Chantal Umuraza is the executive director general of the chamber of industries at Private Sector Federation. Umuraza has weathered ‘storms’ to make it to where she is today. She told Business Times’ Irene Nayebare how she managed to change the tide.
Who is Chantal Umuraza?
My life’s story starts in the rolling hills of Rubona village in Nyaruguru District, where I was born 38 ago. I spent my early childhood taking care of cattle and making handcrafts...life was fun.
I attended Rubona Primary School and was among the six students out of 37 that qualified for secondary level education in 1989. This performance was to be the turning point in my life.
It was fun studying from upcountry. We never lacked food; the issue was what would become of us after leaving the comfort of the village life.
Transforming from this kind of life was tricky. I even did not know what to shop when I was going to join Senior One. They had announced on the radio what we were required to take, but I was confused.
The experience of meeting over 100 girls at my new school opened my eyes. I started to visualise my dream of becoming a doctor taking shape. Ever since I lost a stepmother I loved so much, I dreamt of becoming a doctor to save people’s lives. I was convinced that if I was a doctor, I could have saved her.
My life had returned to normal when, in 1994, disaster struck again. Seeing people killing fellow human beings during the Genocide against the Tutsi shocked me and, as a result, I refused to go back to school.
Seeing teachers killing their students made me hate education. I could not hold it anymore, so I quit school until 2000 when I went to Europe.
What were you doing before going to Europe?
I worked with World Vision Rwanda, and helped in putting together the Visual Finance project, which later become one of the first micro-finance intitutions in the country.
It was during these trying moments that a good Samaritan, who would later become my husband, invited me to Europe. This opened another chapter in my life. However, life in Europe was so challenging that I was forced to go back to school.
I was in a new world, so I had to devise to deal with it successfully.
A business and accounting course I had studied at Lycee Notre Dame de Citeaux-Rwanda came in handy, making it possible for me to enroll for a diploma in international trade.
Later, I enrolled for a bachelor’s degree in import and export administration at AFPA Romans University in France in 2004.
The course opened my life to a new life; I started travelling all over the world.
This gave me a lot of experience, inspiring me to open an import and export firm in France, Les1000 Shop. The shop helped me link Rwandan products to the French market. I would fly back to Rwanda to collect local products like tea, coffee and handcrafts on weekly basis.
Disaster strikes again
Unfortunately, world economies, including France’s, crumbled when the credit crunch struck in 2008, forcing me to close my shop.
Despite the setback, I enrolled for my master’s in international co-operation and multilingual communication at Stendhal University in France in 2009. After the master’s programme, I prepared to return home and pursue my new dream, establishing a shoe industry in Rwanda. But a surprise awaited me; I ended up in the director general chamber of industries’ seat.
What do you think about Rwanda’s industrialisation policy?
Rwanda has the capacity to attain a high level of industrialisation… I am sure the government would want to see the country become a net exporter.
We have the potential to transform from this ideology. With regional integration, the capacity to grow big and rich is slowly gathering pace. Rwanda is at a stage, where everyone must make a contribution to achieve our industrialisation dream, especially through EDPRS II (Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy).
Manufacturers should have confidence in the sector because it provides a lot of opportunities.
Where do you see Rwanda in the next 10 years?
I am sure in the next 10 years Rwanda will be a small Singapore in Africa. This makes me proud of our leadership. And I am happy to follow.
People need to have a purpose in life. One must define who they are, and what they want to become to make it in life. Life is journey that needs proper planning for it to end successfully. Hard work is the hallmark of a meaningful life, so every one of us should aim at doing our best to develop our country.
You look fit, what is the trick?
I wake up at 5am daily, prepare my kids for school then go jogging. Later, I head for office and I am at my desk by 8am.
Once at work, I check my mail, look through the daily news and then embark on the day’s work. I have to ensure that we are relevant to stakeholders through innovation…that’s the only way we can achieve our goal of delivering an industrial economy.
If you have a story to share, then you should share it, that’s the driving factor when I am called to speak at global conferences.
When the going gets tough, I work out and go hiking as way of letting off steam (read stress).
Sometimes I don’t understand the system. Industrialists are trying the best, but need co-ordination and support. So, I am always thinking of what I can give members to move to the next level, this keeps me on my toes all the time. There are also disorganised structures, but I think we will get there.
The President, especially when he talks about the struggle and targets the country must achieve, such speeches inspire me. I know that I have got to struggle to meet targets. Also, the concept of Vision 2020 is an inspiration fact for me. It gives us a sense of responsibility and accountability.
How do you want to be remembered?
As someone who made a contribution towards the economic development of her country.
This depends, but the allure of vegetables and sweet potatoes always get the better of me.