In yet another pioneering, disruptive development, Econet has launched Ugesi Energy. Ugesi seeks to transform rural communities through the provision of solar power. The $45 million solar power rural electrification programme will cover 100 growth points around the country and Matabeleland will be its launch pad. Econet already has a large solar energy business known as Distributed Power Africa which was launched two years ago.
Ugesi Energy will put up mini grids which will provide power to areas within a 5km radius and consumers will have prepaid meters and they will be buying electricity according to their need. Soon after the launch, Econet Energy Group Chief Executive Officer Norman Moyo said, “The first 10 will be in Matabeleland. With the first three, we expect to have them in the next six months up and running. Then obviously, there is investment happening outside… In other markets, we will work with different partners. We have got something coming up in Botswana. So the concept is gaining traction.” Moyo went on, “We are also looking for people that we can work with, the locals. So when we show up, we show up with our panels, equipment and one or two supervisors.”
What this tells us is that the project will create employment for locals. Zimbabwe could do with a great deal of employment creation. Econet Founder Strive Masiyiwa is on a deliberate push to initiate and support rural business ventures. Recently, he announced a $100 million rural entrepreneurship fund under his new tag line Re-Imagine Rural. It is not a coincidence that 25% of this fund is earmarked to benefit Matabeleland. At its peak, Bulawayo had booming industry but, years of economic shrinkage have left it almost on its knees, needing nothing but meaningful investment to re-ignite business.
Electricity in Zimbabwe
The Rural Electrification Agency (REA), a parastatal which was mandated to electrify rural areas has, like many other parastatals, not been able to meet its targets. This is due to funding constraints and other hardships. The world over, preference for solar power has grown tremendously with countries like Morocco leading the pack. What would have been our flagship solar project, the Gwanda Solar Farm has suffered what appears to be a false start. Talk of any other government supported solar projects has not yet translated into anything tangible on the ground. As such, this is perfect timing for Ugesi Energy as the market is ripe for low cost, sustainable and reliable energy sources like solar. Government’s slow pace in implementing its projects hands Ugesi the market share on a silver platter. But, far from declaring competition, Ugesi Energy seems to be positioning itself to augment government efforts to provide clean energy, support rural entrepreneurship and uplift lives.
In Strive Masiyiwa, we are talking of an entrepreneur who knows how to solve day to day challenges with peculiar but effective solutions, while making money out of it all. You just need to look at how Econet is unbundling to understand this. According to the Ugesi Energy website, solar mini grids will connect schools, irrigation schemes, clinics, households and other businesses and will take advantage of Econet’s other offerings, Ecocash, Ecosure, Ecofarmer, Steward Bank and others to offer digital transformation in rural areas. Piece after piece, the puzzle continues to come together. Ugesi Energy is another masterstroke made by champions in business.
We can’t help but marvel at the work that Econet is doing in almost all spheres of our lives. Ugesi Energy already has an edge over other would be solar providers because of Ecocash and other earlier Econet/Cassava Smartech products. And, what they are providing is what everyone in rural areas needs right now, power.