Courage comes in different forms. We often say we are courageous when it comes to making a decision or making a move that we have never made before. Some courageous actions are actions and decisions made instantly. But that wasn’t the case for this Iron lady. This is the story of a city girl with a strong passion for the camel business.
Kibre Mulat, a mother of three, is a lady of action, dedication and persistence. Known to her Egyptian customers as Madam Kerry, she is the only woman who exports camels in Ethiopia to lands as far as Egypt.
Born and raised in Eastern Harerge, Kibre completed her education in various locations. She moved to the city of Harar to complete her secondary school and later joined the Addis Ababa College of Commerce in Addis Ababa for her higher education.
Kibre always finds herself amazed by how she wound up in her current business. But she admits it was her daring personality that carved her path in life.
Although Kibre was familiar with the business sector due to her upbringing, she didn’t venture into the world of business immediately after her higher education. She first worked as a secretary to a General Manager at the Wabishebele Hotel. While working there, she was unable to pay for her rent and support her three children. Kibre explained, “I was financially troubled and got to the point where I was asking for loans from my friends, to pay the house rent”.
Kibre managed with her rent somehow by selling off some of her furniture. At this point however, Kibre made the decision to change her profession in order to generate a higher income and obtain a better standard of living.
The first business she got into was selling liquor. This business venture was easy for Kibre as she had access to guests traveling from abroad. This business gave birth to another one, ie selling used cars.
In 2005, Kibre started reselling used cars and generating higher incomes that alleviated her from her financial burdens. Kibre then ventured off into the cattle business whereby she would sell cattle in the local markets. Luck came her way when she got an order of exporting a 2.3 Million Birr worth of cattle to Sudan. Unfortunately, Kibre sold her cattle on a credit basis and went through various hurdles to receive her payment.
“Persistence take you to places that you don’t normally imagine you would go” says Kibre. “I had to go stay at the Sudanese- Ethiopian border for 3 months to get my money back. I managed to get a Sudanese ID, dressed up like a Sudanese and chased the fugitive that refused to pay my money. With the help of government officials, I managed to have him detained and brought him to the Ethiopian side of the boarder Metema”. With the support of the Ethiopian Embassy in Sudan, Kibre managed to get half of her money but the fugitive was released on bail.
Whilst living in the border of Metema/Gelabat, Kibre met a humble Sudanese man who was in the business of selling camels to Egypt and advised Kibre to do the same. Now, it’s been 7 years since Kibre has been in the camel business.
“It’s not an easy business” she says. “Each camel needs to be loaded with a crane on trucks and ships, as they are heavy and cannot be transported easily” explained Kibre.
‘Traveling along the camels became my duty in order to accompany the trucks as far as Djibouti where they are then transferred to the ship and head to the port of Egypt,’ she says. It was necessary for Kibre to be part of this process as trucks may be delayed and camels may die during the journey.
In Ethiopia, ownership of camel signifies ones status in the community. The more camels one has, the more respect they gain. Back in the days, a camel would be served to mourn the death of a highly respected or elderly person. Similarly it was also served during a wedding ceremony for the wealthy. Ever since her camel business started, Kibre has exported 5,000-10,000 camels annually. The peak season for the camel business is during Ramadan explained Kibre.
When Kibre first started this business, there were both men and women handling this profession. She is now the only woman out of the very few left running this business. Her good reputation has helped her develop trust, especially amongst her Egyptian customers, in which they send her cash in advance without any pre requisition.
Kibre owns her own barn in a town close to Adama, about 99 kms from Addis Ababa. Every 3 to 4 weeks, she goes out to the camel market, procures camels and stations them at her barn before being shipped out. Usually at the barn, they take medications, vaccinations and other health related check-ups and wait for their shipment date while being fed corn and other grains that will help them sustain the long journey. Kibre notes that the process is tiresome as each load can carry from 2000-3000 camels.
Kibre is also involved in developing her community. She is the co-founder of Sewasewa village – a humanitarian village near, Debre Libanos. The village has been turned into an NGO that tends to the needy, both young and old.
At the barn, Kibre makes sure that she takes care of her employees by making sure that they are well compensated. Most, she says, have transformed their lives for the better as they are paid per camel. Employees live in the compound with their kids and extended family which in addition, helps reduce their costs. Furthermore, Kibre manages to allocate the little free time she has to spend time with her grandchildren.
Kibres platform for success was sprung due to her financial burdens. She also attributes her success to the many lessons she learnt from her managers and her father who prompted her to be a risk taker.
It is Kibres dream to open a slaughter factor and have her children help manage it. She is now conducting the feasibility study of the business and will hopefully operationalize very soon.
When asked what message she has for the young women of Ethiopia, Kibre says “we shouldn’t be picky with our profession. We should be in a position to be daring and rise to our full potential”.
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