This Rwandan man has powered his entire community with clean hydroelectric energy
Fed up with the perennial darkness in his village, Israel Habimana sold his house and piece of land and used the proceeds to build a mini-hydroelectric power station. Today the Kirehe region enjoys unlimited electricity access.
by Hakizimana Themistocle/bird story agency
For the first 13 years of Israel Habimana’s life, he had neither heard of nor known about electricity. Many in his community of Kirehe, a border region between Rwanda and Tanzania, had also lived and died without access to electricity.
But in 1981, he visited the capital Kigali and was intrigued by how well-lit it was. The allure of the lights never faded, and he vowed to find a way to bring electricity to his village.
“In this region, we lived all without electricity, I myself have been living in a house without electricity for many years. The idea of building this infrastructure came to me when I saw the lighting in Kigali,” he said.
Years later, Habimana saw a mini hydroelectric power station while visiting Mwendo Catholic Missionary Centre in western Rwanda. Without consulting anyone, he started building a replica of what he had seen.
“In 2012, I sold my house and land for $17,000 and used the proceeds to buy used engines and water pipes in Kigali, which I assembled to make a hydroelectric plant,” he explained.
With this initial success, he was able to power over 50 families in his community. However, after four months, he stopped the project.
“The first families who had electricity in their homes were celebrating. Most of them saw the light of electricity for the first time. It was the end of using traditional lamps, and above all, we thought of the new business that were to come,” he said.
“I lighted this community for four months. But due to failure to regulate electricity, it burned people’s electronics and I decided to stop it,” Habimana added.
After this incident, Habimana approached the then Rwanda Energy Group (REG) for advice and training and continued his pursuit in October 2017.
The institution linked Habimana with Energy4Impact, a Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, to upgrade the 24Kw Nyankorogoma hydropower plant initiated by Habimana.
Today, Habimana’s power plant supplies 221 households and 25 businesses in five villages. And at least 300 homes and businesses are waiting to receive electricity from the plant.
Each family pays at least a $45 start-up fee to access electricity from the plant and then a flat rate of $1 for monthly consumption for a household and 5$ for any business activity.
Since the arrival of electricity in the area, new businesses have sprung up, changing many people’s lives.
Jan Pierre Sindikubwabo is one of Habimana’s clients. His carpentry workshop, which he started in 2018, had been operating without electricity until May 2022, when he connected to the plant.
“Before the arrival of electricity, I could not finish one door a day, which caused backlogs and delays, and now I finish more than ten doors or windows a day. Israel’s infrastructure has been the key to opening up many activities,” said Sindikubwabo.
Ron Weiss, the chief executive officer of Rwanda Energy Group, agrees with Sindikubwabo.
“First of all, we are very happy with these kinds of people that are taking initiatives, finding financing and overcoming difficulties. In this specific area of Kirehe, when he (Habimana) started about three or four years ago, this was much needed.”
And although Habimana has brought electricity to Kirehe, some villages in the area still lack electricity. His power plant’s capacity is much lower than the demand, and pricing is also a limitation for some.
Despite the challenges, Habimana is proud of how far he has come. The hydroelectric plant employs about 15 people, and the economic activities in Kirehe have diversified. The village now has sewing, carpentry, and welding workshops, among many others.
“I designed and made this project without having been to school. But I know that if I had gone to school, I would have done miracles, and I wouldn’t have lost a lot of money,