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Wanjii: Little known town that has powered Kenya for over 80 years

By Amos Kareithi | August 6th 2021

Wanjii power station. [Courtesy]

Something is happening at Stima Plaza. History has been made and for the first time, there is a woman, engineer Rosemary Oduor at the helm of Kenya Power. Power at the utility company has not always resided in Nairobi.

There was a time the word electricity was synonymous with a little known village called Wanjii tucked in the heart of Murangá, 2.5 kilometers from Saba Saba town. It was here, 89 years ago that some enterprising settlers set up Murangá Electricity Supply Company(Mesco).

At the time, the founders’ plans were simple. They just wanted to generate enough electricity to meet the electricity needs of Murangá town, variously known as Fort Hall.

A lot of water has since passed under the gigantic tunnels from Mathioya river to the power station which have withstood the sands of time and still promises to serve the country for the next century.

It was no mean task to channel the water through the 5.2 kilometer tunnels capable of creating enough force to generate 0.43 megawatts that is later relayed to Wanjii power station for onward to the national grid in Nairobi for transmission to customers.

Although the turbines manufactured by Harland engineering and installed in 1950 were meant to last a hundred years, they were decommissioned in 2017 and have been replaced by newer ones which are timed to serve the country for the next 100 years.

Interesting the landowners in the area have no idea of the ferocious water which has been gushing right under their houses and crops for ages.

Wanjii power station. [Courtesy]

The tunnels which at the highest point have a headroom of 2.7 meters to allow engineers walk through were dug right under some people’s bedrooms and kitchens.

The echoes of the roaring waters of Mathioya, coursing down to Wanjii offers hope not only to Murangá town but to the whole country which was once dependent on the windmills and kerosene lamps to light up homes and power industries.

But it has not always been smooth sailing for the power generators for Wanjii has had to contend with monkeys who have made it their business to disrupt power transmission from the turbines to the powerhouse.

The dangers posed by uncertainties of drought and freak rains make power generation erratic at times. Wanjii has left a footprint in Kenya’s history is will surely light up the future.

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