Archive for December, 2017

Editor’s Note: Post by Declan Murray, a final-year PhD student. The following visual blog post is from his doctoral research. 

Small solar-powered lighting systems are providing more affordable and environmentally friendly energy access to millions of people living off-grid in sub-Saharan Africa.  My research explores what happens when these new technologies break down.  A large component of my fieldwork was spent with electronic repairmen in a small town in the south of Kenya’s Rift Valley.  These photos were taken in August 2017.


Image 1

Image 1: Evans (pictured) is an apprentice to David, who rents this workshop, in the business of repairing electronic devices.  Yet, when it comes to mobile sports betting it is Evans who teaches David.  Every day begins with listening to gospel music and placing bets on football matches around the world.


Image 2

Image 2: Kefa (top right) holds down a re-soldered wire on the circuit board while the customer (bottom left), to whom the solar lantern belongs, holds the battery. I like the contrast of the hands in this picture.  Kefa’s hands, like the bench he is working on, show the burns, dust, and scratches sustained from the thousands of electronics he has repaired.  Meanwhile, the customer’s are obviously accustomed to a less manual labour.


Image 3

Image 3: This is Rono’s soldering iron.  The most vital tool in an electronic repairman’s inventory, the soldering iron, is normally heated by electricity. But without a grid connection in his wooden kiosk, Rono heats his iron in a kerosene stove.


Image 4

Image 4: Yusuf’s workshop is full of old electronics. Inside that he does most of his work on this chair out the front.  Having recently become the pastor of a local church, Yusuf wants to move away from what he sees as the dishonesty of the repair business, where repairmen over-charge on components and deliberately hide their work from less knowledgeable customers.


Image 5

Image 5: Solar lanterns, like this d.light S200, are arriving more and more often to repair workshops like Richard’s, but with replacement parts almost impossible to come by, many are simply left unrepaired. Priority is rather given to minibus radios and church keyboards, which provide higher profits.


Electronic repairmen like those I have worked with in Kenya offer a vital support infrastructure to people in countries across sub-Saharan Africa.  Although a dirty and dusty job, I sometimes wonder if, as proponents of clean technologies such as solar power, they are not doing as much for the environment.



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