The ‘D’ student who is now celebrated village electrical ‘engineer’

John Magiro

A few months before the nondescript student wrote his final secondary examinations, he immortalised his name in the hearts of his neighbours.

So when John Magiro returned a mean grade of D- in 2009, his teachers at Mihuti Secondary School in Njumbi were unimpressed. But they refused to give up on him. Magiro’s name at the time was on every villager’s lips for he had lit up Mihuti village, long before Kenya Power came.

His name is still spoken in awe by locals who cannot reconcile Magiro, the boy who failed in physics and chemistry and the ‘engineer’ supplying them with cheap hydro power.

“I started experimenting when I was in primary school, using a bicycle dynamo. I once fashioned a wooden turbine which I took to river Kirirwa but the contraption could not produce power,” Magiro, who is now 28, said.

Despite this and many other failures, chief among them the poor Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results, Magiro did not give up.

Car alternator

He says he embarked on generating power from Gondo river when he was in form one.

At one point, he bought a car alternator from a scrap metal dealer at Sh500 and improvised a metal turbine. Using a bicycle wheel rim as a pulley, he blocked the river so that he could channel the waters through a pipe to turn his turbine.

In his pursuit for electricity, Magiro recalled how at some point he dismantled his mother’s radio to extract a magnet from its mono speaker.

And to the chagrin of his mother and the excitement of the whole neighbourhood, he generated 48 volts. However, everybody was disappointed when Magiro could not  reduce the direct current to alternating current for domestic use. 

His big break came when he eventually got a generator which he later modified to suit his needs and ultimately produced 240 volts.

“I can still see a tattered PVC canvas covering an old generator which is propped on a stone in the middle of the river. Popping from it is a tangle of some rusty binding wire which strung over trees high above maize crops,” recalls  a neighbour, Jimna Kaara.

And Magiro’s invention worked.

With power came media exposure, money and national recognition.  Life has been a blaze and gone is the shy unsuccessful scholar. 

 When some environmentalists came to inspect my project, they wee impressed and entered me into Youth Innovation Green Energy Award. I bagged this award in 2015 and got a cash prize of Sh1 million,” he says. 

In 2017, he replicated the same feat when he won other awards and also bagged the Sh3.8 million Net Fund Award.

Besides getting training at Daystar University in business management, Magiro, who has since registered Magiro Hydroelectricity Project has expanded his business and is now supplying 450 homes and institutions with power.

On the Sunday we interviewed him, he was on his way to Belgium to meet a prospective partner who has promised to assist him expand his business to other parts of the country.

“I charge my customers a flat rate of Sh200. Of course there is a connectiioon fee of Sh15,000 which is a one off payment,” explained Magiro who now employs 14 people.

Growing business

Even as he plans to move out of Mihuti in Mathioya to exploit other falls, Magiro has already taken over two moribund hydro power projects.

“We have agreed with the committees running the projects  that since they are no longer operational, I should take over the power houses and utilise them to  expand electricity supply,” he says.

Besides domestic users, Magiro is supplying St Stephens ACK Njumbi Academy, the local ACK church as well as shops at Gakoe market .

Although there has been some cases of default, the entrepreneur says he has not disconnected any body. But he is grappling with the problem of untreated poles.

“We have also experienced some problems with vandals and competition from Kenya Power who have more resources and expertise than us,” he added.

“With this locally produced power, I have no fear of huge power bills. I once got a bill of Sh10,000 but with Magiro, I know all I need is Sh200 at the end of the month. My power usage is not limited and in case of blackouts, his people are acessible,” John Kamau, a trader, said.