Growing up as an orphan, Daniel Komezusenge started fending for himself at a tender age; so he had to be creative.
About four years ago, the now 30-year-old resident of Kabeza cell, Kanombe sector in Kicukiro District, denied doubters chance to weaken his resolve.
It all started one day, in 2008, when he saw a signpost of the Rwanda Tourism University College (RTUC) and, instantly felt he had achieved his childhood dream of being a tour guide/operator.
The following year (2009), Komezusenge enrolled for a travel and tourism management course. From his days in high school, he was passionate about working in the tourism industry and; he just had to make it happen.
On November 26, 2011, while still in his final year, he registered his company – Africa Adventure Tours and Travel. He had started a “brief case business” the previous year.
By the time he officially launched, he was “doing odd jobs here and there” and his savings (Rwf500,000) were barely enough but with an additional Rwf1 million the college gave him as a reward for the best student entrepreneur, he felt it was possible to start something.
“Fellow students said I was crazy; my workmates [he was among the many student doing part time jobs at the Hôtel des Mille Collines] also said I was crazy, but I felt that the knowledge I had from secondary and at the college was rich enough for me to get started,” says the father of a bouncing eight-month-old baby boy.
“There were so many challenges. I was young in business. I wasn’t able to compete with already established companies in business.”
Apart from discouraging voices from friends, there was a cash problem. At the time, Komezusenge knew nothing about the real business world and was a little bit anxious. “I was not able to compete with other companies that had experience in the industry at the time. I had no connection to customers.”
Giving a try
Despite all the discouragement and what looked like a misty road ahead, the former RTUC guild president decided to start — partly drawing his strength from a past dotted with hardship and hard work.
He never thought of seeking a bank loan. A mixture of luck and determination would later work for him.
“I struggled with my own funds. The income from my first clients enabled me advance.”
At the onset, he says, he considered two things – “a less costly office space that was in strategic location.” And on this one, he was lucky that the owner of the building where RTUC operated gave him a furnished room for an office.
“I had targeted RTUC’s many foreign instructors who travel a lot in and out of the country; I was sure they would be my customers. It was a strategic gamble that paid off as it made things easy for me. I would leave my office and walk to class just next door,” Komezusenge explains.
The college society is now his biggest customer base.
For the orphaned survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, life was always tough and, he recalls, he always drew inspiration from President Paul Kagame’s speeches on self-reliance and hard work.
“He’s my president but he is also my teacher. But what is important is whether you have a parent or you don’t whatever problem you might face, the first person to save you is you.”
Like other orphans, the Fund for the support of Genocide survivors (FARG) provided support but Komezusenge’s “education was a complicated story – and life was a struggle.”
Despite all, he was the best student at his high school when he finished senior six. “I was a dedicated student whose passion for tourism gave me the inner strength to read and concentrate. I was also inspired by my love for nature and guiding people as a tour guide. Finally I got a chance and today I have approached international agents in UK, USA, Australia and Canada with whom we collaborate.”
Back then, he relied on raw class room training, his passion and sheer willpower, as his sole motivators.
When Komezusenge started, he was the manager and the staff at the same time – running all operations including being a tour guide. Today, he employs six professionals -all graduates of RTUC and he is looking to employ more as the company gets bigger. Apart from the local market, his firm has now started organizing tour expeditions to east and west Africa.
Presently, however, even though the well-groomed and self-assured entrepreneur does not like revealing his net worth, he admits earning, way beyond his start up capital, during good seasons.
He advises students and graduates out there to be focused, resilient and hard working because it is not an easy journey but everything someone puts his or her mind and effort to can be accomplished.
Getting started in business, he says, is not all about having enough money. Everyone can make it if they try harder.
And, above all, he advises youth not to turn down any job offers or disrespect any employment opportunity however small or green collar. Every small job, he says, is a wonderful and enriching life experience.
“Do not think that wearing a graduation gown means that life ends there. It is just the beginning. Begin thinking of how you are going to use the skills you picked from school to create wealth,” Komezusenge says.
His other advice to youths going through school – especially those pursuing studies in the tourism sector – now is “stick to your guns.”
“It [travel and tourism business] is still less developed and still virgin and everybody can bring more innovations to the tourism industry.”