Kenya Power's recent financial returns have drawn criticism from some quarters on declining consumption affecting revenues, rekindling debate on the Last Mile Connectivity (LMC) project’s, partly blamed for low revenue from its beneficiaries.
Funded by the World Bank, LMC phase 1 sought to connect 314,200 households that otherwise wouldn't afford upfront connectivity fees. Rightfully so, since many beneficiaries were in rural and least income urban areas. Similar to access programmes in healthcare, LMC has characteristics missed by such critics, most of whom are urban dwellers already on the grid.
My last decade as a frontier district health worker suggests alternative sentiments out here in the bush. Access programmes shouldn't be evaluated on financial returns only, and when they are so judged, a horizon timeline must be taken.
Though halted, LMC’s impact will be realised across healthcare, education, social and cultural spheres in a decade. From a health worker and rural development aid practitioner's viewpoint, the World Bank, government, KPLC project's return on investment must not be judged in such a short time and should also include non-monetised returns.
My quarantine survey of my 70km neighbourhood radius that benefitted from the project has many positives. A rural health facility is guaranteed vaccine safety for 20,000 babies in our area because the local dispensary freezers have electricity now, LMC is about availing lights, powering a radio and TV so our single nurse can endure the weekend in the remote bush. It's about the only laboratory in 1,200km2 area attaining diagnostic capacity for tuberculosis, infectious diseases and pregnant mothers having antenatal clinic tests, to stop poor Kenyans travelling 170km for such services.
It's about an overworked frontier teacher marking her pupils' homework in her mabati house at night and upgrading her education through an online university degree courses. It's about her students squeezing an extra hour at night or dawn to finish their homework and prepare for exams, so they can compete with over- advantaged city peers. LMC is about establishing a physics lab in our local high school.
It's about a young Moran opening up a barbershop, or a young lady a salon deep in the Tsavo, it’s about us gathering in a local pub to have a cold beer and enjoy the English Premier League, like our city peers. It's about old men in the village watching news in a neighbour's house, debating our country's political and economic trajectory.
LMC is about tomato farmers in Iltilal village charging their phones and marketing their produce online. It’s about Safaricom finally setting up a mast so my area can enjoy reliable 3G connectivity for the first time, allowing grandmothers to video call grandchildren in distant towns, putting a smile on their twilight years, allowing an M-Pesa shop to bring financial inclusivity and mobile banking services here.
This programme is an affirmative action investment towards equity, equality and a socio-cultural change catalyst. The funders should support its resumption.