They say it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up that counts. It is also said that failure is not falling down, but rather staying down. These two sayings perfectly define Eugene Habimana. Commonly referred to by his nickname Cobra, Habimana has been the face of the entertainment industry in Rwanda and the region as an investor and businessman, but his journey is one that has been defined by ups and downs. When he is written off completely Cobra will surprise you by bouncing back with something new—a new business venture that will pick up from where the previous one stopped, and life will go on. Eugene Habimana aka Cobra during the interview. When you sit down wit Cobra, you can easily understand where his resilience comes from. He is a man who has done it all, one you can describe as a truly East African businessman. He has lived and done business in Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other countries, and this did not happen overnight. “As you might know, life as a refugee was not easy. This is a story shared by many Rwandans. We had to look around, left, right and centre and try our very best in whatever we were doing. You can’t say we had a lot of resources at our disposal. Majority of us were not born in abundance,” says Cobra, who was born in Rwanda but his family fled in 1962 to the then Zaire and later to Burundi, as ethnic tensions intensified. Some of his family members fled to Uganda where they settled as refugees in the western part of the country. “Life was not easy at all,” recalls Cobra, who entered the business world at the tender age of 18. “My sister had a taxi. In fact, we had two taxis. I started off working as a taxi driver. From there I joined the gold trade business. I would go with foreign businessmen looking for minerals. I crisscrossed Congo at the time, which was in the early 80s, reaching almost every corner of the country and later we transitioned into diamond trade. We were working with Congolese traders and I sort of specialised in that for a while,” says Cobra. In 1987, Cobra relocated to Uganda where he opened a shop trading in car tyres in the busy Nakivubo area of Kampala. Later he opened another shop in the eastern Ugandan town of Jinja as he slowly expanded his business tentacles. In 1990, Cobra returned to Burundi where he opened his first club known as Starlight, which went on to become popular. His fortunes quickly multiplied and he opened his second nightclub, Cadillac, which later went on to become a brand he became synonymous with. “Things were looking up. I opened another club in Bujumbura called Dynasty and a restaurant that was known as La Taverne. I kept on fighting and pushing for my businesses to grow. In 1994, we were obliged to return home to Rwanda. “Arriving here, everything was destroyed. There was no electricity, the country was in shambles. We were all struggling to kick-start life. I want to use this opportunity to thank President Paul Kagame for leading the rebuilding process and fostering the progress we are seeing today,” says Cobra. The entertainment industry With the country recovering from the devastating effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Cobra was the first to invest in the flailing entertainment industry by opening the first nightclub, Cadillac. “Cadillac and Starlight were booming clubs in Bujumbura. So, by the time I opened here, Cadillac was already known. We first operated from Umubano and later Remera. “Later, I acquired a plot in Kimihurura and built the club there and it became very popular,” Cobra says of the legendary club which was gutted by a fire on November 17, 2012. The fire later became the reason to permanently close the club and the adjacent Mama Africa Restaurant, which was Cobra’s latest venture at the time. A protracted battle with insurance companies ensured that Cadillac became a piece of history. Today, the location where Cadillac sat is now part of the land being reclaimed by the City of Kigali as it was later discovered that it was a wetland. Amidst all that, Cobra’s business interests shifted back to where it all started, Bujumbura. As the battle with insurance companies raged on, he saw an opportunity in Burundi. It didn’t take long. His businesses picked up quickly and soon he was recovering. As fate would have it, in 2015, political turmoil broke out in Burundi following a decision by the then President Pierre Nkurunziza to seek re-election. Rwanda was drawn into the whole situation and tensions were simmering. Rwandans in Burundi were subjected to animosity and definitely Rwandan owned businesses took a hit and so did Cobra. Many who knew him had written him off but trust him to always have something up his sleeve. “It is true, my businesses in Burundi incurred losses. There were challenges relating to insecurity and political instability. Remember I had just moved there to establish a club and a children’s park. “Certainly, I incurred losses. I lost equipment and materials. It was a difficult period for me, having recently lost Cadillac to the fire and then here I was in Burundi making losses again. There was no security whatsoever,” Cobra recalls. East or west, home is best The first option that came into Cobras mind when things fell apart in Burundi was to return home. One thing he knew, you can succeed elsewhere in another country, but at the end of the day, it is not your home country. In 2016, Cobra set out to re-establish himself in Rwanda, transforming his former home in Kimihurura into a hangout which to this day is known as Cocobean. “I keep on fighting, that is what I do. Life can hit you from below and above but you must persist and refuse to back down,” says Cobra, who relaunched Cadillac in town in 2018, in the former UTC building, now known as Kigali Investment Company mall. “Cadillac is still around, only that it reinvented itself. It is now more modern and classier than it was before,” he says. He had just heavily invested in new facilities when the Covid-19 pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, dealing the entertainment industry yet another heavy blow. “Just when I was picking up, Covid-19 pandemic came. It hit us really badly. Night life was affected. I can say it is really yet to pick up,” he says. In his own words, Cobra says that had he allowed himself to be depressed by the business losses he had incurred along the way, he wouldn’t be standing firm today. “I have lost a lot. I left my properties in Burundi and returned home, started off small and again here I am. You just shouldn’t accept to go down and stay there. What really matters is how you pick yourself up,” he says, encouraging young entrepreneurs to work hard on their dreams. “Once you are in business, you focus on staying afloat. It is like being thrown in the swimming pool or sea. You have to keep swimming to stay afloat and alive. If you don’t swim, you drown,” Cobra says. He also pointed out that when you focus on something, you can achieve it and most importantly, don’t be fooled by comparisons, focus on what you are building. The people you think are millionaires could be grappling with their own issues. Three things he puts above everything are love, support and solidarity because that is what made Rwandans who they are today, even in exile. Without those traits, not much can be achieved. “We have to lift each other up. When you see your friend struggling and you have a way of supporting them, do so. Show them solidarity and love. Without those traits, the people who liberated this country wouldn’t have done so,” he concludes.