Barely a week after the unveiling of his $100 million Challenge Fund for rural entrepreneurs and enterprises, Strive Masiyiwa’s major telecoms operator Econet, has launched an electrification project to help transform rural enterprises and create employment in Zimbabwe.
The programme, Ugesi Energy is worth millions of dollars and is the second Econet energy business following the successful launch of Distributed Power Africa (DPA) in 2017. DPA is the group’s commercial solar business, focused on building large solar energy systems for commercial and industrial clients.
According to Econet Energy CEO, Norman Moyo, the rural electrification programme is part of Masiyiwa’s broader vision to economically transform rural communities.
“This is very much part of that vision. The entrepreneurs need reliable power if they are to build modern businesses. Ugesi is our answer to those in need of power for start-ups such as dairies, poultry incubators, water pumps for horticulture and even small-scale manufacturing and assembly businesses,” he added.
The plan is to build solar mini-grids at 100 sites across rural Zimbabwe and each grid will provide power for businesses and homes in the communal areas. However, the initial phase will see small grids provide electricity to support businesses, local administration facilities at growth points, schools and clinics.
Providing power to an area within a radius of 5 kilometres to the solar system, the mini-grids would generate enough power to support all electrical appliances and will be accompanied by individual prepaid meters.
The Matabeleland provinces would be the first to benefit from the rural solar energy programme in Zimbabwe with construction set to commence in the coming month.
“Our plan is to roll out at least 10 systems in Matabeleland North and South first, in line with the guidelines we have received from our founder (Masiyiwa),” Moyo said.
In order to reduce the concentration in Harare and stimulate the economic revitalization of other parts of the country, the company’s renewable energy programme will be based in Bulawayo from where it will run the projects nationwide, the senior Econet executive revealed.
The energy challenge in rural Zimbabwe
Rural Zimbabwe is faced with energy challenges due to the prohibitive costs of extending national electricity grids. Although national electricity access stands at 40 percent, only 21 percent of the rural population has access to electricity as against 80 percent of urban dwellers.
The country is landlocked, where agriculture is the major economic driver in the rural areas and un-electrified households use wood as the main source of energy for cooking.
With over 67 percent of the country’s population living in rural areas, the need for improved access to energy in local communities cannot be over-emphasized but current power generated is not sufficient.
The crucial impact of Ugesi
Worldwide, energy access has become a key determinant in improving people’s lives, mainly in rural communities where basic needs are met with difficulty. Through access to clean, affordable and reliable electricity, Ugesi will foster sustainable socio-economic transformation in Zimbabwe’s rural communities in many ways.
Consumers will be able to power electrical equipment for both residential use and business production. The project would also aid the uptake of digital products and services like the mobile banking platform, health, education, which would improve the standard of living.
For commercial activities in rural Zimbabwe, access to stable energy is essential, especially in key economic sectors such as agriculture, small scale enterprises and industrial applications as well as in light scale manufacturing and entrepreneurial innovations.
In addition to providing electricity, Ugesi’s vision is to also provide support to economic activities in targeted communities through initiatives such as chicken and tomato out-grower schemes with guaranteed markets. The out grower and entrepreneurial initiatives increase employment opportunities, the disposable income and the overall livelihood of the community.
The Ugesi Energy initiative is part of what Econet founder Masiyiwa calls Re-Imagine Rural, a concept in which entrepreneurs are challenged to start businesses in rural areas.
The initiative is considered complementary to the efforts of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) and will go a long way reducing pressure on public finance especially in areas additional electricity infrastructure investments.