Michael Ombaso, a resident in Mukuru Kwa Reuben runs into a nostalgic memory of a sad day he was to lose his daughter.
There was a fire outbreak in neighbourhood school out of illegal power connection which prompted an emergency team to intervene. But there was already a trail of destruction and death. He nonetheless counts his luck that his daughter is alive.
“My daughter was studying in one of the informal primary schools when one of the power transformers next to the school premises exploded and ignited the fire that destroyed school premises, I was lucky to be around, my daughter escaped unhurt, three children lost their lives,” recalls Ombaso.
He paints a grim picture of another incident when a child died last year while playing with an illegal wire hanging over a school fence.
The problems of illegal power connections are frequent in informal settlements owing to the individuals who collude with some Kenya Power officers who earn proceeds from them.
According to Ombaso, most schools in the informal settlement areas like Mukuru Kwa Reuben are privately owned, hence their owners have no control of power connections. This endangers pupils who are oblivious to the dangers of the loosely hanging live wires.
“Most of the learning centres in the slums are just makeshift which are either managed by individuals; social enterprises and some Non-Governmental Organizations and they don’t have control of power connections around the schools,” he says.
“This puts them and the children at the mercy of these ruthless cartels whose quest is to mint money at the expense of people’s lives. Kenya Power has managed to install a number of power transformers across these two informal sectors that can support every specified area.”
Collusion with officials
Earlier this year over 100 staff from KPLC were laid off due to their role in aiding fraud, illegal connections and other crimes.
To fight the rotten system, the company in 2020 rolled out a community-driven approach where it involves local leaders in the slum areas to spearhead power connections.
The campaign was the result of organisations in the informal sectors pushing for changes to be made to make the communities safer.
The campaign that kicked off in Mukuru Kwa Njenga and Mukuru Kwa Reuben was aimed at sensitising the public on the dangers of illegal power connections.
According to Kenya Power’s Managing Director, Bernard Ngugi, the process of weeding out illegal connections is aimed at providing power in accordance with the law.
“We will intensify these crackdowns not just in Nairobi but the rest of the country with the subsequent rollout of the campaign in all our regions,”
He added that the campaign had yielded fruits since the residents were determined to appoint one person to act as a link person to help them get lawful connections at affordable price.
“They have agreed to appoint one person per area who will be in charge of ensuring that all electricity-related thefts, illegal connections and vandalism of our properties are reported. They are working with the local chiefs and security agencies.”
The initiative has received a positive reception from slum dwellers who want to put safety to come in handy with electricity connections.
Oseko Zedekiah, Resident Chairman, Gateway Zone in Mukuru Kwa Reuben lauded the initiative as key in addressing the illegal power connection and the dangers that it poses in the community.
“Before Kenya Power came up with this kind of initiative, we could report between 6 -10 electricity accidents per month - sometimes deaths - in this area, a clear indication that the illegal power connection is a threat not just to our lives but also our businesses which are our only source of livelihood, “said Oseko.
He narrated how well organised group linked with Kenya Power workers had connected over 7,000 households illegally and were collecting monthly stipend without looking at the safety of the users.
Oseko said: “What these people do is to ensure that they tap directly into the mainline and then connect it to other houses in what is referred as ‘Sambaza’ then collect a monthly fee of Ksh 500, from every household connected.”
“You will find a naked wire connected next to a water line and this is risky since we have children playing around the same area.”
He said that the naked wires are slotted everywhere in the community; near restaurants, schools and mosques. The danger is exaggerated because the children often think they are like any pieces of toys meant they can play around with.
Kenya Power estimates that on a monthly basis, a cartel in-charge of the illegal power connection in an area will walk home with not less than Ksh 3 million in which they share with their corrupt workers.
The campaign entails of a joint team from Kenya Power staff and security agencies including the police and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officers.
The World Bank Report of 2019 estimates that over 650 million people in Africa lack electricity. Majority of these group dwells in the informal sector within the continent.
As of 2019, 60 per cent of Kenyans were connected to the national grid, this is according to the state-owned, Kenya Power & Lighting Plc.