Dr. Tombola: A towering academic with passion for cattle

The first thing one will notice about Dr. Tombola M. Gustave is his imposing but gentle physical stature. The other thing is the close attention he pays to detail.

The first thing one will notice about Dr. Tombola M. Gustave is his imposing but gentle physical stature. The other thing is the close attention he pays to detail.

He remembers the exact days, dates and months of most of the milestones in his life. When asked which universities he attended, he tells you the day, month and year he joined a particular university, and then the day, month and year he graduated.

Until December 30, 2013, Tombola held the position of vice rector academics at the Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC).

On December 31, 2013, however, the institution rebranded UTB (University of Tourism Technology and Business Studies) and Tombola’s title also changed to deputy vice chancellor academics.

Why change name?

Tombola said many things led to the change in name.

“The University of Tourism Technology and Business Studies is a limited company, and being so, it will serve not only the interests of the owners and staff, but will also pay corporate tax to the government,” he noted.

“Secondly, the new name captures our core activities, which are tourism, and hospitality, plus technology and business studies. RTUC was only capturing the tourism and hospitality aspect. RTUC was an association, and the law allows these to transform themselves into private companies.”

He said the old law in Rwanda stipulated that higher institutions of learning were to be established either by associations, religious organisations, or international NGOs. 

“However, the new law allows universities to choose the kind of ownership they want; either religious organisations, private, or corporate companies,” Tombora said.

Apart from the name change, the institution has restructured its bachelor’s degree programme to three years, from the previous four. 

“The fees structure remains the same,” says Tombola, who joined the institution in January 2013. 

Before that, he was at the Kigali Independent University (2001-2012), from which he built an enviable CV after serving in various capacities – director of finance, director of the president and founder’s office, dean faculty of economics and management, director of library, director of research consultancy and cooperation, and later coordinator of the start of the master’s programme.

What exactly does he do?

As deputy vice chancellor academics, Tombola’s work is well cut out for him.

“My work is basically to plan, organise, co-ordinate and control all academic activity at the university. I stand in for the vice chancellor, and I’m in charge of development, review, and implementation of the curriculum. I see to it that the university gets quality in terms of both teaching staff and students, and make sure learning infrastructure and facilities are available and sufficient.” But administrative commitments have not stopped him from pursuing his passion — teaching: 

“I’m a senior lecturer and have devoted myself to teaching one module – Strategic Planning and Total Quality Management.”

Away from UTB, he also teaches two modules in the master’s programme at ULK; Business Marketing in MBA, and Governance and Development in the Masters of Development Studies programme. His core area of specialisation is Corporate Governance.

“The psychological satisfaction of sharing what I know with others is what keeps me in the lecture room,” he says. “As I teach my students, I also learn from them.”

Lifetime calling

Tombola’s passion to dispense knowledge has been a part of him since his formative years. “In primary school, my teachers would use me to compute and tally marks for my class on the blackboard. From that time on, I liked the idea of being in front of others and imparting knowledge. While in secondary school, I went for a tutor’s course at a teachers’ college.”

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in management at the National University of Rwanda in 2000, Tombola enrolled for a master’s in management at the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa, graduating on December 28, 2003. Between 2009 and 2010, he pursued his PhD in Management from Makerere University Business School but relocated to the Open University of Tanzania after he failed to find a superviser. 

He graduated on October 16, 2012.

“As far as studies are concerned, I think I’m done, since there is no other level after PhD. But as far as academic ranks are concerned, I still have two steps to go; associate professor, and professor. These are now my targets, and it requires me to publish some articles in scientific journals, of which I have already published two. I’m remaining with one or two articles to become an associate professor, and later on with more published works, to become a full professor.”

I ask him what it feels like to be a full Professor, and he says: “In non-academic life, people do not appreciate the meaning of full professor which in the military would be a Field Marshal or General.”

Source of inspiration

As we wind up the interview, I ask where Tombola draws all his inspiration from, and as if he was anticipating the question, says simply: “Professor Rwigamba Balinda, the owner and founder of Kigali Independent University.”

“I worked with him from 2001 to 2012, and I can say that he is a humble person, responsive and responsible, a man of integrity, compassionate and trustworthy. Without him, I would not have attained my Master’s and PhD. I have developed a whole career in academics because of him.”

His other world

Away from the world of academics, Tombola’s most cherished memories are those of his wedding day, on May 21, 2000, in Ruhengeri. “The time that I have spent with my wife shows me that it was the right decision I took, because marriage is a journey in which you keep learning about each other.”

He is married with four kids, with who he always plays football at home, or goes touring some of the country’s natural attractions.

Apart from a fatal car accident in which he was involved in March 1996, Tombola is all grateful for what life has offered him so far. In that accident, four people died on the spot while  he sustained injuries on his arm.  

Passion for cows

Another of his passions is tending cattle, having been born into a family of cattle keepers in the DRC. “I grew up to love cattle and even today, whenever the opportunity shows up, I travel to the DRC and enjoy my vacation around cows.”  

His guiding principle in life, he says, “is the law of continuous improvement”, and explains:

“Martin Luther King said; if you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But make sure you are going forward.”


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