The once popular Cadillac Nightclub in Kigali went up in flames in November 2012.
Since then, the question on almost everyone’s lips has been: “Where is Cobra?” “And what next for him?”
Cobra is the nickname by which Eugene Habimana, who owned this premiere night spot was known to many.
The most that the public got to know was that Cobra was embroiled in a protracted court battle with his insurer over loss compensation monies.
But the court case dragged on and on, as Cobra slowly slipped into oblivion.
In March this year, he inadvertently emerged from oblivion when pictures emerged of him on social media while on a religious pilgrimage to Israel.
The pictures showed Cobra immersing himself in the river Jordan, where it is said Jesus was baptized. Cobra himself reveals that he went in and out of the water seven times. He explains that the act was inspired by the biblical story of Naahman, who was healed of leprosy after immersing himself in the river seven times.
But little did he know the social media storm that awaited him.
“Someone took pictures of me and posted them on Facebook for everybody to see me,” Cobra reveals with a tinge of bitterness.
“I don’t know how people knew of my visit. Within five days about 15,000 people had shared the pictures on Facebook, with very many comments. I went incognito but came back public. It was too much.”
I ask what kind of comments he received and he responds:
“People were saying oh Cobra has become murokore (born again), he is going to quit nightclub business. Others were saying that “I won’t go to Cobra’s club because he will be selling only sodas.”
But why did he make the trip in the first place?
“For a very long time, I have always respected God and I pray. I went to pray to God and say ‘thank you’ for what he has done for me. It was my first time. I went there because I am a survivor of a very bad life after Cadillac got burned. I went to Bujumbura and there I again lost so much money due to the insecurity there, then I decided to return to my country. I said okay, I have gone through all this; but I see people die every day, but at least I never got any accident, no stroke, no nothing, so I said let me go to Israel to pray and to say thank you God. ”
He made the pilgrimage together with his wife.
God and nightclub business
After his religious sabbatical in Israel, Cobra returned to Kigali to set up his new address, Cocobean. It is a restaurant, coffee shop and pub that shares a wall with the Ikirezi Bookstore in Kacyiru.
Cocobean is a continuation of the Cadillac story, and not just that, but also a manifestation of the side to Cobra that says; “stand up and fight”, “never give up”.
“Everybody experiences a bad life and a good life. But when you’re going through a bad phase never get discouraged,” he starts.
“When I went to Bujumbura I was looking for a backup option. I went to look for something to do because I was waiting for money to open another place in Kigali but it was not easy. The situation in Burundi was not very good so it was very difficult for me.”
He eventually packed his bags and returned home. “I wanted to rebuild myself,” he says simply.
Cocobean has been his first investment since then, and it’s what is occupying him at the moment.
But this choice of investment further seemed to scandalize and take many by surprise, following widespread speculation that Cobra had become “born again” or “seen the light” from his Israel visit.
“I respect God but that has never stopped me from my business,” he retorts:
“This is my business. If I stopped selling beer or playing music what would I do? Because this is the only business I’ve known for the last 26 years.
For now it’s this. If God gives me another business then that’s okay, but people talk too much.”
But the success of his latest venture so far has not had Cobra fall into easy complacence. The big dreaming entrepreneur in him still harbors ambitions of reviving the former glory days of Cadillac nightclub.
“I started here but this is small. We need to build something bigger, but the problem is getting another site but we’re searching. The problem today is that everybody wants to do construction in Kigali. Getting a big plot is becoming more difficult, but we are getting a nice place soon. After that we will be thinking of an upcountry location like Musanze.”
Cobra is rather tightlipped about this, but it’s an open secret that he has acquired and is developing a large tract of land in Kacyiru into a large, multipurpose theme park and recreation center.
He is banking on the good reputation the Cadillac nightclub had amassed in the country and beyond, which partly explains the instant popularity of Cocobean from when it opened its doors some six months ago.
“Cadillac got a big name because of the good customer service that we tried to offer clients. We started in 1994, and imagine getting a good nightclub in Kigali at that time. It was nice. It was a mega nightclub that could hold over 1,000 people inside. Serving 1,000 people is not easy. People saw and appreciated the hard work that we put in. I can’t say Cocobean is like Cadillac. People like it but it’s small.”
I ask him to share one secret of his business success and longevity and he explains:
“Let me tell you one thing; in life you must respect people. When you respect people it’s like an investment. I don’t know what brings people here (Cocobean) but I try to respect people. I try to respect our clients and to share with them. As a business owner it is these people that make you who you are so they are like your boss.
You must love and respect your work. I have been in this business for 26 years now. 26 years is a lot of experience. I tried many different businesses before I started nightclub business but I realized nightclub business was my calling.”
Cobra’s longevity and clean record in the industry has brought him dividends in more ways than one.
By his own estimates, he has organized over 40 big shows in two decades and counting. He has twice provided sound for the Primus Guma Guma music competition, and also either brought or worked with big name artists like Brenda Fassie, Wenge Musica, Koffi Olomidde and Lucky Dube when they staged shows in Rwanda.
This year, he was one of the service providers contracted to provide sound and public address equipment for RPF party during the recent presidential campaign season.
“I think it’s a sign of confidence in my work because it’s the third time I’m doing it. I did it during the presidential elections of 2003, and again in 2010.
It was a very nice and good experience for me because I had to put in extra energy and fight to make sure we do it very nicely. When there is any mistake it kills your name. It was also partly because of patriotism. When the campaigns went well I was happy because I was a part of them.”