Before the installation of the 50MW Garissa solar power plant that was commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta two weeks ago, residents of Raya location had to walk for several kilometres to access key amenities.
This would include the only health facility at Raya centre, about five kilometres from Rahma village and eight kilometres from Shabah.
The 15km road from Garissa town through Raya market to Shabah village was also in bad shape, with huge potholes and was mostly impassable, especially during the rainy season.
Accessing safe water for domestic use was also a challenge for the 500-odd households which had to contend with a shallow well dug by a charitable organisation many years back.
According to area chief Issa Maalim, the well did not have enough water for locals and their livestock, and it was common to find people and animals competing for the scarce resource.
However, all these challenges are now passé, thanks to a well-crafted and rolled out programme by the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Corporation (REREC) which oversaw the construction of the massive solar project.
The programme sought to make the larger Raya location a conducive eco-village with key amenities such as a health facility, a solar-powered water pump, a school, a chief’s camp and a road.
Mr Maalim says the residents are now enjoying benefits of the Sh13.5 billion project, which includes a solar-powered water pump that feeds about 250 households from Rahma and Shabah villages.
“The borehole is a lifeline for the locals. The people now have a reliable water source for domestic use and livestock,” the chief says.
The road from Garissa town through Raya market to Shabah village has been graded and is motorable for both taxi drivers and Boda Boda operators who ply the route.
During the president’s visit on December 13, he promised that the 15km road connecting Garissa town to the project site and surrounding villages will be tarmacked, thereby opening up the area for other infrastructural development.
The locals have also benefited from a school put up at Rahma village that has an initial three classrooms, with a promise from REREC to construct five more classrooms and make it a complete primary school.
“The school will be opening with an ECDE class early next year. We expect to get a teacher because the school is registered. People are happy,” Maalim says.
There is also a four-roomed Baar Rahma Dispensary, which is about 300m from the school and is expected to become operational early next year when the county government posts staff there.
According to Maalim, this will ease congestion at the only health facility at Raya centre.
Fatuma Yarow, a resident of Baar Rahma village, says the public facilities will open up the area and make life bearable for the locals, especially schoolchildren.
“Our children will now access school easily. The health facility is also a big boost,” Ms Yarow says.
From her manyatta, it is barely a 10-minute walk to the school and the health facility.
There is also a new chief’s office at Raya centre and Raya police post was also fenced off.
According to REREC Chief Executive Officer Peter Mbugua, the project was designed to ensure that even as Garissa town and its environs enjoy a stable power connectivity but there are also fringe benefits to the local community, especially around the area where the project is based.
“We have been able to give them a school, a hospital, a solar powered borehole and a chief’s office. The local roads have also been graded and we hope all these will enable them have a quality life,” says Mr Mbugua.
He says during its construction, the project employed 600 people, mostly locals who were paid Sh700 per day.
And the local business people are upbeat. Mumin Gedi, a businessman and the chairman of Baar Rahma village, says the cost of doing business in Garissa town is significantly going down since electricity is now more stable and reliable.
“With a reliable source of power, this place will be very attractive to investors and business people. We are also assured that all schools and health facilities will be connected to electricity,” Mr Gedi says.
He says in the past, constant power outages forced a majority of businesspeople to rely on standby generators, which pushed the cost of doing business high.
Abdi Sagar, who lives in the neighbouring Shabah village says the project should make electricity accessible and affordable to the locals, even those living in manyattas.
“Everybody here needs electricity. If you look around, there are only three shops connected to electricity. We feel this project is a dream come true,” Sagar says.
Mbugua says with the solar project, billed as the biggest in East and Central Africa and now generating power injected to the national grid, Garissa town is set to experience an industrial revolution as it will enjoy stable electricity.
“The first beneficiaries of this power are residents of Garissa. As we speak, they are on stable clean energy and this basically means Garissa town and its environs will rarely have electricity problems in future,” he says.
He says the solar plant will benefit half of the population in the larger North-Eastern region.
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