FROM HIS SHACK in Kangemi, a slum at the western edge of Nairobi, Gilbert Onduko sells bare essentials to his neighbours. A blackboard above the hatch lists prices for ugali (maize cooked into a sort of porridge), farina (similar to semolina) and cooking oil. On the roof of the shack is a small solar panel, about the size of a tea tray, which powers two lights inside and a mobile phone. Since he got it, about a month before your correspondent visited, Mr Onduko has been able to keep his shop open until midnight rather than just in the daytime. He has also cut down his kerosene bill by 100 shillings (about $1) a day—a hefty saving in a Nairobi slum. “And now my phone is always charged,” he grins.
Mr Onduko’s story shows how electricity can improve Africans’ lives. But it also shows what access to credit can do. It was not technology that was stopping shopkeepers in Nairobi’s slums from having electricity.