Gemmy Musati is trimming a client’s beard at his barbershop in Mushaki village, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) province of North Kivu. Two customers sit on a bench, awaiting their turn on the barber’s chair.
Above the hum of electric clippers, Musati explains how his business and his life have changed since a regular power supply became available in the village, thanks to the efforts of a socially-minded local mechanic.
“I started working in this barbershop with a generator, and it was so difficult because fuel was costly, and sometimes it would break down, and I’d spend days to repair it, meaning no customers coming during that time,” Musati says.
“But ever since this person by the name of Joseph Sabato came to install electricity, things are good; I can realise my daily income, and I can pay rent and have my own salary.“
Next to the barbershop, Amani Safari lives in a four-roomed wooden house. The 57-year-old man sits in a reclining chair in his living room with a content smile.
“I grew up in this village, and it’s only in 2017 that we saw electricity in our homes. Before, we were using kerosene, candles and solar panels for light. We could not charge our phones properly and would go to those with generators to charge them. It was not easy,” narrated Safari.
Since 2017, he has stopped going to those with generators to ‘beg’ for power to charge his phone.
“Now, as you can see, I am charging my phone in my own house. Can you believe it? This makes me very happy. With only ten thousand francs ($5), everyone now has power in this village, and it’s very reliable,” Safari said.
According to the African Development Bank Group, the DRC has tremendous renewable energy potential and is one of the largest hydropower power worldwide, with a technically feasible potential of some 100,000 MW – 13% of the global hydropower potential.
Yet it has some of the world’s lowest levels of electrification and energy consumption. According to World Bank data, only 19$ of its population had access to electricity in 2019.
La Societe Nationale d’Electricite is the existing power distribution system in the country. However, it has been unable to supply electricity adequately due to capacity, mismanagement and financial problems, making energy poverty a widespread issue, especially in rural areas.
A local mechanic’s response
Growing up in Masisi village, Sabato Ndiku Joseph experienced these challenges daily. The community depended entirely on kerosene lamps and candles for evening lighting.
This experience influenced his tertiary education, and he graduated from Institut Superieur de Techniques Apliquees with an electromechanics major in 2011.
But even though he now had the required knowledge, his dream of lighting up his community needed money, which he didn’t have. So he found a job as a teacher.
With enough money saved, he quit his teaching job six years later.
“My passion has always been the production of hydroelectricity in my country,” he said.
Besides the funds, he needed the materials to make his dream a reality. So he started hunting for them in the scrap yards and garages of the area.
“I got materials from scrap metal, which people throw as waste. The only thing I bought was pipes. But 80% of the material used, including the turbine and the materials needed for the turbine, I picked up in garages around Goma [his city],” said Sabato.
Having found a site for his hydroelectric facility, Sabato manufactured the needed parts, and thanks to him, Mushaki and the surrounding villages now have electricity.
“Currently, I can produce up to 100 kilowatts of electricity due to the materials available here and the water available in our territory of Masisi. The total cost of this project is US$8,225, and my electricity supplies the villages of Rubare, Mushaki, Matanda, Kinigi, Numbi and Minembwe,” he said.
To access power, community members apply for membership from Sabato, who then provides them electricity, which they pay for at the end of every month.
Besides small business owners and families, even school children have felt the impact of Sabato’s electricity.
“When we come back from school, we can now help our parents with the chores without complaining because we know that even after it gets dark, we can do our homework because there is light to see what we are doing,” said a student in Mushaki.
“This is unlike before when we had to use candles, and candles can be dangerous in the house if we are not careful.”
The project has also led to job creation in the community.
“I hire people from here to come and work with me most of the time. We install very long, well-insulated wooden poles to single-phase cables. We then attached cables from the river to the places where people have built houses and shops in the villages,” explained Sabato, who believes there is far greater potential for micro hydropower solutions across the country.
bird story agency