When The New Times heard about a mature student sitting in class pursuing an education at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) with students young enough to be his children, we thought it was a joke. That is until we stumbled upon the lawyer, businessman, diplomat and security expert, Soyan Omar.
Age is just a number!" were the first words Omar uttered when I asked him why he chose to rejoin school at such a late stage in his life
Omar, 54, received his Masters of Law Degree certificate from NUR yesterday having passed his exams with flying colours. And despite his other enviable achievements, this is the one he treasures most. His smile when we met him at a popular restaurant near our office told it all.
"Age is just a number!" were the first words Omar uttered when I asked him why he chose to rejoin school at such a late stage in his life.
He is the founder and Managing Director of Fodey Security Ltd, a regional security company with operations in Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania.
"I completed my minor degree in 1993 in Political Science at the University of Montreal before proceeding to pursue a Law degree in graduate school between 1993 and 1996. After that, I concentrated on getting a job and making money to start a family," Omar narrated, as he sipped hot coffee at his favourite restaurant in Kigali.
"The thought of pursuing further education filled my mind everyday but I never got the time. It was not until recently that I decided to put my ambition in action."
When quizzed about the relevance of a master's degree attained so close to his pension years, Omar smiled, as if he had anticipated the question.
"There is no age limit for learning. People are scared to rejoin school, thinking that they are too old to learn anything that is useful and relevant to them or their societies. I put those feelings aside and registered for a Masters Degree as a mature student," Omar said.
"Although I was over 25 years older than the oldest student in a class of 11 people, I was proud of the way they treated me as an elder who had made the right decision," he recalled.
Married with nine children, Omar is settled in Kigali with his family and says he found a safe haven in Rwanda 16 years ago, away from the political crisis in his native Somalia. A Canadian citizen, Omar first came to Rwanda in 1996 from Canada, where he had lived with his family for 15 years.
"I chose to come to Rwanda from Canada, because I wanted to settle somewhere in Africa and did not think of a better place than Rwanda. The people are hospitable and cannot see the difference between a Rwandan and a Somali," he said.
"Some of my children were born here, speak fluent Kinyarwanda and attend schools here. The older ones who are studying in universities abroad always come back to join me when on holiday."
Omar says that education is the backbone of a country's economic prosperity and future. He, therefore, urges the youth to always be vigilant about their academics and advises the older people to get as much knowledge as possible so that they can be credible consultants in their areas of professional interest.
He also believes that rather than turn out to become a financial burden to the country, the elderly must be given as many opportunities as possible to pursue an education and upgrade their skills.
But he has scored other first too; giving out scholarships and, in spite of not having formal police or military training, he taught himself security management and strategies to become an expert of sorts in that rarefied profession. Today he runs one of the most successful security companies in the region, with subsidiaries in Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania, but headquartered in Kigali; which he calls his home.
He is also Somalia's Honourary Consul in Rwanda and a point of reference for Somali tycoons seeking opportunities for investment. Many of these businessmen have turned Nairobi's Eastleigh business district into East Africa's equivalent of Dubai.
But it has not been all smooth sailing for him; his business has recently run into a headwind of reactionary forces which have threatened the very foundation on which it stands. Nonetheless, he is taking the challenge in his stride with his eyes firmly set on new opportunities in the region.