When I was hitch hiking the US as a young man in the seventies I sometimes had to spend the night in bus depots or open-round-the-clock restaurants. One of them was a restaurant called “Jack in the Box”, a chain of burger joints with lousy coffee and big ambitions. One night I was staring at their motto over my umpteenth cup of stale brew. The motto said: “ Watch out McDonalds – we’re coming!” Meaning, of course, that the little Jack would eat the great Ronald McDonald for breakfast sooner than he could count all his billions. We all know that didn’t happen, but I came to think about that motto, when I visited a small shop in the Nairobian neighbourhood, Kawangware.
Behind the counter was Josephine Wlangui and husband Patrick Kanja Ragae. Jack in the Box was open 24/7 – Josephine and Patrick not quite so many hours, but from 7 in the morning till 7 in the evening they are open for business, 12 hours every day, only closed during church time on Sundays. To the customers the shop is just a hole in the wall, where you place your order. We’re not talking supermarket or self-service here.
– You have to be there for the customers, otherwise they will go elsewhere, says Patrick as he’s paying attention to a customer, who’s buying a couple of cigarettes. The purchase is quite typical: People buy little at a time, a few biscuits, a bag of rice, a bottle of cooking oil, but this has not stopped Patrick’s ambitions.
– We’re doing well, but we would like to take it further. A real supermarket is my plan, and since you ask why not supermarkets all over, even in other countries, Patrick dreams on. And this is where I think: Nakumatt, go home!
Their shop is eight years old, and they have two employees who bike around the neighborhood with goods. They have three children and live with some family but would like to have a house of their own. They are on their second loan through Micro Africa (100.000 Kshs), the first (30.000 Kshs) was paid back on time. They have no problems paying and would like a third loan. With me this morning is branch manager from Micro Africa Jobes Omondi, and Patrick enthusiastically asks him what the limit is. – It can go as high as 1 million Kshs, Jobes tells him.
Loan officers from Micro Africa come around every so often and can see for themselves that everything is running smoothly. Jobes Omondi: – The good thing about it is that they are a couple. Family stability is a big issue for us in the micro finance world. They are both aware of what it takes, and they have a good customer base. The wife is really good, and they are good with money.
Most likely Josephine and Patrick will not push Nakumatt aside any day soon, but less can do it, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the ambitions are there in the small shop in Kawangware as well as a will to work hard for it.