If you have ever planned or actually had your hair locked then Josette is a name you are most certainly familiar with.
A native of Nyanza in the Southern Province, Josette Komezusenge, 43, is the second last born in a family of 12. She grew up with plenty of role models.
Born to the late Callixte Kayihura and Alexia Muhundwangeyo, both killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi along with 10 of her siblings, at the age of 15 she went to Belgium to begin her secondary education at College St Andre de Tournai.
At 20, she returned to Africa (Burundi) where she continued her secondary education, classes four to six, then went back to Belgium to complete her studies. She was awarded a Bachelors Degree in Accounting.
“After completing my studies, I worked for the Belgian Government, but I wasn’t satisfied with my work and decided to be my own boss.”
“With my humble savings, I opened up a salon and sold fashion accessories for women. Again, I wasn’t totally satisfied with my work because I dealt in products that changed skin complexion and hair colour, yet I wanted people to look more natural.”
“I found myself falling in love with dreadlocks because they looked so lovely. I was determined to become good at doing them and frankly, I had no experience whatsoever. I had never visited any salon to see how they make them but I decided to try them out on close friends, family and even myself. I finally came up with something and here I am now – doing exactly what I love.”
The hairstylist went out of her way to deny that sporting dreadlocks meant automatic entrance into the Rastafarian club. “Dreadlocks have nothing to do with religion. It is a simple style which originated from Africa during the Slave Trade era,” she says.
“The Masaai are good examples of naturally dreadlocked people, yet they are not Rastas. In Rwanda, there were the Amasunzu and Ibisage hairstyles and others; there were no chemicals involved like the ones women use today,” she explained.
She spent ten years researching how to make beautiful dreads then started work in Belgium. It was not stable at first and, like before, she wasn’t content working in Europe because of the negative attitudes she felt Europeans had towards Africans.
Regardless of all the difficulties in Europe, she was scared of coming back to her motherland because her entire family (with the exception of her only surviving sister who she stayed with in Belgium) was killed in 1994. However, two words gave her the courage needed to come back home.
Kwihangira Umurimo (be an entrepreneur) are the words that inspired her trip back home. “I really had no solid reason to come back to Rwanda because I had no family to come home to”, she reveals.
“When I came to Rwanda in 2006, I dealt in selling art pieces and accessories while planning a salon. In 2007, I started locking dreads at my home and each customer would tell another about me. That is how my customer base grew.”
“I have nothing but gratitude for my very first customers, including Hope Azeda, who always encouraged me to set up my own salon. Today, I have two salons, one in town and another in Kisementi. They also have manicure/pedicure, shaving, hairstyling and plaiting services – but we focus mostly on dreads.”
“At the beginning, it wasn’t easy because most people here in Rwanda were under the impression that dreadlocks are for Rastas. So I had to take time to explain the dreadlock concept until people were comfortable or daring enough to try them out.”
“Also, our customer service wasn’t the best since my employees had been picked off the streets and were extremely new to locking hair. I trained them even though their education levels were not really impressive. I couldn’t expect too much from them when it came to handling customers.”
Thankfully the customers flocked her business.
“My first customers were business women who are more comfortable with dreadlocks as opposed to going to the salon every other time to ‘retouch’ their hair. The number has since increased tremendously because people have changed their attitude towards dreads - some even work in corporate offices with them.”
“About 80 per cent of my customers are ladies while the rest are young boys mostly in high school and musicians,” the jovial hairstylist asserted.
The proprietor of Maza Salon now has more than thirty employees under her wing. She is married with two children. Jogette’s youngest child lives in Belgium with the father.
‘Like any other business, there are obstacles. For one, some people have no clue what they are doing. They carelessly venture into dreadlocks and give us all a bad name!”
“I would like to advise fellow women to do whatever it is they are doing with a passion because it is for their own good. Never do anything you have no interest in just because others are doing it.”
From her meager beginnings, her dreams keep growing bigger everyday. She is planning to set up other salons around the country. Working in Europe does not interest her in the least and she would rather spend that time and passion here –teaching people how to lock hair.
Despite her busy schedule in and outside the country, during her free time, she creates time to reading and exercising.