Nairobi night trade bursts alive with street lighting

kibra at night: Goreti Atieno, ‘Mama Samaki’ sells fish to Kenya Power MD Ben Chumo in Kibra on March 17.
kibra at night: Goreti Atieno, ‘Mama Samaki’ sells fish to Kenya Power MD Ben Chumo in Kibra on March 17.

It's 10.20pm on a warm Tuesday night. At Kibera's Silanga area, it looks 7pm. There is a lot of bustle and movement, with no signs of people slowing down despite the time. Several vendors line-up the streets and the tiny corridors of the vast East African slum, one would be forgiven for thinking the day just broke, because of the numerous businesses that are still open late into the night.

But it was not always this way.

"Here you would have been mugged. This place was inhabitable at night," says 23 year old Kelvin Garang. Garang who runs a small food kiosk, sells samosas outside his kiosk during the evenings targeting customers during the rush hour, who want a snack to-go.

"Nowadays I sell samosas worth Sh3,000 every day because I open until 11pm. Previously I used to sell between 7pm and 8pm and could only manage about Sh1,000 on a good day."

Kibera's small and micro-economy is improving thanks to a street lighting project being undertaken by the government.

"Kibera is now very safe and the economy is growing. Below every street light there is a mama mboga or another business," says Kenya Power managing director Ben Chumo.

"Everyone can see the fish even if they are far", fish vendor Goretti Atieno says with a smile. "I can sell up to around midnight," adds a delighted Atieno.

For the longer business hours, she says, she has managed to increase her income to Sh2,500 on average per day from Sh1,000 on a good day prior to the installation of street lights in the area.

"The lights have helped a lot. Even on security am not worried."

A stone-throw away from Atieno, loud music is blaring from a shanty painted pink. Its a dance club for the area. Laughter and lively chatter can be heard coming from the shanty.

"They are in a disco, enjoying themselves. Even this place has a club, security is not a problem anymore, people walk at night," comments a passerby when he notices my curious stare at the shanty.

For sure, Kibera has truly transformed. From a highly feared slum at night to a beehive of activity all thanks to street lighting.

From floodlights to LED lights, Kenya Power has ensured a majority of the area is well lit under the project which is supported by Treasury and the Nairobi County government.

And it is not just Kibera that has come alive at night.

In Nairobi's Central Business District, backstreets such as Kirinyaga and River road are lined up with various vendors at night. A late night drive through these streets reveals that from hawkers selling boiled eggs and tea to security guards and bus crews, to miraa vendors, business is thriving.

Prior to the implementation of the street light project, these two areas were notorious for muggings and break-ins. Robbers and muggers it seems, are not too daring anymore thanks to the 1000-watt LED lights that can illuminate a distance of about a kilometre.

"You can see the streets of Nairobi are bright and people are walking about, enjoying their night life," says Chumo pointing to an alley off Kirinyaga road.

Under the ongoing street lighting programme set to take between three months to six months to be completed, 338 street lights are to be refurbished while about 445 are to be set up. The latter will require a lot more work where Kenya Power has to dig underground to install the cabling for the lights.

In the first phase of the project -t he rapid results initiative bit - Kenya Power was given 10 days to set up 705 streetlights on the road linking Westlands and Ngong Road also known as the Missing Link. It runs from Westlands roundabout, Kileleshwa through Yaya Centre and ends on Ngong Road.

Kenya Power has set up 14 teams in Nairobi to put up street lights in estates and the CBD. How fast the project ends, Chumo says, depends on availability of funds.

"But I think by December, the entire Nairobi should be bright enough to ensure Kenyans resume their night life. In some estates there will be floodlights put."

To set up new infrastructure for the street lights that will be put up from scratch will cost Sh8 billion for the entire project. The renovation of existing street lights in Nairobi has a budget of Sh953 million.

The biggest challenge to lighting up Nairobi, according to Kenya Power, has been vandalism. However, under the new project several measures have been taken to ensure security of the refurbished and new lighting infrastructure.

"We have welded the inspection chamber

to deter vandals from tampering with it. Before this, one could easily open it. We have also placed the cables deeper underground than we used to before while the meter box is now elevated and higher up the light post that one would require a special vehicle to access it," explains Kenya Power's general manager for network management Benson Mureithi.

Once Nairobi is done, Kenya Power will roll out the project to other counties which have set aside funds for the lighting. Already Kajiado, Bomet, Eldoret and Mombasa have started setting up street lights together with Kenya Power.

To entice more counties to take up the programme, the government has reduced electricity tariff charged to counties for the power used by the street lights fromSh11 to Sh4 per kilowatt hour so that the local governments can afford to pay their power bills.