In Kenya sales of these solar lamps are stalling. The Kenyan Importer Francis Kamau seems not to vest much interest in them. „It’s become just a small part of my business“, he tells me on the phone. “My main work now is in construction. ” After three visits in Kenya with tries to fix an interview he mails me to please leave him alone and contact the German exporter Solux. Which I do.
The only full time employee of Solux Ltd. Johann Mutzbauer picks me up at the metro station of Taufkirchen near Munich. The non profit Limited designs the solar lamps and has them assembled in China. The company was founded by the Solux NGO (“e.V.”) which according to German law cannot easily sell lamps without giving up its charitable status.
In a dark staircase in the industrial building where his office is located he shows the lamp to me. “Here you see, under the lamp three or four people can read and write”, he says. And in fact I have the impression it serves the purpose better than most lamps I saw in poor Kenyan houses. It is not easy to learn for school after sunset with the usual light in the countryside. On the other hand, the many solar lamps in the Kenyan shops are less expensive than Mutzbauer’s Solux lamps. You can buy many brands in any supermarket.
The Solux lamps may be comparatively expensive, but they are worth their price, Mutzbauer says. To demonstrate this he bounces a lamp onto the floor to demonstrate it is worth the price. Die “LED 100″ lamp remains undamaged and stoically continues shining. In its retro design barrel shape made of extra thick plastic it had rolled on the floor.
Even if a poor Kenyan can save about 35 Euros for Kerosine per year, it is not easy to convince him to invest between 30 und 70 Euros into a lamp including the solar charger.
You can order the lamps as kits to be assembled by the villagers – for jobs and training in technical and business matters. That is the idea, but it is not profitable. So twenty years after the idea came up only few charitable organizations or church communities still do the effort to open a Solux lamp workshop.
The fact that some connectors in the lamp have to be soldered is a possible source of errors. Pretty soon Mutzbauer wants to distribute kits that can just be plugged and screwed together. Also because in the villages without soldering a solar lamp with the help of a power generator is a strange thing to do. On the other hand, the lamps are no throwaway item. Even after decades he receives orders for spare parts, Mutzbauer says.
Still, up to 20,000 lamps are being sold each year worldwide. But the Solux NGO (German: “e.V.”) will deregister itself soon, after 20 years, says Mutzbauer because no young members have joined. Then Solux Non Profit Ltd. will continue alone. But I ask myself: For how long?