Dumsor ehn. Its like this cursed gift to Ghanaians that just keeps on giving. One day its about power barges, the next day its about lack of gas to fuel our power stations.
The latest segment of Dumsor Chronicles is the threat of infliction of permanent Dum on public universities in Ghana by the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and for once ECG is not at fault here. This is because ECG is owed millions of Ghana Cedis by these universities and other public tertiary institutions. The government is supposed to bear the cost of utilities to public universities but clearly, it has not held up its end of the deal. It has also dropped hints through some of its outspoken members that maybe students should begin to consider bearing the burden of utility bills. Unsurprisingly, students have reacted angrily to that suggestion with strongly worded statements being released by student leaders to express their complete disagreement with these suggestions and have also threatened demonstrations which have already been dubbed “Yentua” even before they have seen the light of day.
This is laudable. The cost of education in Ghana right now is skyrocketing and if allowed to continue on its present trajectory, it’ll soon become the preserve of the rich. Nothing captures the present cost of tertiary education in Ghana better than the now famous rhetoric (famous at least on UG campus) by the incumbent Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana that “Education is not for the poor”. Therefore, any acts that seek to increase the already substantial burden students and their families have to overcome in order to gain quality tertiary education must be resisted. Recent events in South Africa have been a source of inspiration as well as a challenge to students and student leaders worldwide and the quick rebuttal of claims by student leaders in Ghana to suggestions of students paying for utilities is a clear sign that the example of South Africa is being learned from.
However, it would be a grave mistake if students assumed that a demonstration or the threat of one would be enough to bury forever the school of thought that wants utility bills to be borne by students. This is not a criticism of student leaders but a reminder that they are dealing with politicians who are seasoned, wily and used to getting whatever they want. It would therefore be wise for students to come up with innovative methods of dealing with what could easily become a crisis if not managed correctly. Student leaders need to know their best and worst scenarios, dialogue with other relevant stakeholders and be proactive in this discussion. So far, students have been left rebutting claims by government representatives in the media. This can easily be remedied if students change the media conversation to how expensive university education already is and the lengths people go to in order to get a university education. This ensures that we stop talking about figures but the actual people who would be affected by any change in the status quo. Is it possible for students to get statements or signed contracts from the government to show that it would continue to take care of its responsibilities? What about worst case scenarios? Are student strikes feasible? Will they solve the problems students face right now? Will there ever be a need to go that far? Some of these suggestions may seem drastic and should only be used as a last resort but there is a need to start making plans and exploring options.
Ultimately, those outstanding bills and all future ones would need to be paid and if student leaders are unable to ensure that the status quo is maintained, have payment plans and methods been considered to ensure that the full weight of the debt and any future bills are not thrown squarely on the shoulders of students? This may seem an unpalatable discussion to have and should not even be considered until all other alternatives have been exhausted but it is better to be prepared for all possible outcomes than to be caught with one’s pants down. Demos, claims and counter claims would all mean nothing if ECG decide to exercise their power and cut off electricity to public universities as they did a few weeks ago when they plunged the Accra Polytechnic into darkness, effectively halting teaching and learning activities and ensuring any discussions about who was responsible for the fees ended as school authorities took it upon themselves to levy students in order to relieve some of the debts the school had accrued.
In recent times, student leaders have developed a bad reputation with many believing they only aspire to leadership positions in order to embezzle funds and develop their political careers with very little regard for the needs of the students who elected them into office. This issue presents an opportunity for students and their leaders to show that they can be effective leaders of tomorrow by being effective leaders today.