In December 1903, an eccentric fellow called George Wilson aka Bwana Tayari lowered Kenya’s first car from a steamship in Mombasa. It was a De Dion Bouton.
“They [onlookers] watched this object of wonder with a mixture of reverence and disbelief as the cameraman disappeared behind a whoosh of magnesium powder that doused everyone in clouds of acrid smoke,” the inimitable Gavin Bennett, Motoring journalist, writes. “Little did they realise how apt a prelude that was.”
Not so far from where the De Dion set off for the hinterlands,- slower than a mule but more expensive to run-, an intrepid, enterprising, Kenyan has come up with his own De Dion Bouton.
Meet Tyson Chokwe, 23. He hails from Tezo, Kilifi County. Bubbling with ambition and the drive to fulfil a childhood dream of owning a car, he has fabricated his own.
The car, which resembles the very first versions of Ford Model T, has been fabricated mostly from motorcycle parts: The tyres, the dash gauges, the braking system, and the kick-start mechanism. And when the engine breathes into life, it pitter patters just like a motorcycle.
The steering wheel is from a discarded brake disc. The seats resemble those of a restaurant that has fallen back on rent for many months. There are headrests [back supports?] for good measure. The chassis is from standard steel rods commonly used in construction.
Chokwe is a man of relatively modest formal training. After his education at Mtondia Primary and Mashariki Secondary, he did not proceed to college. “I wasn’t so good in school, especially in theoretical work,” he confesses. “Just practical sciences.”
But this has not slowed him.
Five years ago, he celebrated his 18th birthday by fabricating a bicycle using scrap metal. The bicycle, unique in its butterfly bars propelled him to another ambition – a motorcycle.
According to his father Thomas Chokwe, Tyson started showing interest in tinkering with things at an early age. While his agemates were playing hide-and-seek, Tyson could dismantle a bicycle and re-assemble it. “He is brilliant. But challenges of school fees have slowed down his access to further studies,” says Thomas.
Boda boda rider Hezron Kitsao Mtawali describes Tyson as “our village star.”
“ If only he could get the kind of support he needs, then he would become an important person in our society and the country at large,” Mtawali adds.
Ambitious Tyson’s dream is to improve the quality of his car, and hopefully mass produce it for sale in Kenya. “I will make the car affordable to many Kenyans. We don’t have to rely on expensive imports,” he says.