Boss Kanimba’s imposing physical presence stares down on you from that Tigo bill board at the main roundabout in the city centre.
Clad in a tight-fitting blue t-shirt and blue jeans, he smiles down on passersby as he goes about his kitchen chores –cutting some spices. In the background, a pretty young lady beams her smile in his direction, as if preparing to play some kind of trick on him.
On a similar billboard, he stares down on you again at the Sonatubes roundabout.
This is how Kanimba he got himself onto the billboards: “Early one morning someone from Tigo called me and asked if I could go to their offices the following day. He said that they were looking for a strong, well-built young man, and that someone had recommended me. He asked me to carry a blue t-shirt and another blue sleeveless shirt with me,” Kanimba said. “I thought I was going to do the usual bouncer job but it was something totally different,” he added.
Big surprise …
“I was taken to Rebero, at the home of one of the cameramen, and when I arrived, I found a big camera crew waiting for me. They wanted me to audition for a photo shoot. I had gone wearing a large t-shirt which hid my body physique. When the director saw me, he told me to remove it and wear the sleeveless shirt instead. I changed into the sleeveless and immediately he was impressed by my physique, and asked me to pause for photos.”
Unknown to him, the shoot would take five days. “For the first two days, I acted with Rahma (the young lady on the billboard), then she was dropped and another one brought in for the last three days. However she did not perform well, so Rahma was brought back.”
“The original idea was for me to appear on two billboards; one for upcountry and one for town. But I did not fit the profile of the person they wanted for the upcountry billboard.”
So what were him and Rahma doing in that spacious kitchen, apart from the smiling and giggles? “We cooked real food. I remember it was pasta, sardines, tomatoes, onions plus other spices I don’t remember.”
Of course he got paid for his work (he is not willing to reveal how much), preferring instead to talk about the fame the billboard has earned him.
“Being on the billboard has changed my life. I’m now always careful about which gym I work out in, which restaurants I go to eat, the places I hang out, and the friends I keep. I meet people in high places who want to just talk to me or be friends with me.”
Kanimba attributes his journey to the billboard to what he terms as “face value”. “When they want someone to appear on a commercial billboard, they look for a person whose face is known to many people. My face value is from the fact that I am always a bouncer or part of the security and protocol team at most events and shows in Kigali. I have been a bouncer for the Salax awards since they started, and at most of the Primus Guma Guma seasons. I have bounced at all events of East African Promoters and other events like FESPAD and kigaliUp.”
Incidentally, it all started as a joke for him. “I started bouncing in 2009, for East African Promoters. I did not like it, but the management convinced me that I had the right body structure for the job. They also complained that some bouncers they had worked with were thieves.”
He decided to give it a try, and soon he realised the money was good and yet he worked just a few hours. “In the beginning, I wasn’t in a good shape to even be called a bouncer, so it gave me a good challenge. I started doing workouts and all sorts of physical drills to tone my body. I started by doing road work, where I would run 15 Kms twice every week. After roadwork, I headed to the gym to build my muscles and power. I stopped eating things like matooke and bugali and mayonnaise that were not important to my body, and instead settled for fruits, kawunga (posho), cassava, potatoes, and greens.”
“I worked out with a cause. I realised that many bouncers were making lots of money simply because they were in very good physical shape.”
Kanimba describes the work of a bouncer as characterised by low pay and poor public perceptions. “Many people still look at this job as something for school drop outs and drug addicts.”
So in 2012, an idea occurred to him to inject a dose of professionalism into the job. He shared the idea with fellow bouncers in a similar situation, and the result was the now popular B-KGL (Kigali Bodyguard Ltd).
B-KGL is basically a bouncer and bodyguard service provider that hires out its personnel to events organisers.
Although the company has offices on Sulfo Road in downtown Kigali, its real base is in Gikondo, where it operates a gym. It is here that the muscle men (17 in total) meet to keep their bodies in shape. Each member has to attend compulsory workout sessions from Mondays to Thursdays, from 6:00 am to noon.
This usually involves a 4 Km run, followed by stretch exercises, after which they go for the different martial arts drills.
At the gym, Kanimba is addressed as president, a title he deserves since it was his idea to start the group. He is deputised by David Mushumba, another bouncer/bodyguard with who he first shared the idea.
Mushumba says: “Body building is about adding on your physical weight and building power so that someone is intimidated by just looking at you. We lift weights to build power, we do squat exercises to be firm, because there are situations that need you to physically lift a client when there is trouble. You try to be more prepared and fit than the trouble causer.” Like his boss, Mushumba laments the sad state of affairs in the industry:
“There is a lot of unprofessionalism exhibited by bouncers these days which is mainly caused by poor pay. Most bouncers at nightclubs and bars earn very little, so they top it up by sneaking in their people and pocketing the money. This ends up affecting both the reputation of bouncers and the client’s business.”
He adds: “Bouncers and bodyguards are cheated by clients because most of them don’t have written contracts before they take up an assignment. Many don’t even have a physical address – they work in total confusion. So a client can take a bouncer to Gisenyi, and after the work is done, he will just buy you a few drinks and some chips, and then he will tell you; “we’ll talk in Kigali.”
Although he holds a diploma in ICT from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Mushumba is all for his current job: “This work brings in more money and it’s a passion I have had since childhood.”
Mushumba seems to be more comfortable with the description “bodyguard”, as opposed to “bouncer.” “It’s basically the same thing only that people are more used to the word bouncer. We are bodyguards because we use our physical bodies, not weapons to guard. We just use our technical skills like karate, and boxing.
The only machine we use is a metal detector, and radio calls at events and meetings. We use physical power combined with skill to save a situation where there is potential danger. Bouncer is not there to fight and beat up people,” he concludes.