Like many youth, Console Mukarusanga was lured to the city by the huge prospects it offers when she left her hometown for studies in Kigali during late 80s.
When she completed high school, she enrolled for a tailoring and business management course and also started working part-time to fulfill her childhood dream of owning a business. Later, with a total of Rwf200,000 of her savings and money raised from friends and family, Mukarusanga started a small business as a tailor in Kigali’s Central Business District commonly known as Quartier Mateus in Nyarugenge in 1991.
The Kayonza-born business woman could at the time save Rwf20,000 per month, which was enough to afford her a decent life.
However, Mukarusanga’s dreams turned into ashes when the dark cloud of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi engulfed the country, destroying lives and property.
The 50-year-old entrepreneur was forced to abandon her business to save her life. She says all her sewing machines were stolen and some other property worth Rwf300,000 was destroyed.
Her husband also did not survive the genocide, besides family members, leaving her with a five-year-old boy.
Mukarusanga says the family also lost about 50 heads of cattle, produce and houses during the genocide.
“Though I suffered this irreversible loss, I never gave up on my dreams as a business person or looked for excuses to beg for money to earn a living. I was determined not to give the perpetrators reason to celebrate. So, I picked up the pieces and started afresh,” she narrates.
Born in Kayonza, Eastern Province, Mukarusanga was staying in Muhima sector, in Nyarugenge District when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi broke out. She says after the genocide in 1995, she decided to diversify the business and opted for beverages – soda and beer, which have better prospects and returns.
She was lucky to secure a bank loan of Rwf3 million for the venture. I believed this would enable me to look after my child and those that had lost their parents and had no guardians, she adds. She, however, got support from Association des Veuves du Genocide or the Association of the Widows of Genocide (Avega Agahozo.
“I was resolute not to let the horrors of the genocide determine my destiny or rule my life and those of other survivors. That’s why I also started reaching out to other genocide widows and orphans to inspire and help them in the healing process,” she narrates.
“I believed that it was not through self-pity or wallowing in bitterness and anger but through hard work that we would be able rebuild our lives and country.”
Mukarusanga’s determination and resolve have paid off as she is now the owner of a business worth millions of francs. She also supports over 10 youth who work at the store.
She notes that the move to diversify the enterprise brought immediate success and she, eventually, phased out the tailoring section to concentrate on beverages’ trade.
Mukarusanga says she ventured into beverages “because I could see bar and restaurant owners travelling long distances to get beverages”.
“Therefore, I decided to exploit this window of opportunity since I was assured of the market,” she says.
Though it is seasonal, she used to earn Rwf200,000 profit in a month on average, and has increased to Rwf500,000 presently. She says business has also since grown into a multimillion venture dealing in beverages.
She says most of the sales are made during the peak periods, especially in December and April around Christmas and Easter, respectively, as well as when children are going back to school.
The entrepreneur says she got two more loans totalling Rwf15 million to expand the beverages business.
“I used the money to restock my beer and soda supplies, which significantly boosted the enterprise and helped improve the firm’s profits,” she says. Mukarusanga adds that with the capital injection, the clientele base also increased particularly wholesale buyers.
“My clients are mainly restaurants, pubs and bars in and around Kigali,” she says.
Mukarusanga has been able to pay the school fees for her son and other children under her care. She also supports about 21 genocide orphans and widows.
“My biggest achievement is that I managed to educate my son who is now at university without any problem besides supporting 21 genocide widows and orphans,” she notes.
She has also been able to build a permanent residential house worth Rwf20 million; and has bought a car for the family and six hectares of land in Kayonza District using savings from the business.
The business woman says the main challenge is lack of access to affordable funding, noting that bank loans are costly and hard to secure. She calls for more support to small and medium business operators, saying they are the engine of the economy.
“If we don’t get funding, this affects job-creation and people’s income, which will translate into low growth,” Mukarusanga argues.
She notes that the commemoration period is always hard for her.
“I always get affected both mentally and physically during the first week of the commemoration period because it a huge blow to lose people and property at that magnitude,” she says.
Mukarusanga says healing from the scars of the genocide is a continuous process. She urges survivors to work hard to improve their lives and also support the country’s development agenda.
“I believe that through passion and hard work nothing is unattainable. However, as survivors we always need to think positively if we are to improve our livelihood and support our families.”
“I have experienced a lot of pain and loss that no man can repair or compensate. However, I chose not to let the horror of the genocide rule my life and focus on striving each day to attain better future without sorrow,” she says.
Mukarusanga advises business operators to embrace good business management practices like bookkeeping.