Thursday 11th of February 2016 10:04:29 PM

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Hatari Sekoko, the man behind Kigali City Tower, is obviously one of the business leaders to watch out in 2012 after making headlines in the past year.

Born in October 1960, Hatari grew up in Uganda. At the age of 20, he was a truck driver, which was his turning point because he later quit the job to start his own business. He has since traded coffee, spare car parts and is largely involved in the hospitality sector and property development. He has also served in the Rwanda Deference Force.

Hatari is the founder and executive director of Doyelcy Ltd, a multimillion-dollar holding company. Doyelcy, which he founded in 2006, is one of the top emerging private firms in Rwanda. It currently focuses on investments in hospitality, property development, insurance, renewable energy and agriculture.


Hatari’s popularity rose with his plans to construct the tallest building in Kigali—Kigali City Tower (KCT). The 20-floor tower, which is currently offering retail and office space for businesses, cost him over $33 million. The construction of KCT came as solution to the surging demand for high-end retail and office space as Kigali City consolidates its fame to become one of the business hubs in Eastern Africa.  So far, the tower has attracted big brands such as Kenya’s supermarket chain Nakumatt, which currently has two stores in Kigali, including the new one in KCT.


South Africa’s clothing giant Mr. Price, Nokia and Apple product dealers, Kenya’s media giant Nation Media Group and Rwanda’s largest coffee retailer Bourbon Coffee have all expanded into KCT.

“When we thought about creating KCT, we thought of creating something that was not there before and that was necessary and makes change to an ordinary man,” explains Hatari.

Hatari wanted to see KCT as something that would differentiate Kigali from other capital cities. “Every city in the world is identified by the buildings,” he says. “Before you land when you come by air, you don’t see an individual man like me, you see the buildings first.”

With the passion to brand Kigali as well as make money out of the growing demand for a modern city, Hatari has moved to create partnerships with foreign investors to come up with other property development projects. He has partnered for instance with the Chinese in constructing the Kigali Marriot Hotel, which is expected to be opened this year. The $60 million five star hotel will have 254 rooms to serve the high-end visitors to Rwanda. The Kigali Marriot Hotel, which is the first brand of Marriot Group in East Africa, will be the largest hotel in Rwanda.

In another project, which involves construction of a modern taxi park and commercial buildings in Kigali, Hatari is co-investing with Sudhir Ruparelia, one of Uganda’s richest business icons. The project, which is the first of its kind in Rwanda, will cost not less than $200 million when finished and Doyelcy will contribute 50 percent of the investment.  These two projects will definitely have a huge positive impact on city’s face but also on the people, especially the unemployed, and those who seek to work from decent facilities.


Bank Populaire of Rwanda (BPR) has made impressive strides since moving from a purely cooperative bank to a commercial bank after the Dutch-owned Rabobank assumed 35 percent of the bank’s shares in 2008.

Rabo was forced to clean up many of BPR’s toxic assets, which amounted to approximately Frw1 billion worth of poor performing assets in 2009. By 2010, however, things had turned around with the bank generating a profit of Frw1.2 billion.

Klaassen, who was made the bank’s new CEO in Oct 2010, was instrumental in this transition. After spending time with Rabo in North and South America, Klaassen worked to make BPR a friendlier bank for Rwanda’s mostly unbanked rural-based population. “We want simple, straight-forward products that are easy to use and that are accessible” says Klaassen.

In March 2011, for instance, BPR’s had only 40 automated machines across the country. Today BPR has 150 ATM’s and by March 2012 it intends to have one in each of its 190 countrywide branches. BPR is also working to create more non-branch agents or agency agents that will serve as representatives of the bank in areas where it is currently not represented. Such third-party agents, explains Klaassen, could be represented, for instance, by local merchants who could process such services as cash collections or money transfers.

Building on its Izi cash service, whereby BPR customers can send money to anyone they like so long as the recipient has an active mobile phone, BPR is now finding new ways for its customers to buy goods with only their mobile phones. “We’re trying to have our customers use as little physical cash as possible,” says Klaassen. “It’s more secure.”

This includes expanding merchant accounts that allows for stores and customers with BPR accounts to conduct business with each other solely through the use of mobile phones. Although this already exists in a limited form, the new service will be more accounting wise, providing users with added features such as a mechanism that tracks the record of all transactions. “It’s more fine tuned and specific,” says Klaassen. “It reduces the risk of non-payment and lowers the threshold of doing business.”

In order to ensure as many customers and potential customers as possible can access these new services, BPR is also providing finance education through its various branches and is advertising its expanding services through the radio. “We also have more and more ambassadors, people who have used the products and are satisfied,” he adds. “We find that this is one of the best ways of promotion.”

Muramira, a young IT professional at the helm of E-Banking at BPR says that when the department started in July 2010, the bank had 3 ATMs and 1,500 debit ATM cards in the market.

BPR currently operates over 1.5 million bank accounts and has distributed over 68,000 ATM cards with the target to close the year with over 200,000 cards in the market. With over Frw3 billion monthly transactions through ATMs, BPR is not only the leading technologically innovative bank but also the most branched among the local commercial lenders.

As the pioneer to launch mobile banking, BPR currently has over 100,000 users on the platform and the numbers are increasing


As a regular participant on recruitment panels for MTN, Yvonne Makolo has learnt to distinguish passionate applicants from passive ones. But from her office in Kigali’s MTN Centre, it doesn’t take long, or an expert for that matter, to discern the excitement and dedication inherent in Makolo herself. “The satisfaction of seeing the company grow and helping the country develop in all the different sectors is fantastic for me,” she enthusiastically explains.

After completing a degree in geography and environmental science, Makolo went on to do a post-grad in IT in Montreal, Canada, before working as an application developer for two years. She then returned to Rwanda to work on the World Links program for the World Bank and spent another two years helping to computerize primary schools across the country. In 2006, she was hired as MTN’s senior Manager for Sales and Marketing, and in April 2011, she was promoted as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

Makolo condenses her workday to “meetings, meetings, meetings,” but her department of 20 staff is responsible for ensuring that every MTN product and service is ambitiously and creatively communicated to the public. For over a decade, MTN has proved successful at branding their products, which has helped make them Rwanda’s number one network.

In her position, Makolo explains, she has to be very careful to identify whether a product is relevant for the market and whether the company will make money from it. At the same time, she must remain constantly aware of what the competition is doing and how to adapt to changes in the market. “Usually our business plans are made every three years, but we adjust appropriately and are constantly reviewing.”

One area Makolo and MTN will be focusing on for 2012 is social media. “In this regard,” she explains, “we are bringing out a lot of low cost data handsets especially for students and youth segments just to allow them to get onto the internet and use social media as much as possible.”

MTN, she adds, recently launched SMS twitter and SMS Facebook to allow customers without smartphones or access to computers to use SMS’s to tweet or facebook. “We are really embracing that and we get a lot of feedback this way from our customers.”

This year will see the emergence of Bharti Airtel onto the Rwandan market, but being the marketing head for MTN, the telecom company with the largest number of points of sale, distributors and promotion teams, Makolo has unprecedented access to market intelligence. Not only does this help Makolo understand what the customer wants, but also helps her appreciate how people want these products presented to them.  “We speak in a Kinyarwanda that makes sense to them,” she says. “We use catchy, hip messages. We speak the language of the people.”


Bahkresa Grain Milling (BGM) began its wheat flour milling operations in Rwanda in May 2011, making it the country’s second wheat grain processing company after Kenya’s Pembe Mills. With an investment of $24 million, BGM, a unit of the Tanzania-based Bahkresa Group, installed a milling unit that can produce up to 250 metric tons of flour daily, making it one of the largest agroprocessing plants in Rwanda. BGM produces different varieties of wheat flour, including home baking flour, cake flour, and brown bread flour. The company currently supplies around 60 percent of its flour to the local market, while the rest is shipped to the DRC.

Although its full impact on the market has not yet been truly felt, it has introduced competition, which has at the end brought down prices of wheat flour in Rwanda. According to BGM Managing Director Mounir Bahkresa, 35, when the company started, a 50Kg bag of wheat flour sold for Rwf18000, but has since gone down to approximately Rwf13000. “We are not investing to get quick money, we are investing to make sure the product we are selling is the right product and for everyone at affordable price.”

Bahkresa, a trained electromechanical engineer who spent 17 years of his life studying and working in France, admits that he knew nothing about flour milling before the new miller was built. “I learnt this business the time I built this factory,” he explained, adding that he has been undertaking training to understand the flour milling business.

However, having worked for a supermarket group in France where he was a project manager, Bahkresa is deeply knowledgeable in sales and distribution, customer service and staff handling.

When the plant began, he managed to sell 1000 tons of flour in the first two months and now the quantity has increased to around 2000 to 3000 tons. With consumption growing, he says that the focus is to increase the current milling capacity to 500 MT of flour a day, which he hopes to achieve in less than two years.

Next year, Bahkresa will be focusing on completing the fence of the plant and finishing the road to increase access to the product. He said the grain miller is already making profit but it could take five to 10 years to get return on investment. Currently, the company imports all of the wheat it needs for flour processing but it is carrying out wheat growing pilot projects in different parts of the country. Bahkresa is also thinking about setting up plants for animal feed, cooking oil, pasta, soap and biscuits in the future.


Félicien Mutalikanwa, 53, is gradually climbing the ladder towards Rwanda’s club of most successful entrepreneurs. As chairman of Minimex, Rwanda’s sole maize miller, Mutalikanwa employs 66 individuals and oversees an installed milling capacity of 144 tons a day. The company produces maize flour for food consumption, maize bran and maize grits used in beer production.

“I think that feeding people is my passion,” he says. After practicing law from 1982 to 1994, and then working in the mining industry until 2002, Mutalikanwa ventured into agro-processing and value addition focusing on maize milling.

However, since its inception in 2006, Minimex has suffered from an insufficient supply of maize grain, which is its sole raw material, and even the supplied quantity was of poor quality. In 2011, the plant was running at only 20.4 percent of its full installed capacity.

But running at a much smaller capacity does not mean that Minimex has not been making impressive sales.  According to Mutalikanwa, in 2006 the miller sold 894 tons and generated a turnover of Rwf135 million. Contrarily, in only nine months in 2011, Minimex sold 8,752 tons and its turnover hit Rwf2.5 billion--a production increase of over 878 percent.

But to Mutalikanwa, this is just the beginning.  Beginning 2012, he will be embarking on increasing the plant’s capacity and by 2013 he plans to double the current installed capacity to reach 288 tons a day. He explains that the current market demand for maize flour is 69,000 tons annually, which means that the plant produces only 12.7 percent of what the market requires.

Mutalikanwa hopes that by 2012, Minimex could be producing 25,500 tons of maize products, 39,000 tons in 2013 and 52,000 tons by 2016.

To meet his ambitions, Mutalikanwa will require an additional investment of $2 million to purchase new milling machines. He has entered into a joint venture with Bralirwa, the leading beer and soft beverages company, to commercially farm maize on 700 hectares of land where each hectare is expected to yield 10 tons of maize grain. Currently, BraMin, the joint venture company, is carrying out trial on maize seeds and full-scale farming is expected to begin in February/March next year.

Mutalikanwa has equally invested in drying, cleaning and storage facilities in Rwamagana district in eastern Rwanda. Minimex’s grain handling company Prodev Rwanda has the capacity of drying and cleaning 20 tons per hour. It currently has a storage capacity of 2000 tons but it seeks to increase it to over 10000 tons.

With the coming of Rwanda Grain and Cereal Corporation (RGCC), a public-private joint venture recently approved by the cabinet, Mutalikanwa looks forward to increased quality and supply of raw materials. The ministry of agriculture says that by February next year total maize production will be 700,000 tons of which 400,000 tons will be consumed immediately, while the remaining surplus of 300,000 tons will be dished out to the market.

Beginning next year, Minimex will begin to produce fortified maize flour, which will be rich in vitamins and minerals. This will help Rwanda reduce the number of malnourished children and adults. The company will also usher into commercial production of animal feeds targeting cattle and chicken in order to satisfy the fast increasing demand for animal feeds in the country. Mutalikanwa expects his next year’s turnover to reach Rwf11.6 billion.


Top jobs in Rwanda’s rapidly expanding corporate sector continue to be male-dominated, however, a few exceptional women have passionately defied the challenge and picked up high-profile corporate positions. Piron Coralie, 33, is one of the few corporate women to make a difference, in her case, in the construction sector.

“I feel I can do as well as a man. I do not see the difference,” says the CEO of Thomas & Piron Grands Lacs (TPGL), one of the rapidly growing local construction companies.

TPGL is a subsidiary of Thomas & Piron (TP), a Belgian construction company that Coralie’s father Louis-Marie Piron, and his business partner, Charles Thomas, founded in 1976. They started the company from nothing and today it has annual turnover of over 200 million Euros. The company was expanded to Morocco and Rwanda in 2000.

Coralie had first come to Rwanda in December 2003 after graduating in business and finance in 2001. She liked the country and felt there were many business opportunities. Luckily, her father asked her to return to Rwanda in April 2004 to see how the business was doing. That trip was a turning point and she ended up staying to run the business.

At the time, the company was still small and loosely connected to the local market. “In 2004, we had no reference locally and hardly any equipment,” Coralie recalls. She says her first contract was the construction of a 200-bed hospital in Kibagabaga in Kigali. Meanwhile, she also started creating connections, which helped the company land more contracts.

In a span of seven years as the CEO, Coralie has several achievements under her belt. She has signed contracts to execute fat public tenders such as the renovation and expansion of the ministry of finance, the Rwandan parliament and construction of the 18-floor Insurance Plaza, the second tallest building in Kigali. She has also signed numerous lucrative contracts with private companies. In turn, Coralie has strengthened the company’s equipment base, technical and administrative staff and revenues have gone up tremendously.

The company currently employs 150 regular staff and made a turnover of $18 million in 2011, and since 2009, TPGL has ceased to depend financially on the parent company.

Coralie is determined to repeat her father’s achievements and build a company that is known regionally. “I want to reach the level he is but in this region in Africa because I think the European market is over,” she says. “Of course, I was lucky he helped me but I want to build a company that will be known regionally.”

In 2012, Coralie will be expanding the company to Kenya and Uganda. In Kenya, TPGL will be working as a contractor and will engage in property development, especially in residential houses. In Uganda, it seeks to start competing in public and private tenders as it studies the market potential.

In Rwanda, Coralie will be focusing on developing housing estates—one for the high-end market and another for the middleclass. In terms of innovation, TPGL seeks to introduce precast system, which makes building faster and cheaper. With the new system, TPGL targets the upcoming industrial area where there will be demand for buildings. The company will also continue to engage in tenders to diversify its business portfolio.


After starting out in 1983 as a simple baker with only one employee, Sina Gerard now presides over the ever-expanding Urwibutso or “something to remember” enterprise, based in Nyirangarama, Rulindo district Northern Rwanda. The company, which has its hand in everything from Agashya passion juice to Akarasho banana wine to the world famous Akabanga chili sauce, is renowned for taking its ventures beyond profit and into stimulating the local agricultural economy by providing farmers with free seeds and fertilizers, and giving them accompanying lessons in modern farming methods.

Urwibutso even has a nursery, primary and secondary school to benefit the 850 children of its employees. “Fighting poverty goes hand in hand with fighting ignorance and that is why I am keen on playing a role in education through the Urwibutso schools,” says Sina. “This will help the community, but also benefit my business in the future.” Sina expects that the children who graduate from these schools will come back to work with him to further develop the area.

Sina’s enterprise also runs carpentry workshops, a cultural troupe, a bakery and restaurants, and practices bee farming, exotic dog breeding and wine production. “By introducing red wine, we are further broadening our markets outside Rwanda and setting a target for Urwibutso to be a distinguished company in the world that Rwandans can be proud of,” he explains.

Sina’s work has earned him many international awards and accolades including the Business Initiative Award, which he received in London in November, and the Arch of Europe Award.

Asked if he does anything differently to assure his success, the entrepreneur affirms that his business is based on “creation, innovation and revitalization.” Sina cites Akabanga, a product that is reportedly so strong that workers making it are required to wear a facemask. “I take time to personally choose the seed, which is planted and harvested and when this product is placed on the market it stands out from the rest in quality,” he says. “In Kinyarwanda there is a saying “igiti kigororwa kikiri gito” (“a tree is made straight when it is still young”). Similarly, I follow the process of production of my products from when the raw materials are grown to when the products are processed and put on the market and this I think is what sets me apart from others.”

As for 2012, Sina says Urwibutso has a number of products lined up for their customers. “Every year we aim at introducing a new product on the market and this keeps me driven as I keep challenging myself to be better.”


Zulfat Mukarubega, the mind behind Rwanda Tourism University College, has become one of Rwanda’s most formidable women entrepreneurs. After initiating her first small restaurant business in the early 1970s, this 53-year-old, divorced, mother of four, has used hard-work and relentless determination to change Rwanda’s service industry.

With a background in nursing, Mukarubega enrolled in Lycee de Notre Dame Kigali to study accounting, while also running her business. Going back to school, she says, made her a better manager and it wasn’t long until Mukarubega opened an automobile mechanical school, a clothing store and a furniture shop. These businesses allowed her to travel and experience the difference between the service industry abroad and in Rwanda. “I saw how they did things differently and it was then that I decided to start a school which would train people on customer care and improve the quality of services in hotels in Rwanda.”

Mukarubega in turn set out to do a market survey in hotels in Rwanda to unearth the most dominant problems they faced. The most highlighted complaint was a lack of trained staff.

RTUC is now a higher learning institution that provides undergraduate programmes in Travel and Tourism Management, Hotel and Restaurant Management and a number of other vocational training courses all tailored to meet the country’s need for professionals. In addition to the classical disciplines offered by traditional universities, RTUC also opened a new stream of courses breeding opportunities for jobs.  “There are many people who are educated but unemployed today such that there is need to change our understanding of the traditional system of education and skills building,” says Mukarubega.

“The idea of starting RTUC came out of the understanding that we need to also focus on the hospitality industry as a means of creating job opportunities. Looking at the developed countries, some of the most successful people are from the hospitality industry like world class chefs so it is all about changing our mind sets and I will continue to encourage all Rwandans to think outside the box and aim to get an education that does not put one on a job hunt.”

In February 2011, Mukarubega was honored as the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by Rwanda Development Board (RDB), an initiative to recognize and reward the achievement of women entrepreneurs in the private sector.  She has since embarked on encouraging and talking to the youth and women in different districts about being self-employed and starting businesses of their own. “I always use myself as an example telling people it starts with putting fear aside and being confident enough to believe in your dream despite the challenges one may face,” she says. “And more importantly, people have to stop fearing to approach banks for loans.”

In 2012, Mukarubega and RTUC plan to increase their efforts to sensitize people on improving customer care especially within government and the private sector. This will be in addition to the hotels and restaurants they have been targeting this year. “We have been having talks with different ministries asking them to send their employees for training in customer care so that slowly by slowly customer care will be part of our social fabric and that way we attract tourists to our country to the benefit of our economy.”


The proliferation of Information Technology (IT) as a mighty tool to enhance business efficiency is creating opportunities for Rwanda’s young geniuses as the brave ones passionately set up small businesses that specialise in the development of simple applications to exploit the increasing demand for software, especially among Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Clement Uwajeneza, the founder and managing director of Axis, one of the fastest growing small IT firms in Rwanda, is among few successful IT geeks.

Uwajeneza, 31, first began computer programming in 1999 creating simple games using Qbasic, one of programming languages. He was doing it as an extracurricular activity but gradually, he loved it until he began studying Information Systems at Polytech Montpellier in France where he graduated with a master’s degree. Fortunately, it was not long before he joined IBM’s team to develop applications for the U.S. tech giant’s internal use.

With the burning desire to try out business even when he was still in high school, Uwajeneza left IBM and returned to Rwanda to start a business.

“I actually always did some small businesses when I was in secondary school like selling calculators,” he recalls. “I grew up longing to do business,” wanting to follow in the footsteps of his successful uncle.

Uwajeneza already had his business plan in mind when he was still in university. “Even when I did my studies in computer science and management, I had in mind of what I could do when I finish school.”

In 2006, he founded Axis, which he describes as the leader in development and implementation of web and mobile applications and solutions in Rwanda.

Axis grew up fast, signed various contracts and hired many people but it was almost collapsing because Uwajeneza wasn’t able to manage it successfully. “Our business almost failed and we even had to cancel some contracts,” he says. “It has been difficult but from that experience, we learnt to focus on projects that we are sure we will be able do well.”

Leaning from his experience, Uwajeneza explains that focusing on what you can do best, hiring the right people and doing projects that bring new expertise to the company is key to success.  This has actually strengthened Axis. In 2010, Axis was crowned the Best IT firm in the SME category during the Rwanda Development Board’s Business Excellence Awards. In the same year, he sourced for strategic partner who they currently share the company.

In its first year, Axis made a turnover of around Rwf10 million but in 2011, it had grown to around Rwf100 million. According to Uwajeneza, in 2012, the company seeks to double its revenue in which 10 percent will come from new products.

“From 2010 to 2011, we’ve been exploring new approaches to deliver our services to Small and Medium Enterprises in Rwanda,” he said

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