Life without lights in a Ghanaian village

The village of Wantugu, Ghana, has power poles but no electricity – yet. They keep the dark from encroaching with kerosene lamps, flashlights, and a little solar power.

With high-tension power lines in place since 2000, Wantugu seems to be a village several steps ahead of many others in Ghana's northern region. However, the people of Wantugu are still lacking one key element: electricity flowing through those wires and into village homes.

For most people in developed countries, living without electricity is unthinkable. But in Ghana's north, Wantugu's situation is the norm, rather than the exception.

Only 22 percent of households in the northern region have electricity, and 77 percent use kerosene lamps as their primary source of lighting,

In the Tolon/Kumbungu District, made up of many small villages and 19 larger villages including Wantugu, only four communities have electricity.

Even without electric power, though, the 3,500 inhabitants of this rural farming community are active after dark:

Every night, young people get together to study English homework or the Koran. And villagers gather to watch an American, Nigerian, or Indian film on the one TV in the village.

Occasionally, the midwife will stay late to deliver a baby at the town's clinic, working under the dim glow of solar-powered lights donated by two nongovernmental organizations, New Energy and the Ghanaian Danish Community Programme.

And every few nights, men, women, and children dance to traditional drumming. "Even if you are tired and are lying down, if they play the music, you will feel it, and you will want to come out," says Fusini Mohamed, a college student who lives with his family in Wantugu between school terms,

Like many others in the village, he believes that dancing at night provides the energy to farm the next day.

The task of supplying electricity to the village began under the government of the National Democratic Congress just before the 2000 national elections. But when the rival New Patriotic Party took control of Ghana's government that year, the work came to a standstill.

"Both political parties leave it until election year, and then they use it for campaigning, so people will see the work and vote for them," says Assemblyman Adam Yakubu, Wantugu's representative in local government.

In the years since the project was initiated, 30 low-tension poles have been added, "but 120 are needed for the whole community to have electricity," Mr. Yakubu says. "The cost is high, and that has left it standing."

Many villagers recognize that electricity is a prerequisite for other developments. Mr. Mohamed predicts that it will be a help to businesses and farmers. He cites refrigerators, fans, heaters, electric irons, and the various machines used to grind grains, sharpen tools, and build furniture and houses, as tools that many in Wantugu would start to use.

But electricity's largest benefit is light, he says. "Education is our main problem. In the daytime, we cannot read; we'll be at school and then in the farm. At night, we could use the time for studying, so that what we learn in the daytime we can review in the night."

Despite the lack of electric lights, a few dedicated students gather nightly around kerosene lamps in the school building or in one of their homes. "But sometimes you want to read and won't have the money for kerosene," Mohamed says.

He admits that people would face the same problem if they had to pay electric bills.

Yet, Mr. Yakubu the assemblyman is confident that people would find the money to pay their electric bills, if only for one reason: football (soccer). When a Ghanaian football team plays, fans in the village pay the equivalent of about 11 cents US to watch the 90-minute match in the home of the one person who has his own generator and television. Yakubu believes that if electricity were available to all, people would instead put the money they now pay to watch football games toward paying for electric power and, eventually, their own television sets.

It's difficult to predict just when work on Wantugu's electricity project will resume, but Yakubu is hopeful. Recently, he has seen new low-tension poles being installed in a nearby village, and he says that a Tolon District Assembly budget created in May allows for 500 new poles to be placed around the district.

"But we haven't seen any yet," he admits.

So, after more than seven years, Wantugu's people are still eagerly awaiting the arrival of the electricity they have been promised.

Until then, flashlights, lanterns, a couple of generators, and a few solar lights are all that keeps them from being a village in the dark.

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