There’s been a flurry of interest in electrifying Africa, and Abbey Wasswa of Kampala knows why. Even in Africa’s capital cities, such as Kampala (where I met Wasswa this week), there isn’t enough juice to go around. Indeed, electricity outages — and even outlets — are in such short supply that many ordinary Kampalans routinely scramble to charge their mobile phones. In pursuit of satisfying these electricity-challenged Kampalans, Wasswa recently opened a phone-charging station in one of the city’s poor neighborhoods.
I’ve been harping on the need for expanding power sources in Africa, especially hydro-electric sources, for some time (see the Wall Street Journal’s brief report on my insights from its May 8, 2007 editon). To be sure, the widespread and severe shortages of electricity in many African countries does mean business opportunities such as offering phone-charging as a service. Wassway, for instance, asks for about 30 cents to fully charge a single mobile phone. Because there are 3 million mobile phone users in Uganda, the market for phone-charging is not small. Indeed, Wasswa has plenty of competitors. Still, Wasswa sees an opportunity both to earn a small profit and to provide an essential service to his neighbors. “In the ghetto,” he says, “many people don’t have a place to charge their phones.” His store — a shack, really, on the side of dirt road — is such a place.
“Don’t you have phone-charging stories in your country?” Wasswa asks me early in our conversation.
“No, we don’t,” I answer.