Meet the legend behind connecting the marginalized regions of Kenya

Most employees in Kenya hate the companies they work for and they would not hesitate to bang the door behind their current employers should a new offer come calling. This is according to a recent employment survey.

But for Mr. Joseph Kihurani, a radio frequency planner, the story is a little different.

He is very passionate about his job and not just because he works for Kenya’s largest telco Safaricom, which was ranked best employer in Africa by Forbes magazine, but because the purpose for which he works is deeply entrenched in his mind, body, and soul. He would rather have it that way, he says.

“In my early days, I once had a dream that when God was creating the planets, he would send me to furthest of them all to work there in typical Star Trek fashion,” says Joseph.

Eleven years ago, upon returning from Germany for some specialized training in, base station subsystems, Joseph landed his current job as a Radiofrequency planner responsible for the deployment of his company’s telecom’s mast countrywide including in the remotest, most inaccessible regions of this nation.

As much as he loves his job which he considers a ‘calling’, it hasn’t come without a set of challenges. At one time during one of those regular trips to inspect a remote area of Kokisim in Turkana, where Safaricom would soon erect a telecoms mast, the area was basically impassable, even fuel guzzlers were of no use.

Joseph and his team had to walk 14 kilometers under the scorching sun and terrain like that of the caves of Hells Gate, were it not for an energy drink and a few biscuits that he had, he probably would have abandoned the mission.

In July of last year, after completing a telecoms mast in Wanagidahang, Mandera County, a mast which he says was one of his best creations, he received the news that it had been blown up by Shabaab militants from neighboring Somalia.

But it is the impact that his work has on communities that gives him strength and the much-needed psych that allows him to continue pursuing despite the challenges, he says.

“When a telecoms mast comes into operation in an area like Kokism in Turkana county or Engamba in Kitui county where the residents of those areas normally had to trek about 30 km to just to make a phone call are now able to do so in the comfort of their homes, it gives me joy and satisfaction and I am always happy to be part of the solution,” he adds.

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Most of the telecoms masts located in marginalized areas exist through state intervention to bring in critical infrastructure under the Universal Service Fund (USF). The fund is spearheaded by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) and it incentivizes mobile operators to build critical infrastructure in areas that do not make financial sense.

To determine the exact location on which to build a mast, Joseph receives names of under-covered and unserved sub locations from the CA, which receives this data from other government agencies such as KNBS and IEBC.

His job will be to determine where the people live in those sub locations and how to serve them best.

After coming up with a good location, he will then start negotiating with communities and landowners on leasing their land. He will also ensure that he has obtained all the licenses from agencies such as the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) and National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).  

At times KCAA has requested relocation of his masts, so as to not interfere with flight paths, which presents a challenge during construction since the initial location which he had set on is usually the most ideal, from an engineer’s perspective.

Under USF, Safaricom has so far commissioned 38 stations out of the 48 it had bid, whose construction, Joseph has directly overseen.

Related: How a telecoms Mast has transformed lives in Baragoi

In some areas, Safaricom has had to request Kenya Power to connect remote regions to the national grid to sustain their base stations.

This means that the residents will have access to both a cellular network and also power, a typical tale of killing two birds with one stone and this for Joseph is a life’s purpose fulfilled.

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