SELEMAN MUTABAZI enjoys spending hours every day in a banana plantation he treats like a kindred. The aura of humility with which he presents himself is accentuated by the gentleness, passion, determination and dedication in his words.
When Mutabazi talks about his choice to invest in banana farming, he emphasises his wish to grow his investment and make a change in the life of his family and community. He also loves to talk about what he proudly calls ‘fruits of hard work’–that hard work ultimately leads to good results.
Mutabazi, a resident of Rwoga Cell in Ruhango District, Southern Province, is a former soldier who fought for the country’s liberation under the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) as they battled the then government to end the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
In 1993, three years into the Liberation struggle, Mutabazi managed to slip out of the country and voluntarily enrolled into RPA. He would remain into the ranks of the liberation movement until they took over the country.
He retired in 1997 after four years of service.
Mutabazi recalls the moment he was demobilised from the army and the uncertainty and resolve that resulted from the fear to live a civilian life.
Indeed, he says, apart from a discharge package that he received, he had no other foundation from which to base.
“I was surely not certain of my future,” he says. “I feared my life could become a nightmare.”
When Mutabazi retired from active military service, he received Rwf210,000 and an assortment of foodstuff for three months. The retirement package is aimed at supporting demobilised soldiers start a new life and return to civilian life without many difficulties.
For some, the money was too little to start any income-generating activity, but not for Mutabazi–the package was something that could help shape his new life.
So, shortly after his retirement, he used the money to start a cow trading business.
“I would buy a cow and resell it at a higher price,” he recalls. “That helped me to earn little money.”
Eager to transform his life, Mutabazi saved little money from his revenues in anticipation of a much bigger revenue-generating activity.
“I wanted to do something that could further take my life to a new level and help me to live a better life,” he says.
His sense of business, coupled with determination and hard work, pushed him to follow a different business venture.
About seven years ago, Mutabazi decided time had come to test something new in his pursuit of decent life. Using the ‘little’ money he had accumulated from his cattle trading business, Mutabazi started investing in banana farming.
He started his project on a ‘small’ plot of land that belonged to his parents because he did not have money to buy enough land.
And as his new endeavours started generating fruits, Mutabazi expanded his plantation and, today, he is recognised as one of the most successful and respected model banana farmers in Ruhango.
His banana plantation covers three hectares of land on which he grows mainly the drug-resistant and high-yield FIA 25 and FIA 17 varieties.
“When I retired, I was convinced that the power to survive and become a proud citizen was embedded in my capacity to work hard and lead an exemplary life to other citizens. So, despite the many challenges that we anticipated and which we surely had to bravely face, I decided I should be the one to drive my fate and future,” Mutabazi says.
“Today, I am proud that my life never sunk into poverty but rather kept improving.”
Dreams come true
The plantation, on which he employs five labourers, gives Mutabazi an income with each bunch costing Rwf4,000. He sells his produce to a local banana beer maker.
Mutabazi gets up to 70 bunches per harvest depending on the season.
“My life has improved thanks to my efforts,” he proudly says as he stands under a plantain carrying a huge bunch in the middle of his plantation.
“This is an investment that has transformed my life and I look forward to continue expanding it.”
But apart from his banana farming activities, Mutabazi also keeps three Friesian cows and calves. The cows provide milk for family consumption as well as manure for his farm.
He is also starting a new business of commercial fish farming. Currently, the former soldier-turned-agriculture investor has a fish pond that he dug as part of a pilot phase.
“Now that I have realised that the project can also generate enough money, I am planning to build other ponds and expand this project as well,” Mutabazi says.
The former career soldier says his business helped him to build three houses–a modern residential house and a commercial block in Ruhango town that he rents to tenants and his relatively big and modern family house in Rwoga cell, on the outskirts of Ruhango town.
Revenues from his business also help him cater for the needs of his family and to pay school fees for his four children–all in secondary schools.
“I no longer have doubts over living a better life,” he says. “I will continue to work hard to keep improving my life.”
Meaning of Liberation
As Rwanda marked for the 20th liberation anniversary on Friday, Mutabazi said he has indelible marks of the struggle that led to the country’s rebirth.
He says whenever he looks back, joy fills up his heart and feels a sense of pride.
“Over the past 20 years, the country has made significant and tremendous achievements. We have peace and security that allows anyone who wants to develop a chance to work and transform their lives,” Mutabazi says.
“When we joined the liberation struggle, that is what we expected and now that we are realising it is something I am proud of.”
To other former soldiers, Mutabazi has a piece of advice: “Let’s work hard because it is only through working hard that we can continue to improve our lives and make us proud citizens.”