Magazine article African Business

Big Power of Small Organizations: Like Many Other African Countries, Kenya Suffers Power Shortages, and the Situation in Rural Areas Is Even More Difficult Than in the Cities. Now a Small Group in Kenya's Central Province Has Decided It Cannot Wait for the Government's Rural Electrification Programme to Make Its Way to Their Doorstep. They Have Decided to Take Matters into Their Own Hands. Albert Muriuki Reports from Nairobi

Magazine article African Business

Big Power of Small Organizations: Like Many Other African Countries, Kenya Suffers Power Shortages, and the Situation in Rural Areas Is Even More Difficult Than in the Cities. Now a Small Group in Kenya's Central Province Has Decided It Cannot Wait for the Government's Rural Electrification Programme to Make Its Way to Their Doorstep. They Have Decided to Take Matters into Their Own Hands. Albert Muriuki Reports from Nairobi

Article excerpt

The inefficiency and incompetence of Kenya's official power supplier finally drove Mzee Ngai into action. He applied for an electricity connection to the Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) in 1994. "For 14 years, I waited patiently for KPLC to come and bring electricity. In 2005, T just got fed up. I was getting no younger - 14 years of waiting to get connected to electricity was just too much!" he says.

While the general inefficiencies of Kenya's parastatals is well known, there was also a political angle to this. In the 1990s, the then KANU government under former president Daniel arap Moi used its political muscle to deny amenities to areas that were deemed to support the zopposition. Central Province, the biggest opposition area, bore the brunt of this campaign.

In 2005, Ngai and other like-minded villagers decided to take matters into their own hands. Situated close to Kenya's biggest water catchment area, the Aberdares Range, they decided to harness water from the local Gikira River that flows from it. In late 2005, they formed the Gatiki Electrical Company and sold shares to interested villagers for Kshl0.00 ($130) each. Tired of living in the dark, villagers were enthusiastic and joined in large numbers. The company decided to set up three projects: in total, they have around 7,000 shareholders, whom Ngai refers to as "members".

The members come from three neighbouring locations in Nyeri South and Murang'a North districts. They have set up a project that has the potential to change the livelihood of the area - and provide inspiration for other areas to find alternatives to government's slow progress.

"People are poor, but they were so enthusiastic about the project that even those who could not afford the $130, paid what they could, so we have members who paid $25 and have slowly been raising their stakes in the company," Ngai says. But even the contributions from the villagers could not raise the full amount needed to start a hydro electric system.

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To make up the shortfall, the company found support from a new source of funding.

Tom Morton, Executive Director of JPMorgan ClimateCare in Kenya, says that the company has committed to an initial payment of $100,000 for the first project of a series of three, in return for carbon-emission reductions.

This will be paid once the project is registered with the Gold Standard Foundation. "We are taking it through the process at the moment - we have written the product design document and it is being assessed by the Gold Standard Foundation," he said.

Gatiki Electrical Company started using its own hydro-generated power at the end of December 2008 and if the trial runs are anything to go by, the members of the group will soon be getting electricity for less than a dollar a month. The company actually runs three different projects-Chiki, which is set to produce 0.75MW, Kiawambogo, which will produce 0.375MW, and Gacharageini, which will produce 0.25MW. "So far, the test runs have been very promising," says Joseph Mbugua, the chairman of the company. …

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