Rural electrification improves accessibility to services for Kenyan villagers

Kenya people walkingResidents of Yamugwe village in the Central Province of Kenya have seen improvements to local services since rural electrification was rolled out, according to church pastor and businessman Martin Mbugua 

Yamugwe's residents had previously been unable to charge up their mobile phones, have a haircut or even to watch their favourite TV programmes without travelling for more than 5km, Mbugua said. For the many that need photocopying and internet services, they have had to travel to Murang’a, which is more than 20km away.

“We no longer waste time in getting these services. Rural electrification has brought power to the people. We can conveniently charge our phones, get photocopies of certificates and even send email from a little bureau in the village trading centre,” observed Mbugua.

Over the last year, since a rural electrification programme was rolled out in the village, there has been a huge transformation in people’s lives as new businesses grow, said Samson Kago, a youth area councilor.

“Connectivity to the national grid has made life easier for the villagers. They can have their hair done, charge phones, watch international soccer matches and even surf the internet,” Kago noted.

Since its inception almost a decade ago, the Rural Electrification Authority (REA), the government body charged with power connection to rural Kenya, has spearheaded connections to 22 per cent of households and public facilities.

Statistics show that rural electrification has increased from 4 per cent in 2003 to 22 per cent in June last year. Before the 2003 launch of the programme, only 8.6 per cent, or 1,729 public facilities, 1,096 trading centres, 285 public secondary schools and 348 health centres had been connected to electricity.

This has risen to 12,094 public institutions, 6,169 trading centres, 3,910 public secondary schools and 2,014 health centres between 2004 and June 2010.

"We have connected most public institutions because they are major economic centres that will have a major impact on the nearby communities. At this rate, I'm certain we will meet our targets under Vision 2030," said CEO of REA, Zachary Ayieko.

Recently, REA allocated more than US$4.5mn in the 2012-13 financial year for the 198 rural constituencies in the country in a bid to increase power connection to rural countryside.

“The focus this year is to electrify all the remaining 857 secondary schools by December 2012 and the balance of 4,387 public facilities by June 2013,” noted Ayieko, in newspaper adverts outlining the funds allocations to the constituencies.

Rural Kenya is diverse with some parts quite far from the national grid, especially so for northern Kenya where population is low and nomadic- pastrolism thrives hampering human settlements.

In rural regions nearby to Nairobi and Eastern Kenya where the hydropower generation facilities are located, most trading centres and villages are connected to the national grid.

To address the imbalance that exists, REA has developed a formula for allocating funds to these counties based on various indices including population size, land size, poverty levels, basic equal share and fiscal discipline.

“Previously, allocation of funds was done through the Constituency Development Fund allocation formula. With the passing of the new constitution and formation of the Commission of Revenue Allocation, a new more inclusive formula had to be sought,” observed Ayieko.

Counties in Central Kenya are considered well endowed with coffee and tea as cash crops. Being less than 200 km from Nairobi, the region has been well connected to the national grid for years, although outposts such as Yamugwe have not been supplied with power.

Dry and marginalized parts of rural Kenya have been awarded higher amounts to connect as many facilities to the national grid.

According to REA, a sum of US$118,000 has been set aside for the 8 constituencies in Nairobi and 4 in Mombasa which are considered urban since all public facilities are within electricity supply distance.

“Any of these constituencies can access these funds for electrification in of any new public facilities that have no access to power,” observed Ayieko.

The World Bank through the International Development Association (IDA) has provided US$10.5mn for the REA projects.

Analysts note that while rural electrification is bound to open up rural areas, it is also stretching government’s ability to generate and distribute power.

Mwangi Mumero

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