Bazambaza, the brainchild of Rwanda’s smallest ‘bookstore’

Jean Bazambaza  has for the past five years been vending text books and novels on the streets of the City of Kigali, until recently when he secured himself a spot at the Nyabugogo Taxi Park.
                       Bazambaza attends to a client in his bookstore at Nyabugogo. Despite low reading culture, he managed to pick up a trade in selling used books, mainly of lang....
Bazambaza attends to a client in his bookstore at Nyabugogo. Despite low reading culture, he managed to pick up a trade in selling used books, mainly of lang....

Jean Bazambaza  has for the past five years been vending text books and novels on the streets of the City of Kigali, until recently when he secured himself a spot at the Nyabugogo Taxi Park.

Born on December 11, 1975, in Muhanga, Bazambaza  did not get the privilege of going to school, neither did he ever dream of venturing into the business.

The soft-spoken vendor said he has been into several businesses all his life and selling books was one of them.

“I started this business with only two books. Students would give me books after they have completed studies. As they became many, I decided to directly buy from them at a low price and resell at a slightly higher price to earn a living,” Bazambaza said.

Currently, he has more than 200 books in his stock and not only gets them from former schoolgoing children but also imports some from neighbouring countries like Uganda.

“I have a friend working in a local printing house and sometimes he goes to Uganda for printing or to buy material for his company. So when he finds some nice books that I might need for my business, he buys them for me and I refund his money when he returns,” he adds.

Unlike other business people, Bazambaza does not decide when to start or end his day; his schedule depends on where he keeps his stock.

“I have to wait for the shop owners where I keep my stock to open. They usually open at 8am and close at 6pm. So I make sure I am there on time to remove my goods from their shop, and in case they don’t open then I don’t work that day,” he said with a sense of vulnerability.

Bazambaza  said he would initially sell his books to passersby on the streets and motorists during rush hour. However, when the number of books he was selling accumulated, he opted to secure himself a stall at Nyabugogo where he has been for the past two months.

He sells all types of books ranging from novels, dictionaries, bibles and school text books in English, French and Kinyarwanda. His clients are mostly students and parents.

The business in which Bazambaza  claims to have sunk more than Rwf200,000 keeps growing by the day.

But then again, with the reading culture that has been so wanting and is just picking pace in the country, one would wonder what tickled Bazambaza to venture in the unknown.

However, to the book seller, everything was worth trying because “we are headed into an informed and educated society where people will need these books.”

“I am not making a lot of money at the moment in my business but am optimistic that when people get to know my new address they will come and buy them because we are in an era where reading is key,” Bazambaza  said.

Because of the poor sales in the book business, he also deals in other small products. He sells wallets, phone chargers, ear phones and jewellery for women.

Despite his place not being known to many people, Bazambaza  has loyal clients who always call him to buy his books and also wait in case he doesn’t have a particular book they want in stock. In such situations, he said, with the help of his friends he writes down the books the client wants and looks for it.

“There are times when my clients want, say a dictionary or a particular book and I don’t have it in stock, so I tell them to wait and consult from my suppliers whether they have it and I deliver,” he said.

“When I buy a dictionary at Rwf3,000, I will sell it at Rwf4,000 or Rwf3,500 as long as I get some little profit. I don’t mind about the cost or worth of the original book because these are used books.”

What is interesting is that Bazambaza  doesn’t know how to read despite choosing to sell books. He said it’s hard for him to convince a client to buy his books or explain to him whether it’s a good book. He adds that he sometimes points at the pictures or the glossy cover to convince a buyer to reach for the wallet.

However, all is not rosy for Bazambaza’s book business. He particularly decries the low sales.

“I sometimes sell only two or three books in a day and some don’t want to buy my books because they are old,” he said.

Bazambaza  has to contribute monthly Rwf5,000 in taxes and Rwf20,000 as rent for the space he uses for vending.

Despite the rough patch in his business Bazambaza has managed to put a roof on his wife and three children, besides other basic needs such as education.

He urges Rwandans to have a reading culture, especially in this era where the majority populace are educated and informed.

For now, though, it appears Bazambaza’s dream is to enroll in an institute of languages such that he can at least learn to read and write to better his business.

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