A guest-post by Ann-Kathrin Hosenfeld & Benjamin Georg, who are currently visiting BEN Namibia projects for Benjamin’s post-grad research on bicycles and women’s empowerment.
The Kaoko Bicycle Shop is a Bicycle Empowerment Center in Opuwo that has been running for only nine months. It is a development project implemented by the Bicycling Empowerment Network Namibia to improve people’s livelihoods through providing access to affordable transport solutions: in this case bicycles.
But what happens with the bikes that are sold?
“You will find me in Opuwo, I am the guy with the reflective security vest!”
Joree, 29, has all it needs to be a successful entrepreneur. For four months now he is a proud mobile photographer. “I go to the villages, ne? In Opuwo, there are many photographer but nobody go to villages! My business is very good for the people.”
With the sturdy refurbished mountainbike he bought from Kaoko Bicycle Shop he immediately became a well-known service provider in and around Opuwo.
We ask him how his business performs. With a smile behind his sunglasses he answers: “Well, it’s not my first bicycle! From the profits I made in the first three months, I could buy two more bikes for my younger brothers!” Joree mentions that those bicycles enable them to save time and energy on their way to school, also helping them to keep in touch with friends and first dates. The girls love bicycles, he says.
It all started with some smart advice given to him by his uncle Ndende, 38, in their homestead in Okorosave. “I was a bit lazy, I didn’t know what to do with my time but then Ndende said to me I should go and sell two goats to buy a camera and become a photographer.”
Joree was able to make profits with that but he saw that not only in Opuwo there was a demand for the service he provided. In remote places like Okorosave, his homestead 20km from Opuwo in the Kaokoveld, clients were urging him to take pictures for them. He realized that with a bicycle he could easily reach many more clients than on foot or by taking occasional lifts by cars. “With a lift you never know when you arrive since there are few cars going outside Opuwo and you have to pay a lot for it. With a bike I can be at any place, at any time and I always know how to go back to Opuwo in the evening.”
Sometimes he goes around the whole day from village to village and customer to customer. “I do reliable business and people can always reach me – that´s most important. The only problems sometimes are the cars – that´s why I wear the reflective vest. They don’t respect a cyclist.” (Sadly, we make the same observation while riding our tandem.)
Since the cell phone network around Opuwo is working fine and most people own a mobile phone, people started asking for Joree´s services at family celebrations and at other occasions.
“After I take the pictures I go to Opuwo to develop the pictures at a machine in the pharmacy. When I visit the village next time I sell one picture for ten dollars (US $1.40, 1 Euro). Everybody is happy with that.”
Joree takes us with him to his village for a short visit at his uncle´s and brother´s place to show us how he does his business. We start in the morning with our tandem and are astonished about the high temperatures we face in late autumn in Kaoko.
“Ya, you find that hot? For me is winter, I am very happy now. In summer I go around at very high temperatures since it´s my job. It works: You just need to drink a lot. You get used to it.”
Often he goes off-road for a while to deliver some pictures, catching up with us in no time. The hilly territory around Opuwo makes it an even more challenging job – but Joree is very happy that he can travel around and meet people, and is obviously very fit.
The relatively low initial investment for a bicycle as a means of individual transport – 700 to 1,000 Namibian dollars (70-100 Euro) can act as a door opener into a whole new world: “Before, I earned very little money as a subsistence farmer. I’m very happy with my new situation.” His plans for the future? “Getting my own picture printer to work even more efficient and maybe one day have photographers working for and with me.”
The overall outcome is already astonishing: Out of a small development project, in this case a totally independent SME (small to medium size enterprise, a key aspect of namibian business development politics) came into being – only with a little support from the family but most of all through the entrepreneurial chutzpah of Joree and his uncle Ndende. “The bicycle changed my life – now I found something useful for myself that pays off and I can give something back to my family. With the money I also bought back more goats then I invested before! ”