Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

A texting entrepreneur embodies spirit of a new Rwanda

Jeff Gasana's goal is to make his award-winning company the leading cellphone-banking service in East Africa.

(Page 2 of 4)

Also among those eager to get out into Kigali's working world and make his fortune is Jeff Madali, a Rwandan who graduated at the end of March with a bachelor's degree in marketing from the School of Finance and Banking, the only business school in the country.

Skip to next paragraph

"We can now graduate, get a good job, and hang out here," says Mr. Madali, gesturing toward the posh coffee shop where he and his up-and-coming peers gather for $3 cappuccinos and overpriced snacks.

"I enjoy marketing. I like to go out, see where the company is weak, and improve it," says Madali, listing ways the tourism company he interned with could care better for the rapidly growing number of foreigners visiting Rwanda for gorilla safaris.

Both of Madali's parents lost many relatives in the 1994 genocide. His girlfriend lost both her parents and six of her 10 siblings during the killing. "This is the time I feel so sad about those things," he says, explaining that, since the genocide, April 7-30 has become a mourning period.

But the country is moving on, Madali says, adding that the government preaches about how to forgive. "At university, you study with Hutus, but maybe they aren't the ones who killed. Why should we hate them?"

Incubator for entrepreneurs

At the School of Finance and Banking, Hutu and Tutsi students mingle with many other ethnicities from all over the region.

Third-year marketing student Patrick Ntwale, however, is not waiting until he graduates next year to start his career. He runs his own business selling collectors' stamps online.

"Online, it's easy to create business, because the whole world can be your market," he says, adding that he studies E-Bay and for good business strategies. He's also joined others to create a firm that makes educational movies.

"When you start a business, you have to take a risk," says Mr. Ntwale. "Sometimes you fail, but you have to keep going. Our president [Paul Kagame] says you have to create your own business, not wait for someone to hire you. People used to just graduate and expect a job, but if I don't start my own business today, I won't do business in the future."

That's the kind of entrepreneurial spirit the school's outgoing South African rector, Krishna Govender, hopes will be his legacy when he finishes his three-year stint in charge this month.

"Getting the culture right was a huge challenge," says Mr. Govender, explaining how workshops in time and performance management helped students who weren't even showing up to class graduate ready to manage a business team.

"I'm not a religious person, but maybe this has been a sort of calling for me," Govender says. "Our institution is very relevant to the progress of the country. Rwandans should be using [President Kennedy's] statement: 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' Everyone should be saying: It's my responsibility to change this country. The president is very clear on this. I like his thinking."

What economic boom?

Not everyone is so gung-ho about the country's future.

All over Kigali, shantytowns are being torn down in order to build new developments for wealthy Rwandans and foreigners to buy big new homes.

It's part of the president's vision of a modern African nation. The economic boom is causing prices to rise rapidly, but many lower-income people say their earnings are not keeping pace.

"It's too hard to survive," says Jean-Marie Safari, who picks up odd jobs in construction when he can. "Things are getting more expensive everyday. Food, rent … it's all going up."