the mastery with which he uses the tools is amazing as he puts final touches on one of the windows, his workers are getting set to deliver to a client.
Samuel Uwimana is working under a tight deadline. He joins each piece of the angle bars with the skill of a master welder.
Indeed, the expertise and passion with which he does his work won the hearts of artisans in Gihundwe, Rusizi District who elected him as the president of COTECOGI Welding Association.
The resident of Hihundwe has over the years turned his passion for construction and welding into a multimillion enterprise, driven by the desire to turn scrap metal into innovative products.
Uwimana, a former porter, presently earns about Rwf2 million per month from the venture, thanks to determination, hard work, and support from Business Development Fund (BDF), which helped turn around the metal fabrication and welding business.
Uwimana started out as a porter, working on different construction sites to earn a living and pay his school fees. Unlike many of his schoolmates, Uwimana toiled as a porter to pay his school fees, from primary school to tertiary education in a technical institute.
“Every time I got free time, I went looking for jobs at different sites in the neighbourhood to make sure I raise enough money for each school term,” he explains.
After completing secondary education, the artisan enrolled for a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) course, specialising in construction and welding.
“I wanted to acquire hands on skills that would help me realise my dream of starting my own business,” he narrates.
However, when he finally graduated with a certificate in welding and construction, he was faced with yet a challenge of finding startup capital to pursue his dream. Left with no alternative, Uwimana was forced to go job-searching in Kamembe town like many other fresh graduates.
Later, he was able to start a small metal fabrication workshop using the little savings from the part-time jobs he got on construction sites in the town.
The entrepreneur says he chose to focus on a career in welding because it brings in returns within a short period. Besides, metal fabrication and welding offered more opportunities to exploit one’s talent and create jobs for others.
When time came for expansion, however, Uwimana applied for loans from banks without success. He was lucky that BDF agreed to finance the project when he pitched the idea.
The Fund provided a guarantee of Rwf2.5 million and also gave a him equipment as his start-up kit. The guarantee from BDF enable the young entrepreneur to secure Rwf2.5 million loan from Umusingi SACCO. The SACCO had earlier denied him credit due to lack of collateral, but thanks to BDF intervention (guarantee) he was able to secure the loan. However, he was instructed to join a cooperative or an association before he could access the loan.
“I started mobilising my colleagues right away and we formed COTECOGI Association, which brings together 20 youth involved in welding, Uwimana says.
He used the money he got from BDF to buy modern machinery to boost his capacity and efficiency to be able to bid for big contracts.
Uwimana bought cutting edge equipment, including tomahawk plasma cutters, Spirit plasma cutting systems, motion and shape cutting controllers, and genuine torch consumables, among others.
With the equipment, he was able to improve quality and production capacity, which attracted more customers and increased his earnings. The master welder says BDF support marked the turning point for the business whose future was not certain at the time.
Uwimana recently won a tender to weld street lighting poles across the city that will bring in millions. The artisan also supplies modern switch boxes to Rwanda Energy Group (REG).
“We are currently negotiating with a number of schools and commercial enterprises to supply them with locally-made windows, door frames, and metal beds especially in schools,” he said.
Uwimana plans to open more workshops across the country, saying this is his way of supporting government’s push for creation of more off-farm jobs for the youth.
“I also want to establish a training centre to equip more youth with skills that could help improve their livelihoods.”
Despite the achievements, Uwimana says access to affordable credit especially for the youth is still a challenge in the country.
“We are, however, hopeful about efforts to support the youth in the country. We know that will be top priority of the President during next term of office,” he says.
The type of enterprise also requires reliable and affordable electricity, but there are still outages and inadequate power supply that affect our work and causes delays in delivering to our customers.
Uwimana says the cost of some of key raw materials used in fabrication like steel and aluminum is high, which pushes up the final price for clients.
Advice to youth
He urges the youth to stop underlooking TVET, saying it is like any other profession that provides Rwandans decent living. They must also develop a culture of saving and investing to be able to make a reasonable contribution to the country’s economic development.