The power of 'chama' culture

Friday April 10 2009

An official with Kenya Power and Lighting

An official with Kenya Power and Lighting Company takes notes at a sub-station in Nairobi. Photo/FILE 

By AL KAGS

In the Aberdare ranges, villagers got together and formed the Gatiki Electrical Company and bought shares for Ksh10,000 ($125) each.

The villagers’ plan was to develop three electricity generating plants along the Gikira River — Chiki, which is set to produce 0.75MW; Kiawambogo (0.375MW) and Gacharageini (0.25MW) — thereby light up their households, and pay between a mere $ 0.65 and $1.25 for their electrical usage, a minute fraction of what most Kenya Power and Lighting Company customers have to pay.

This is an exciting initiative for Kenya because it could portend the beginning of the adoption of a microgrids strategy for Kenya’s power problem.

Kenya’s power problems — and indeed all of the country’s problems — are also its opportunities.

The Gatiki project is a clear example of how the chama culture that Kenyans have so perfected can be taken to the next level so that they will aid in Kenya’s transformation efforts.

The idea here would be that communities could form companies such as Gatiki and generate power from wind, solar, water and biogas for themselves.

Under existing law, communities will be able to generate a maximum of 1MW per installation – beyond which the extra power would need to be shed into the national grid and a power purchase agreement be signed between the national electricity company and the local one.

The payoff for such radical ventures on education, health and small businesses cannot be underemphasised.

The chama culture that Kenyans have embraced would come in handy when Kenyans in remote villages come together to build a dispensary near them and go as far as take responsibility for their running and sustainability.

It will be revolutionary when villages in Loitoktok, Kijabe and Pokot — to name three examples — set aside a piece of land and build a police station near them and then go to the police commissioner and ask him to staff it.

The idea here is that for Kenya to be a middle class nation by the year 2030, then some fundamental changes must be made in the way the challenges are handled.

Gone must be the days when the villagers look to their parliamentarians to sort out their problems.

While it is true the government has a lot to do for the with regard to the transformation of the country and the provision of essential services to the people, we must accept that the most aggressive of transformational efforts will take years — especially, when governed by the government’s rules on procurement and so forth.

Assuming that we can accept that neither government, business, the citizens or any other person can effectively sort out the country’s challenges, it is incumbent upon us to take on a more transformational perspective to our approach to solving Kenyan problems at a local level.

Al Kags is the Programme Officer at the Kenya ICT Board and a prolific writer. [email protected]