At the café someone whispers something in Julius Mutanga Muteti’s ear. It’s the car, again! It has been stopped by the police. The car is Julius’ taxi, and his driver needs money for the cop, who stopped him. The driver has done nothing wrong, but it doesn’t affect Julius, it’s business as usual. He leaves the café. You have to bribe the police officers to make things run smoothly. A few minutes later Julius is back and we continue our chat over tea.
We meet in his neighborhood, Eastleigh, which is predominantly inhabited by Somali immigrants, by some called Little Mogadishu as well as a country within the country with its own economy. According to Wikipedia this is on account of its robust business sector. And robust it certainly is, not only the economy, everything is robust here. It’s a part of Nairobi you’ll not find described in the tourist literature, in fact not many from outside Eastleigh come here, and to be honest at first sight I wouldn’t go there either unless I had business and was accompanied (that changed after I’d been there a few hours). But I have business and I am in the pleasant company of partnership relations officer Kevin Njuguna from MYC4’s office in Nairobi and branch manager Joshua Kithome Muinde from SISDO. We are going to meet three borrowers who are in the same group.
And that’s how I meet Julius and two of his friends. Over and over again Julius says: “We have the brains and the ability – but we lack the funding to be boosted higher”. He’s afraid that I’ll judge them as not being smart enough, but I soon learn that they are men who’ll grasp any opportunity they can get their hands on to improve their situation. They are eager to move up. “Yes”, says one of the others, “we need to get boosted”.
Nothing wrong with the name though, Eastleigh Enterprices is the impressive name of Julius’s business which consists of the cab and a little road side shed or kiosk where his nephew sells fruit and vegetables. At home his wife manages the house with rooms for rent. He would like to buy a truck and go as far as Congo, he says. No doubt that Julius is the entrepreneurial kind. It was on his initiative that the group was set up, he’s the chairman, and now he’s on his third loan for 150,000 Kenyan Shillings (1340 EURO) through SISDO.
Julius gets up every morning at 4.30; he goes to market to buy vegetables for his little kiosk, and rarely does his day end earlier than 7 o’clock at night. – We family men share the same problems, we have too many expenses for schools etc., he says. Another problem is terror. A couple of years ago Eastleigh was targeted by terrorists, handgranates were thrown, probably by Al-Shabaab, business went down, and people are still scared, says Julius. But generally there are no problems with the Somalis. – We’re all interacting, so we are not complaining about that, but the loans we get are too small!
His friend Peter Kiumba wants to show me his business, so we walk along the dusty, noisy and very busy streets of Eastleigh, we cross a yard, go through narrow corridors and end up in a cramped outdoor space with junk all over it. – This is my business, says Peter. –Where? I ask. – All this! Peter points to the heaps of plastic bottles and scrap metal. Peter is in recycling and collects what other people throw out. The bottles are sold to the Chinese who have recycling factories outside Nairobi. Peter is also in the chicken feed business, like Julius he doesn’t want to be vulnerable by focusing on one business only.
Joshua from SISDO tells me afterwards that one of the problems is that Africans don’t borrow enough. – They ask for too little, when they apply for a loan they should always ask for more than they actually need, so they can put a little aside, he tells me as we stroll back to the car. – There’s a lot of pirate money in this neighborhood, look at all the businesses. It’s a sad background, but I like the Somalis and the Muslims, they are very good at taking care of each other, they can count on each other, and we should learn from that.
Next time you are in Nairobi and after you have visited the nice shopping malls make a trip to Eastleigh, there’s a lot of nice things at low prices. And maybe you’ll even meet the Boostie Boys, Julius and Peter.