I’ll bet you never give much thought to where tires and wheels come from. Yet they are everywhere mounted on anything that moves, and without them the world would not be the same. We take them for granted, but – surprise! – they are manufactured somewhere, and someone is making a profit of it.
The manufacturing of the round rubber things can be a messy affair – and rather smelly as it turns out. I realize that as I enter Twiga Rubber in Nairobi. It’s a family business run by the Wangaris, husband and wife and two sons. It’s one of the sons, Anthony, who shows me, Faith Wambua from MYC4 and compliance manager Benson Kamande from Micro Africa around on the factory.
To me, who comes from Denmark which has a long history of environment protection, labor unions and workers’ rights, Twiga Rubber has quite a way to go in terms of that. This is manufacturing in its raw form, focus is on the products, not on the people who produce them. You have to be rather robust to work here, and that’s the way it is in many SME businesses in Africa. Apart from that Twiga Rubber being number two in its field is a huge success.
– We started out 25 years ago by recycling tires, says Beth Wangari. Today we produce between 5.000 and 10.000 wheels a month. One of our forces is that we produce small wheels for wheelbarrows, trolleys etc., and not many do that. That has put us where we are now.
With 30 employees Twiga Rubber is quite a big business, but Beth Wangari has plans.
– Customers come to us for big quantities, which is good for us. We want to have departments all over Kenya, and eventually also move into South Sudan, which is a Klondike now after their recent vote for independence. But the situation must stabilize there before we cross the border, she says.
I’m actually interviewing her, but Anthony keeps interrupting. He’s eager to tell me everything and what he’d like to see happen to the business.
– Micro Africa has been very good for us, they are very caring, although I find the interest high. They understand us when we suddenly need money to pay for goods that have landed in the port of Mombasa. With ordinary banks it takes too long, too many documents have to be filled out, he tells me.
Twiga Rubber imports raw materials from countries like Brazil, Malaysia and Zanzibar (Tanzania).
The factory is neither founded nor based on micro loans, but micro loans have come in handy when needed. The loans from Micro Africa have also been spent on machinery and a van.
Benson Kamande from Micro Africa is very impressed with what the family has achieved.
– The couple has a long experience and they are good business people even though they have no formal education. No doubt they have grown with the help from micro finance. You could say that their business is a simple one, but they’re good, and the two sons have generated new energy into it. In Micro Africa we’re very comfortable with Twiga Rubber, he says.
Back in Denmark I often use my wheelbarrow in the garden. But after I visited the enthusiastic people at Twiga Rubber in Nairobi I can’t help wondering: Who on earth made the wheel on the squeaking thing?