A dream is enough to carry you from a rural village to an office in a brand new skyscraper, commanding tens of millions of dollars in investments and becoming partners in business with everyone from Dubai to China â€“ at least in the eyes of Rwandan businessman Hatari Said Sekoko, Executive Director of Doyelcy Group in Kigali. â€œI knew in my soul I wanted to be wealthy,â€ says Sekoko, reflecting on his early life. â€œI wasnâ€™t sure how I was going to go about becoming rich, but I just knew in my soul I wanted to get there.â€
After fighting in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in the 1990s, Sekoko established himself in Rwanda, and began a small coffee business, the first step on the way to achieving his dream. He would buy coffee from farmer associations in rural areas, process it and they sell it to the European market. He entered a joint venture with a Swiss company called Sucafina which bolstered his working capital and also provided technical expertise in quality control at his coffee processing plant and also help him in marketing the product.
When the coffee business became successful, he also began to diversify his business holdings. So he ventured into real estate, then to the hospitality industry and now he is investing in the energy sector. In all these businesses, Sekokoâ€™s main strategy has been to enter joint ventures with international businesses from which he gets capital and other expertise.
â€œI am not greedy,â€ he says, â€œI do not want to eat alone. That is why I enter joint ventures. However, I also gain in terms of capital and expertise. Throughout my growth experience, I wanted to be rich â€“ rich mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually,â€ Sekoko explains of his mindset at the time. â€œI was willing to study, work hard, and develop my spirit so that one day I could truly be a rich person, rather than a middleclass person with a lot of money.â€
Fifteen years later, he is living his vision, sitting comfortably in his fifth-floor Kigali office, sipping his coffee and looking over the latest designs for the renovation of Rwandaâ€™s Akagera National Park, just one of his many investments around the country, which is a joint venture with Dubai World.
His major investment in real estate is the construction of Kigali City Towers. In Sekokoâ€™s office you will find its artistic impression. In downtown Kigali, construction has already begun on the chic and unique oval structure (the artistic impression can be seen on this page). It will sure turn heads when it finally becomes a fixture of Kigaliâ€™s skyline. While plans for the tower have changed slightly over time, most importantly with the tower morphing from a circular to an oval shape to create more usable space, the original impression is proudly displayed on Sekokoâ€™s wall as a reminder of how far he has come.
His success lies not only in his seemingly endless energy and personal vision, but also in his partnerships or joint ventures and his desire to learn from others. â€œWhat excites me most is traveling, studying how elsewhere things work and what does not work, compare with what is compatible to my climate in terms of the investment climate of this country and markets, network with people who have done it,â€ he says. â€œI believe in partnership.â€
Sekoko has long been friends with businessman Sudhir Ruparelia, chairman of the Ruparelia Group of Companies in Uganda. His second large real estate investment is a joint venture with Sudir involving the construction of a shopping mall and parking garage in downtown Kigali comprising of 1500 retail shops in the new complex. Sekoko says he has been inspired by Sudir and has also learnt a lot on business strategy from Ugandaâ€™s property mogul.
After expanding from the coffee industry into real estate, Sekoko set his eyes on the hospitality sector, where he has seen no dream too big and no height too high. After he had seen that Dubai World was investing $800 million in the small and sandy country of Djibouti, Sekoko realized he could sell the virgin and lush opportunity that is Rwanda to Prince Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the founder and chairman of Dubai World. â€œDjibouti is sand,â€ he said, â€œI want to take you to Rwanda and show you where life is.â€
Today Sekoko is in a joint venture with Dubai World and they are investing $230 million in projects throughout Rwanda, including the renovation and restocking of Akagera National Park. Plans for the new four-star resort at Akagera are breathtaking â€“ interior design pictorials display leather, linen, silk, tile, wood all coming together to create the epitome of luxury and comfort. Meanwhile, other projects are underway, including a 5-Star hotel and golf course in Kigali, and renovation of Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanos National Park.
As if that were not impressive enough, Sekoko has now entered yet another joint-venture â€“ this time with a China based Company, New century Development (NCD). This new joint venture is developing yet another world-class project â€“ a five-star with 230 rooms. Built right next to Serena hotel in the heart of Kigali, it will increase cityâ€™s attractiveness as a venue for international conferences. It is estimated to cost $ 50-60m. Positioned next to a convention center that is already in the pipelines, this hotel will help support Kigaliâ€™s transition into not only a major player in Africaâ€™s tourism industry, but also into a prime location in East Africa to hold conferences and conventions.
But coffee, real estate and the hospitality industry are not the only areas that Sekoko is investing in. In 2006, he began investing in methane gas from Lake Kivu. The investment is a joint venture with other local Rwandan businessmen and women through Rwanda Investment Group (RIG) where he owns 20% shares. RIG is investing $ 80 million â€“ the pilot project has already taken $ 15m. They have now signed a non disclosure agreement with AES Corporation to join them in the venture. The aim of bringing AES on board is to access energy financing.
Sekoko explains that his success and wealth are only valuable if they are accompanied by liberation and freedom, values the country as a whole has struggled with over the years. â€œThis pass as a liberator and an entrepreneur has filled my life with purpose, direction and peace of mind,â€ he says. â€œI must be mindful and make the best progress I canâ€¦ Rather than galvanize ourselves against lifeâ€™s problems, we should allow more openness and acceptance of others and their differences. I dedicated my life to practicing these principals, and they act as both a guide and ballast for me in life.â€
Fortunately for Rwanda, a country on the rise, success tends to have a cumulative effect â€“ the more there is, the more and the faster it comes.Â Sekokoâ€™s success and vision will not only spur further investment and development in Rwanda, but will also hopefully encourage young entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps.