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Rising from the ashes for Kirinyaga man who build

By Joseph Muchiri | June 29th 2016
Francis Kiragu at his power plant near Matiki meri waterfalls along River Thiba in Rukenya, Kirinyaga County. He quit police service to set up an industry powered by electricity tapped from a waterfall. BY JOSEPH MUCHIRI/STANDARD

“Francis Kinyua Kiragu is an entrepreneur with a difference. With little more than a water fall and some knowledge of engineering, he has managed to come up with a wonder machine that has made life for himself and those around him easier.”

I was full of joy when my story appeared in the Thursday Digest magazine inside the East African Standard of March 18, 1999, beginning with the above paragraph.

The story captured my life since the moment I quit my job in the police force to venture into hydro-power production.

I was utilising that power to run a saw mill, a posho mill, a lathe machine, besides lighting up my house and those of my neighbours.

Born in 1947 in Gathambi village, Kirinyaga County, as a boy I developed keen interest in mechanical engineering and always imagined how I could tap the water energy to work for me.

In 1971, I was enlisted in the police force and was posted to Kamukunji, Nairobi County, but I quit in the 1980s to pursue my power production dream.

You see, while stationed at the Central Bank of Kenya I met a Mr Kimondo, a power technician installing power on some new units at the bank and I learned a lot from him.

Using my savings, I purchased a quarter acre piece of land near Muthandara waterfalls along Rwamuthambi River, Kirinyanga County.

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I tapped water from one side of the falls, which I then directed to my “wonder machine” via a network of pulleys, which were in turn connected to my work bench.

I run the hydro power mill for seven years and during this time, I played host to various learning institutions who would send their students to learn from me.

Engineers from the University of Nairobi and African Energy Research programme would also visit my ‘factory’. They gave me several books on power production that added to my knowledge of the subject.

I raked in money and was on my way to becoming a multi-millionaire when the story was published and it radically changed my life.

Five technology enthusiasts from Europe were among those who read my story and they visited my factory. Impressed by my ingenuity, they offered to sponsor me to the tune of tens of millions of shillings to expand the industry and replicate similar ones for households living near water falls. Unfortunately, the sponsorship almost cost me my life and I had to abandon my project and flee to Mwea.

Some local powerful administrators, who were privy of the operations of the industry and the sponsorship, coveted it and begun calling it a “government project”.

When I started receiving death threats over the same, I dismantled my machines and fled with whatever I could salvage. They went on to receive the money which they pocketed and nothing more was ever heard about the project. The ruins of my factory are now covered by forests and vegetation that is dense than when I landed there.

In Mwea I used my savings to buy two plots and build a house where I settled.

Over the years I have tried several businesses including hydro power mills but they have flopped. I have not lost hope and this year I embarked on restarting my pet project at Matiki Meri waterfalls on River Thiba in Rukenya.

Together with my son Jack we have since completed phase one of the project and have a power house ready that generates 5KW.

The power is adequate to run a medium sized saw mill, lathe machine, metal work machines, posho mill, hairdressing businesses and light up several homes in the neighbourhood.

I spent Sh300,000 to buy a 5KW alternator with an internal gearbox, metals and pipes. I need about Sh2 million more to purchase other machines to start work but I plan to buy the equipment gradually when I get money.

Despite the challenges I have faced, I am still determined to make my dream a reality and change lives in the process.

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