable, and among many possible reasons, it could simply be because there is not enough power to go around or ECG lacks the capacity to supply it efficiently.

Now, here comes the rub: the matches will all be played during the night, Ghana night, that is. This is because Brazil is in South America and the time difference could be between three and six hours.

This means that we will watch the matches at night WHEN EVERY POSSIBLE ELECTRICAL APPLIANCE could be switched on.

Yes, all streetlight must be on because the crowds will be out; all lights will be on in our homes; all television sets and radios will be on, thousands will be watching in bars and pubs.

This will exact the maximum toll on our power supply. Can it cope? It can if we plan for it.

Let me give an example of the kind of planning I am talking about.

In the UK, electricity companies have worked out that there is a power surge known as TV pickup during popular TV programmes.

This is especially true of big football matches when this surge occurs at halftime. Why? Because millions of people switch on their kettles to make tea at halftime! In order to ensure that this surge does not have an unwelcome negative impact, they plan for it in a technical way even before Match Day.

Whatever technical knowledge and resources are used to solve their particular problem should not be beyond our engineers and planners.

We are not tea drinkers so our problem is different, and for the coming World Cup our problem is going to be how to ensure that all of us will have electricity during the entire period of the tournament.

It is a tough challenge and one that cannot be avoided. The Ghanaian way is for the relevant officials to play the ostrich, hide their heads in the sand and hope the storm will pass without any damage to their positions, reputation and income.

I am not sure that the ostrich strategy will work. The other strategy is the one we can call the “full tariff option”. In this scenario, a few weeks to the World Cup, ECG will bring up the issue of tariff and argue that they could supply all our electricity needs if they could recover all their costs. It won’t wash. The nation is not in the mood for that particular ruse.

That leaves us with only one option: targeted power cuts. This is what I suspect ECG is doing now. ECG officials target areas where they believe are less vulnerable to power cuts.

I have made this point before and I was not challenged: they target plages they consider posh where generators are standard features in most homes. These different ruses may work in a limited kind of way but will not solve the problem – whatever it is. That needs planning.

To be fair to ECG, they probably have genuine problems. It would be a surprise if against the general run of things a major company in Ghana did not have problems.

My preferred long-term solution is a structural one, but that is not for this discussion. In the short-term ECG will have to impress upon the government that its inability to provide electricity during the World Cup will have dire consequences.

I started by asking the government to watch ECG. Perhaps ECG should rather watch the government. That is what happens when you are a state-owned utility monopoly: you either watching someone or being watched.

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