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Electric Worlds / Mondes électriques

Creations, Circulations, Tensions, Transitions (19th–21st C.)

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Edited By Alain Beltran, Léonard Laborie, Pierre Lanthier and Stéphanie Le Gallic

What interpretation(s) do today’s historians make of electrification? Electrification is a process which began almost a hundred and fifty years ago but which more than one billion men and women still do not have access to. This book displays the social diversity of the electric worlds and of the approaches to their history. It updates the historical knowledge and shows the renewal of the historiography in both its themes and its approaches. Four questions about the passage to the electrical age are raised: which innovations or combination of innovations made this passage a reality? According to which networks and appropriation? Evolving thanks to which tensions and alliances? And resulting in which transition and accumulation?

Quel(s) regard(s) les historiens d’aujourd’hui portent-ils sur l’électrification, processus engagé il y a près de cent cinquante ans mais auquel plus d’un milliard d’hommes et de femmes restent encore étrangers ? Le présent volume rend compte de la diversité des mondes sociaux électriques et des manières d’enquêter sur leur histoire. Il actualise les connaissances et témoigne du renouvellement de l’historiographie, dans ses objets et ses approches. Quatre points d’interrogation sur le basculement des sociétés dans l’âge électrique jalonnent le volume : moyennant quelles créations ou combinaisons créatrices ? En vertu de quelles circulations et appropriations ? Selon quelles tensions et alliances ? Et produisant quelles transitions et accumulations ?

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The Akosombo Dam and the Quest for Rural Electrification in Ghana

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Stephan F. MIESCHER

Abstract

In January 1966, Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah inaugurated the newly independent country’s most ambitious development project, the Akosombo Dam across the Volta River. The dam created a hydroelectric power plant, which fueled an aluminum smelter and provided electricity to urban centers and adjacent countries. The Ghanaian government, supported by foreign experts, had cast the Volta River Project in terms of modernization as the engine of rapid industrialization and electrification. Although there were no immediate plans to provide electricity to rural areas, official statements and press reporting created expectations that the whole country would soon benefit from the wonders of Akosombo. Addressing such unfulfilled promises, successive governments, military and civil, were compelled to pronounce their intention of extending electricity to the country’s rural areas and northern regions, which had remained beyond the grid. One response was to install diesel generating plants that had become redundant in the towns connected to grid yet operated at great financial cost. Providing access to electricity became a way of using technology to achieve political goals, such as shoring up support in rural communities. The chapter tracks the popular expectations and meanings of electricity in Ghana since the early 1960s. Drawing on the underused archival records of the Electricity Company of Ghana, and on oral research, the chapter examines the politics of rural electrification. It shows how mid level bureaucrats and engineers engaged with and implemented controversial policies of electrification. Chiefs, town development committees, and...

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