A Dam for Africa
Akosombo Stories from Ghana
Published by: Indiana University Press
Since its construction in the early 1960s, the hydroelectric Akosombo Dam across the Volta River has exemplified the possibilities and challenges of development in Ghana. Drawing upon a wealth of sources, A Dam for Africa investigates contrasting stories about how this dam has transformed a West African nation, while providing a model for other African countries.
The massive Akosombo Dam is the keystone of the Volta River Project that includes a large manmade lake 250 miles long, the VALCO aluminum smelter, new cities and towns, a deep-sea harbor, and an electrical grid. On the local level, Akosombo has meant access to electricity for people in urban and industrial areas across southern Ghana. For others, Akosombo inflicted tremendous social and environmental costs. The dam altered the ecology of the Lower Volta, displaced 80,000 people in the Volta Basin, and affected the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians.
In A Dam for Africa, Stephan Miescher explores four intersecting narratives: Ghanaian debates and aspirations about modernization in the context of decolonization and Cold War; international efforts of the US aluminum industry to benefit from Akosombo through cheap electricity for their VALCO smelter; local stories of upheaval and devastation in resettlement towns; and a nation-wide quest toward electrification and energy justice during times of economic crises, droughts, and climate change.
List of Abbreviations
Part I. The Volta River Project
1. The Volta Project and the Promise of Modernization
2. "Nkrumah's Baby": Realizing Akosombo within the Cold War
Part II. The Volta Aluminium Company
3. Volta Aluminium Company: A U.S. Outpost in West Africa
4. Working on VALCO's American Island
Part III. Settlements of Modernization
5. "No One Should Be Worse Off": Resettlement
6. Building the City of the Future
Part IV. Power Struggles
7. Waiting for Light: Stories of Rural Electrification
8. Electricity Politics, Droughts, Self-Help
In A Dam for Africa, Stephan Miescher explores the history of Akosombo Dam, its role as part of the broader Volta River Project, and its influence on national and pan-African visions for a postcolonial technological future. Miescher draws on a large body of previously underutilized archival sources, as well as extensive interviews with government officials and citizens across regions most directly impacted by the construction of the dam and the resulting resettlement that came in its wake~Jennifer Hart, Wayne State University
A Dam for Africa is a stunningly rich examination of Ghana's Volta River Project, an ambitious infrastructural / development scheme that has played a central role in 20th century Ghanaian and African, history. At its core, the book probes the multiple meanings that the project's principle manifestation—the hydroelectric Akosombo Dam—had for Ghanaians, Africans, local bureaucrats, international governments, and transnational business interests from c. 1950 to 2010, a sixty-year period that stretches across not only the colonial / postcolonial divide, but several periods of ranging political ideologies, economic realities, and international transformations.~Nate Plageman, Wake Forest University
Based on meticulous archival research carried out across the globe and on countless interviews, A Dam for Africa engages themes as diverse as decolonization, gender, technology, and popular culture in this riveting account of the making of Ghana's Akosombo Dam. Miescher's rich, multiscalar analysis is as adept at reconstructing the Cold War geopolitics of aid and development that form the negotiated prehistory of the dam, as it is at recounting the personal stories of displacement, relocation, and disillusionment of ordinary women and men whose livelihoods and homes, burial grounds, and religious sites were washed away by the Volta Lake. Miescher's A Dam for Africa is quite simply a monumental work.~Jean Allman, Washington University in St. Louis
A Dam for Africa is a truly spectacular contribution to global debates about energy justice. Rather than eschewing the contradictions of sustainable development, Miescher explores them with tremendous sensitivity and subtlety. The result is a rich, complex, innovative history that changes the terms of scholarship across a wide range of fields, including African history, global environmental history, the history of technology, and infrastructure studies.~Gabrielle Hecht, Stanford University