The Technopolitics of Infrastructure Breakdowns: A Historical Overview of Dumsor

Claudia Serwah Prempeh ORCID iD

Issue: Vol.1  No.7 October 2020  Article 1 pp. 234 – 247
DOI : https://doi.org/10.38159/ehass.2020111  |   Published online 6th November 2020.
© 2020 The Author(s). This is an open access article under the CCBY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

13 Downloads

In sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana is considered a beacon of success because of its high electricity access rate: 84.3 per cent as at 2018. Despite this success, the sector is entangled in a crisis. Crisis as used here refers to the crisis of electricity supply where supply deficits results in prolonged periods of blackouts and load rationing. Between 2012 and 2016, blackouts christened dumsor (Twi word for off/on) became a regular experience in Ghana with more blackouts than electricity supplied: 24 hours lights out, 12 hours light supplied. Using a historical narrative, this article provides a summarized account of how dumsor unravelled- the momentous cascading socio-economic interruption dumsor caused, the dramatic user responses it evoked and the ways in which it became the subject of intense political debate. Primary data was gathered from ethnographic fieldwork and secondary data from online and archival sources. This narration reveals the generative potential of uncertain infrastructure and its ability to foreground the “under the radar” interdependences between infrastructure and political power. It details how an “imperfect” electric infrastructure produced new user subjectivities, challenged the conduct of electricity governance and revealed electricity provisioning to be a starkly contested technopolitical process.

Keywords: Technopolitics, Blackouts, Dumsor, Infrastructure

Abebrese, Ama K (@Ama_K_Abebrese). “The Dumsorification of #Ghana Has Had a Dumsorforic Effect on the Country.We Now Await Dumsorly for the End of #Dumsor,” Twitter, November 25, 2015. https://twitter.com/Ama_K_Abebrese/status/669521731028164608


Abram, Simone, Brit Ross Winthereik, and Thomas Yarrow. “Current Thinking – an Introduction.” In Electrifying Anthropology, edited by Simone Abram, Brit R. Winthereik and Thomas Yarrow, 1–21. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.


Ackah, Charles. “Electricity Insecurity and Its Impact on Micro and Small Businesses. Report Presentation Given to Economy of Ghana Network of the Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research, May 14, 2015.
https://isser.ug.edu.gh/sites/isser.ug.edu.gh/files/ISSER_ANNUAL_REPORT_2014-2015.pdf


Acquah, Raymond. “$2.2 Million Lost Daily to ‘Dumsor’ – ISSER.” Updated May 14, 2015”.
http://citifmonline.com/2015/05/2-2-million-lost-daily-to-dumsor-isser/


AFAG. “Another Utility Increase; Unbearable Hardship-Time to Strike.” October, 2014. News release. Accessed September 1 2020. https://www.peacefmonline.com/pages/politics/politics/201410/217163.php


Agyeman, Nana Sarpong (@IngSarpong). “Dumsor Is Village Explanation of Power Crisis & Load Shedding Is the Engineering Cocastic Explanation to Dazzle the Village Folks,” Twitter November 19, 2015, 8:33am https://twitter.com/IngSarpong/status/667244368177332224


Anand, Nikhil. “Pressure: The Politechnics of Water Supply in Mumbai.” Cultural Anthropology 26, no. 4 (2011):542–64. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01111.x


_______. “Municipal Disconnect: On Abject Water and Its Urban Infrastructures.” Ethnography 13, no. 4 (2012):487–509. https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138111435743


_______.“Leaky States: Water Audits, Ignorance, and the Politics of Infrastructure.” Public Culture 27, 2 76 (2015):305–30. https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-2841880


Appel, Hannah, Nikhil Anand, and Akhil Gupta. “Introduction: Temporality, Politics, and the Promise of Infrastructure.”In The Promise of Infrastructure, edited by Nikhil Anand, Akhil Gupta and Hannah Appel, 1–38. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.


Ata, Kofi. “Can Mahama’s Appointees shut up over Dumsor Vigil?” Updated 16 May 2015. Accessed September 3 2020.
https://www.modernghana.com/news/617842/can-mahamas-appointees-shut-up-over-dumsor-vigil.html


Birkland, Thomas A. After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events.” American governance and public policy. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1997.


Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Star Susan Leigh. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Inside technology.Cambridge, Mass., London: MIT Press, 1999.


Carlisle, Juliet E., Feezell, Jessica T., Michaud E. H. Kristy, and Smith Eric R. A. N. The Politics of Energy Crises. New York,
NY: Oxford University Press, 2017.


Casely-Hayford, Sydney. “Ntrɔ Twa-Preneur.” Updated July 7,2015. https://www.peacefmonline.com/pages/comment/features/201512/264170.php


Dadzie, Ato-Kwamena. “#Dumsormuststop: A Vigil for Posterity.” May 17, 2015. Accessed September 9, 2020.
https://atokd.com/articles/dumsormuststop-a-vigil-for-posterity/


Daily Graphic. “ECG Says Load-Shedding Timetable Cannot Be Followed.” Updated July 16, 2015. Accessed September 10 2020. https://www.peacefmonline.com/pages/local/news/201507/248042.php


Di Nunzio, Marco. “Anthropology of Infrastructure.” Governing Infrastructure Interfaces Research Note, no.01 (2018).


Dogbevi, Emmanuel K. “Ghanaians Attend #dumsormuststop Vigil to Protest Power Cuts.” May 16, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2020. https://www.ghanabusinessnews.com/2015/05/16/ghanaians-attend-dumsormuststop-vigil-to-protest-power-cuts/


Dogbey, Alfred K. “End of ‘Dum so Dumso’: Mahama Sleeping Comfortably Now.” August 5, 2013. Accessed March 25,2020. https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/End-of-Dum-so-Dumso-Mahama-sleeping-comfortably-now-281485


Donkor, Kwabena. “FULL SPEECH: Govt Regrets ‘Dumsor’ – Dr Donkor.” Feb 3, 2015. Accessed July 7, 2015.                                                                        https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/full-speech-govt-regrets-dumsor-dr-donkor.html


Edwards, Paul N., and Hecht Gabrielle. “History and the Technopolitics of Identity: The Case of Apartheid South Africa.”Journal of Southern African Studies 36, no. 3 (2010): 619–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2010.507568


Energy Commission. “2010 Energy (Supply and Demand) Outlook for Ghana.” Energy Commission, Accra, 2010.


_______. “2012 Energy (Supply and Demand) Outlook for Ghana.” Energy Commission, Accra, 2012.


_______.“2015 Energy (Supply and Demand) Outlook for Ghana.” Energy Commission, Accra, 2015.


_______.“2016 Energy (Supply and Demand) Outlook for Ghana.” Energy Commission, Accra, 2016.


_______.“2017 Energy (Supply and Demand) Outlook for Ghana.” Energy Commission, Accra, 2017.


Flagstaff House Communications Bureau. “Mahama Tasks New Power Minister to End ‘Dumsor’ Quickly.” December 20, 2014. Accessed September 23, 2020. https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Mahama-tasks-new-Power-Minister-to-end-dumsor-quickly-339869


Gadugah, Nathan. “Ghana’s Power Crisis; a Slippery Slope to Eternal Darkness.” December 11, 2014. Accessed July 8, 2015. https://www.todaygh.com/ghanas-power-crisis-slippery-slope-eternal-darkness/


Ghana Statistical Service. “Revised 2012 Annual Gross Domestic Product.” Ghana Statistical Service, Accra, 2013.


_______.“Revised 2014 Annual Gross Domestic Product.” Ghana Statistical Service, Accra, 2015.


Ghanaweb. “Government Needs $4bn to Solve Energy Crisis.” October 25, 2013. Accessed December 8, 2018.
https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/business/Government-needs-4bn-to-solve-energy-crisis-289876


_______. “Power Minister Lambasts #DumsorMustStop Celebrities.” May 12, 2015.
https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Power-Minister-lambasts-DumsorMustStop-celebrities-357892


_______. “I won’t blame anyone for Dumsor”, Accessed March 23, 2020.
https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/I-won-t-blame-anyone-for-dumsor-I-ll-fix-it-Mahama-468780


Graham, Stephen. “When Infrastructures Fail.” In Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails. Edited by Stephen Graham. 1st ed., 1–26. New York, NY: Routledge, 2010.


Graham, Stephen, and Marvin Simon. Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. London, New York: Routledge, 2001.


Graham, Stephen, and Thrift Nigel. “Out of Order.” Theory, Culture & Society 24, no. 3 (2007): 1–25.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276407075954


Harvey, Penelope, Jensen Casper Bruun, and Morita Atsuro. “Introduction: Infrastructural Complications.” InInfrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion. Edited by Penelope Harvey, Casper B. Jensen and Atsurō Morita, 1–22. Culture, Economy and the Social. London, New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.


Harvey, Penny, and Knox Hannah. “The Enchantments of Infrastructure.” Mobilities 7, no. 4 (2012): 521–36.
https://doi.org/10.1080/17450101.2012.718935


Hasty, Jennifer. The Press and Political Culture in Ghana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.


Hecht, Gabrielle. The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. Inside technology.Cambridge, Mass., London: The MIT Press, 1998.


_______.“Technology, Politics, and National Identity in France.” In Technologies of Power: Essays in Honor of Thomas Parke Hughes and Agatha Chipley Hughes. Edited by Michael T. Allen and Gabrielle Hecht, 253–94. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001.


_______.“Introduction.” In The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. Edited by Gabrielle Hecht, 1–20. Inside technology. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, 2009.


Hughes, Thomas Parke. Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880-1930. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.


_______. “Technology and Heterogeneous Engineering: The Case of Portuguese Expansion.” In The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology; [Papers of a Workshop Held at the University of Twente, the Netherlands, in July 1984]. Edited by Wiebe E. Bijker, Thomas P.Hughes and Trevor Pinch. [Nachdr.], 111–34. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987.


Kojo, Emmanuel. “ECG Releases ‘Dumsor’ League Table.” February 6, 2015b. Accessed September 23, 2020.
https://www.pulse.com.gh/news/energy-crisis-ecg-releases-dumsor-league-table/b4w7g32


_______.“‘Dumsor’ Causes 13,000 Job Cuts in Four Months.” Apr 16, 2015a. Accessed September 23, 2020.
https://www.pulse.com.gh/news/dumsor-unemployment-dumsor-causes-13000-job-cuts-in-four-months/20xpn06


Parliament of Ghana.“State of the Nation Address Presented to Parliament By HE John Dramani Mahama President of the Republic Of Ghana, 2016” February 25, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2020.http://ir.parliament.gh/handle/123456789/611


Ministry for Finance and Economic Planning. “The 2019 Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review & Supplementary Estimates.” Accra, 2019.


Ministry of Energy. “National Energy Policy.” 2010.http://www.purc.com.gh/purc/sites/default/files/ENERGYPOLICY.pdf


Mitchell, Timothy. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley, Calif., London: University of California Press, 2002.


_______.“Carbon Democracy.” Economy and Society 38, no. 3 (2009): 399–432. https://doi.org/10.1080/03085140903020598


Myjoyonline.com. “Nationwide Power Crisis Worsens.” Accessed June 4, 2016.
https://www.myjoyonline.com/news/nationwide-power-crisis-worsens/


_______. “AGI to Lay off Workers over Power Crisis.” February 3, 2015. Accessed December 8, 2018.
https://www.myjoyonline.com/news/agi-to-lay-off-workers-over-power-crisis/


_______.“Dumsor Crisis: Over 12,000 Workers Lose Jobs in First Quarter.” April 15, 2015. Accessed December 8, 2018.
https://www.myjoyonline.com/business/dumsor-crisis-over-12000-workers-lose-jobs-in-first-quarter/#!


Nene, O. Nene (@NeneMAGORTEY). “Chronology of Mahama’s Promises to End Dumsor,” Twitter May 16, 2015.
https://twitter.com/NeneMAGORTEY/status/599618716096143360


Nye, David E. Consuming Power: A Social History of American Energies. Cambridge Mass: MIT Press,1998.


Obour, Samuel K. “My Banish Dumsor” Comment Was Only a Prayer Request – President Mahama.” January 7, 2015.Accessed September 23, 2020. https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/politics/my-banish-dumsor-comment-was-only-a-prayer-request-president-mahama.html


Osam, Efua Idan. “I Will ‘Banish Dumsor Forever’ – Mahama.” July 7, 2015a. Accessed September 23, 2020.
http://citifmonline.com/2015/01/will-banish-dumsor-forever-mahama/


Osam, Efua Idan. “Stop Embarrassing Yourself – Cudjoe to Power Minister.” May 9, 2015b. Accessed March 23, 2020.
http://citifmonline.com/2015/05/stop-embarrassing-yourself-cudjoe-to-power-minister/


Owusu, William Yaw. “Mahama Pledges Not to Make Promises to Ghanaians Again.” December 3, 2014. Accessed March 5, 2020.
https://newsghana.com.gh/mahama-pledges-not-to-make-promises-to-ghanaians-again/


Peacefmonline. “Dumsor Will Be Like the Egyptians; We Shall See Them No More Minister.” February 5, 2015.
Accessed March 17, 2020. https://www.peacefmonline.com/pages/local/news/201502/231358.php


Quashie, S. “This Timeline Dates Far Back as 2012 and Ends with the Latest Comment on the Power Crisis by John Mahama.” May 5, 2015. Accessed July 4, 2015. https://www.pulse.com.gh/news/dumsormuststop-a-timeline-of-government-promises-and-lies-from-2012/fzzyqzm


Rudnyckyj, Daromir. “Crisis Effects.” Cultural Anthropology 33, no. 4 (2018): 547–57. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca33.4.04


Rupp, Stephanie. “Considering Energy E = Mc2 = (Magic Culture)2.” In Cultures of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies. Edited by Sarah Strauss, Stephanie Rupp and Thomas F. Love, 79–98. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013.


Selormey, Ernestina Edem. “Citizen Voice and Bureaucratic Responsiveness FM Radio Phone-Ins and the Delivery of Municipal and Local Government Services in Accra, Ghana.” Doctor of Philosophy, University Of Sussex, 2013.


Sey, Araba. “New Media Practices in Ghana.” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011).


Smith, Merritt Roe. “Technological Determinism in American Culture?” In Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism. Edited by Merritt R. Smith and Leo Marx, 3–34. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press,1994.


Strauss, Sarah, Rupp Stephanie, and Love Thomas F.. “Introduction. Powerlines: Cultures of Energy in the Twenty-First Century.” In Cultures of Energy: Power, Practices, Technologies. Edited by Sarah Strauss, Stephanie Rupp and Thomas F. Love, 10–41. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013.


Tettey, Wisdom J. “Mobile Telephony and Democracy in Ghana: Interrogating the Changing Ecology of Citizen Engagement and Political Communication.” Telecommunications Policy 41, 7-8 (2017): 685–94.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.telpol.2017.05.012


Volta River Authority. “Fifty Third Annual Report & Accounts 2014.” Volta River Authority, 2014.


_______. “55th Annual Report & Accounts 2016.” Volta River Authority, 2016.


von Schnitzler, Antina. “Citizenship Prepaid: Water, Calculability, and Techno-Politics in South Africa.” Journal of Southern African Studies 34, no. 4 (2008): 899–917. https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070802456821


_______. “Traveling Technologies: Infrastructure, Ethical Regimes, and the Materiality of Politics in South Africa.” Cultural Anthropology 28, no. 4 (2013): 670–93. https://doi.org/10.1111/cuan.12032


_______.Democracy’s Infrastructure: Techno-Politics and Protest after Apartheid. Princeton Studies in Culture and Technology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.


White, Leslie A. “Energy and the Evolution of Culture.” American Anthropologist, New Series 45, no. 3 (1943): 335-56.


Winner, Langdon. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus 109, no. 1 (1980): 121–36. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20024652

Claudia Serwah Prempeh is a Junior Fellow, Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies (BIGSAS), University of Bayreuth.

Prempeh, C. S., “The Technopolitics of Infrastructure Breakdowns: A Historical Overview of Dumsor,” E-Journal of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences 1, no.7 (2020): 234-247. https://doi.org/10.38159/ehass.2020111

© 2020 The Author(s). Published and Maintained by Noyam Publishers. This is an open access article under the CCBY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).