Unreliable Access to Electricity Holds Nairobi’s Residents Back from Their Dreams
16 years ago, Akiniyi left her fishing village in Western Kenya in search of a steady income in Nairobi. Although the 28 year old works as a hairdresser in the Zimmerman neighborhood, about 13 kilometers from downtown, she lives in a densely populated, low-income housing settlement nearby called Githurai 44.
In Githurai, Akiniyi lives with her husband, brother, and four year old and nine year old sons. She and her husband have highly variable incomes— typically averaging US $450 each month. Akiniyi’s husband is informally self-employed, driving a motorized bike or tuktuk and selling “luggage bags” or metal storage boxes for boarding school students. Akinyi began braiding her fellow schoolmates’ hair in high school, and dreams of opening her own salon if she can find a way to overcome the burden of the initial investment.
To achieve her dream, access to electricity will be critical for Akiniyi. Given that cities like Nairobi are usually first to gain national electricity grid service, the fact that slums often lack electricity services goes overlooked. Although Akiniyi’s salon pays up to $60 per month for access to the national grid supplied by the Kenya Power and Lighting Company, she faces frequent power outages—sometimes lasting ten minutes, sometimes lasting several hours.
On a busy day during the busiest seasons, right before schools open in January, May and September, Akiniyi can work up to 15 hours a day and make as much as $20. But when the transformer blows, all of her business equipment—blow dryers, salon dryers, flat irons, phone chargers and radio—gets cut off. This unpredictability directly affects Akinyi’s ability to earn a living and achieve her dream of owning her own salon.