Structural reform and the politics of electricity crises in Ghana: tidying whilst the house is on fire?

Research output: Working paper


The 1990s ‘good governance agenda produced a programme of change called the standard reform model. It involves privatising utilities, the creation of markets and the unbundling of electricity-system functions into formally separate, ‘independent’ regulated units. Pushed by the World Bank and others, elements of this programme have been widely adopted across developing countries, including in Ghana. However, Ghana, like many countries in Africa, continues to suffer from major power crises. In the past decade, the country has lurched from unprecedented shortages to electricity overabundance, entailing spiralling debt. Donors, researchers and policymakers in Ghana have pushed further privatisation and institutional-separation reforms as a solution. However, this paper demonstrates that, thus far, attempts to create good governance through the standard reform model have been overwhelmed by Ghana’s politics. Using the political settlements framework, this article demonstrates how intense competition entailing an all-consuming focus on elections overcame the formal organisational separation and the inclusion of expertise in planning and operating the electricity system. Alongside high-modernist ideological beliefs in the power of megawatts to produce industrialisation, such competition created Ghana’s crises of absence and abundance. The paper consequently highlights a disconnect between a continuing focus on the good governance model and the politics driving policymaking: too great a focus on democratic institutions, formal organisations and market motivations misses the importance of political power and how it manifests within ruling coalitions to shape governmental decision making. Greater questioning is therefore needed of the standard reform model and its assumptions about how to improve electricity outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherThe University of Manchester
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameFutureDAMS Working Paper Series
PublisherUniversity of Manchester


  • Ghana
  • Electricity
  • Energy Generation
  • Structural Reform
  • Political Economy
  • Political settlement

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