If your car breaks down on the road in Béni, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s difficult to find a mechanic who will come to you because of the high cost of transporting equipment. But one ingenious young man has found a solution: by strapping an electricity generator to a rusted old car, he’s become the town’s first roving garage mechanic.
Driving around Béni’s roads in his junk Volkswagen Beetle – which he runs using a portable electric generator -- Manacé Kipesi makes for an unusual sight. He’s a welder by profession, but cobbled together this ‘mobile garage’ in order to go directly to where his customers need him.
Manacé Kipesi on his homemade car. Photo credit: Alain Wandimoyi.
Our Observer Alain Wandimoyi met Kipesi for the FRANCE 24 Observers.
I happened to be passing through Béni when I saw this rusty car on the road. So I asked to interview him to know more.
He explained to me that in Béni, welders and car mechanics often can’t get out to their customers’ houses. For example, if a customer wants them to redo the doors or some other job on their car, it’s expensive for the mechanic because in order to get to their client’s house, they have to rent a van and an electricity generator so that they can make their welding machine work.
Manacé Kipesi's car runs by using this generator. Photo credit: Alain Wandimoyi.
So in the end it’s expensive for everyone. He told me how he worked for a long time without making a profit because when he travelled to see customers, they would sometimes simply refuse to pay up because they thought the cost was too high. But having your own equipment with you, particularly a generator, is vital. Even if some people have generators at home, they’re rarely powerful enough and can only really be used to power small electrical appliances – not a welding machine!
Manacé Kipesi powers up his welding iron using the generator on his vehicle. Photo credit: Alain Wandimoyi.
So he had the idea of creating a mobile welding workshop from scratch. He began by looking for a scrap car and then completely did it up. He fixed a powerful electricity generator to the back of this old Volkswagen Beetle framework. The energy generated by this generator allows him to drive the car. When he arrives at a customer’s house, he undoes the belt that links the power to the car and attaches it to his welding machine. What really impressed me is that he fixes up everything himself: for example, he re-welds the body of the car whenever there’s an accident – and that’s frequent here in Béni, because of the bad state of the roads.
After each job for a customer, Manacé Kipesi reattaches a belt that links up the generator to the car so that he can start it. Photo credit: Alain Wandimoyi.
Some inhabitants of Béni actually call him not for mechanical work but just for the use of his powerful generator. Once, a customer rang him up to ask him to come over with the generator so that he could power a sound system for a party!
If you want to get in touch with Manacé Kipesi and Alain Wandimoyi, or tell us about an exciting project in your own community, you can contact us on email@example.com!