The Politician stood dressed in a dark, expensive suit, the cost of which was enough to feed one of the people in front of him for at least a year. He smiled a politician’s smile, energetic and full of optimism that none of those in front of him felt.
“Today is a historic day!” he said, excitedly. The cameras of the pressmen and women who constituted his entourage clicked away furiously. The translator standing next to him, a neatly dressed woman, mirrored his excitedness when she relayed the message in Anlo. The small group of locals continued to stare, patiently.
“This is the first time this community is being connected to the National Grid. Thanks to the Rural Electrification Programme of this government, we are connecting fifteen more villages like this across the country. By the end of our term next year, Ghana will have achieved nearly 96% electricity coverage!” The Politician said all of this through a smile plastered on his face. He made sure to keep turning to his good side, so the cameras would have good, quality shots. The translator busily worked the crowd, explaining without so many words, what the politician said. There was a murmur that rippled through the crowd. A few people clapped, but this was a crowd that was used to smooth-talking politicians. They weren’t impressed. To them, this was an interesting interlude in an otherwise calm existence. They were here merely to observe.
The first time a politician had come to talk to them about electricity, the old men had been young men. They had come in military vehicles and a man that had spoken to them about electricity had promised them connectivity in a month. A week later, a contractor had appeared with logs of timber, and they had begun the erection of electricity poles. But that government hadn’t lasted and the poles were left to rot with no electrical wires in them.
Another government had come with promises. It seemed, to those who remembered, that the politicians had learned in their fancy schools that they could get away with promising and not doing any actual work. So this time, a man just like this one, with a less expensive suit, and a serious face, had come to promise them connectivity just before the election. He did it in all of the towns after theirs. It was the first election they had witnessed since the 70’s. Ghana was no longer a military regime. The people in Accra had decided for everyone that they wanted to go back to democracy. The man had lied, and the election had happened. And that had been the end of the matter.
These politicians were different. They came once, but only to see the chief. After ten minutes of consultation they had left in haste, towards the next town. A month later work had begun. New, metal electric poles were mounted. The old poles of timber, which were never used, were uprooted and transported back to Accra. They didn’t even leave the timber for the carpenter in the village. Half a year later a television van had come to see just the poles mounted, rusting away. They made a whole story out of it. Within a week there were electric wires in the poles. They connected the Chief’s house to the wires, and had placed one huge street light in front of his house. In another week they had shown up with a podium, a canopy, some speakers and a lot of ribbons. Now the Politician stood in front of them telling them they had connected the village to some grid.
The younger ones were excited, but the older men and women kept mute. Their excitement had happened a long time ago, right now all they did was watch. The Politician dramatically stepped off the Podium and walked over, with the Chief, to a switch on the wall of the house. It had a ribbon on it. They posed in front of it for a while, and then the Chief was allowed to press on the switch. The street light lit up immediately to a round of applause. The villagers had been told to applaud at this moment. There had been a meeting here the night before. And so they clapped. The very young ones squealed with glee when they looked up and saw a smaller, closer sun. The old-heads reined in their excitement when they realised that their hope was an actual possibility.
After a few more photos, and comments from villagers the Chief had selected himself, the crowd was given jollof rice and chicken in packs. On the packs was the face of the current president. They shared t-shirts too. Same face. Same party colours. By this time excitement had gotten the better of everyone. Someone got the idea to use the speakers for the function to play agbadza music. It turned into a party.
The media and the politician left after a couple of hours. They had booked a hotel in the closest big town, which was about an hour and a half on rough road from this village. Rough road that they did not feel, sitting in the comfort of their big cars. The Politician cussed loudly inside the car. One child had dirtied his shirt with her stinking little fingers. The translator kept mute. She was from the big town they were going to. They would drop her off along the way.
When it was dark, the children came to sit under the light. They played a little game. They run to the ends of the light where there was a clear border between light and the shadows of the dark, and they jumped over the ‘demarcation’ repeatedly. When on the dark side, they pretended to be sleepy because it was night. When on the bright side, they pretended to yawn and stretch like they had just woken up; because it was day. They played like this for a long while, till one of the chief’s wives came out with a kerosene lantern and told them to disappear before she came back with a cane. They all run away laughing. It was Bubune, the son of the blacksmith, who first said what was wrong.
“Why is it that the Chief’s house has light, but they still use lantern?” he asked his co-conspirators. They stood in front of a small hut. They laughed about it for a bit, and parted ways. Behind the hut an old man sat, gently fanning the fire on which his pot of herbs cooked. He laughed at the comment he had overheard from Bubune. That boy was a smart one. Maybe he’ll grow to lead the village some day.
All the old people in the town knew that the light had been a show. They knew that the chief pandered to each political party for survival. They knew that the streetlight outside the chief’s house was all the electrification this village was ever going to get. They knew.
And that’s why none of them had ever voted.