Symphrose Mukamazimpaka is the owner of Le Petit Prince hotel in Huye district. The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi left her widowed with her business in ruins. Amidst this quagmire like any other shrewd entrepreneur, she chose to be optimistic and so she restarted her business from scratch. Her journey depicts determination, honesty and hard work. Mukamazimpaka spoke to The New Times Paul Ntambara about her humble beginnings and foray into the hotel business.
How did you join the business world?
I started getting involved as early as 1988. Together with my husband we operated a hardware store in Butare (Currently Huye District) town.
What hindered your journey?
My husband was killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi but I was lucky to survive. When I returned to the country in 1995 I decided to continue the business but there was little to fall back to.
My husband previously had a good working relationship with a local bank from which he had acquired a loan of Rwf3million. However, immediately after the genocide, the Bank authorities came to me asking for repayment of the loan; there is no way I could have refused to pay back, but I told them that I didn’t have any thing to pay back since our house that we had given as collateral was razed to the ground during the genocide.
I begged for their trust and asked them to give me another loan of Rwf3million. The bank agreed to loan me the money which I re-invested in hardware business.
Where did you find your motivation?
Honesty in business is very important; when people trust you they will help you. My husband had worked well with other business people. I built on this trust because our business partners in Kigali trusted me with their products which I sold and used to pay back the loan. In the long run, I stabilised financially.
I built my own house which I used as collateral to acquire another loan. This time round the bank increased the loan amount up to Rwf30million. I had also won the bank’s trust because I serviced my loan regularly. In 2000, I started travelling to Dubai to explore business opportunities there.
How did you expand your business?
I developed a plan to expand my business before I approached district authorities and asked them to sell me a plot of land that was located in a largely neglected area. I started developing the land but I did not know what exactly I wanted to build. I thought of building hostels to accommodate University staff but later changed my mind because I did not believe in the sustainability of this project. It is around that time that I thought of starting up a hotel because I had enough land to do this but I did not have the necessary money.
What opened your way?
I joined an association of women entrepreneurs and that is when my eyes were opened to the new and exciting opportunities out there. Together with other women entrepreneurs, we discussed how to promote our businesses. We went many places such as, in the USA where we attended several business meetings—I must say this was an empowering experience.
I got to learn that there are government institutions that help businesses to grow. I sought for help from the Centre for the Support to Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (CAPMER), where I sold my hotel plan and they liked it.
They helped me put the ideas to paper and forwarded the project to the Rwanda Development Bank for funding. The bank did not hesitate to support my business venture.
Tell us about your hotel
Le Petit Prince hotel is situated in the upscale residential area of Taba in Butare town, it has 25 rooms and employs 40 full time staff. The expansion plan continues and I am currently constructing a grand swimming pool that is expected to be complete early next year.
What challenges did you face?
Several people doubted my plans to build a hotel. Since I am a widow some people doubted if I was doing all this by myself, insinuating that a man was behind all these developments but I believed in myself and chose not to give up, and that is my character. I was never discouraged because I vowed to continue with my work despite the negative talk.
I had a vision which could not be deterred by such unsubstantiated claims.
What is your inspiration to succeed?
I love work and people: I get satisfaction from helping people achieve their dreams. I felt that there is something that I had to do to help others. This is what inspired me to undertake such a project.
What is your message to our readers?
Women in Rwanda have no excuse not succeed in whatever they aspire to do because the Government is supportive towards women. I advise women to work harder and be honest in their business dealings. There are many challenges along the way to success but through patience, set goal, hard work and determination anyone can achieve their dreams.