The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Mukantabana Has Turned Beauty Into a Cash Cow

They say effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit. 54-year-old Elevanie Mukantabana, from Ruhango district, Southern Province took it seriously when she refused to give up on her life time dream of becoming a successful businesswoman.

Mukantabana poses next to her merchandise:

Born in 1960 into a humble family, Mukantabana was lucky to have received education given the fact that back then, girl education was not taken seriously.

"For me, going to school was very exciting, something that gave me the exposure I needed to become successful in life," says the mother of two.

Now the proprietor and managing director of La Decouverte Enterprise limited, a business empire that specialises in cosmetics in Kigali, Mukantabana has had to go through tough times before seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

How she started:

Upon attaining her high school certificate from Lycee Nortre Dame, a girl's only secondary school in Kigali in 1980, Mukantabana went on to become a primary school teacher in Ruhango, a job she did for only two years.

"I was earning about Rwf20,000 which was not enough to take care of my needs and my family. I then decided to move on with my life and moved back to Kigali and got a job as a cashier in a pharmacy where I earned about Rwf40,000 for a period of six years ," narrates Mukantabana.

Going back to school:

Even with Rwf40,000, the now business mogul was not yet satisfied with what she was getting; she decided to move back to school and attained a diploma in law in 1992 at Mburabuturo's Faculty of Law, now part of the National University of Rwanda.

"I knew very well that education was the only way women would make it to the forefront and so I was not ready to lag behind. I had to go back and study despite lack of enough funds to facilitate my studies."

Her desire to join business:

Mukantabana held on to the fact that a lot of women wanted to look good all the time and were investing heavily in cosmetics.

"I weighed the money people were spending to look nice and good and realised that it was a great business venture that would spark my economic independence," she says.

Having no money to rent a decent shop, Mukantabana decided to turn her home into a shop, saving on the money she would have paid for rent and investing it in business.

"There was not enough capital to pay for all the costs and besides, I was already married with children so operating from my home was a blessing in disguise," Mukantabana says.

With economic stability approaching, Mukantabana knew she was about to get her breakthrough and become a role model for women back in Ruhango. But sadly, that is not what happened.

Disaster strikes:

As Mukantabana was preparing to expand her business, disaster struck Rwanda in 1994 leaving her helpless with nothing else but her own life.

"I lost everything that I had built from scratch to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. It really brought me down to my knees," she recalls.

Left with nothing, luck smiled Mukantabana's way when a shipping cargo company that used to ship her goods from Europe to Kigali approached her with yet another business proposal.

"As I struggled to get back on track, one clearing firm in Europe, East African Cargo, approached me with a proposal, which was to become their cosmetics agent in Kigali. They were to send me products and my job was to make profits and pay back the money. This was a dream come true," the businesswoman says.

Getting up:

Having learnt the hard way, Mukantabana mastered the art of saving and reinvesting in business which has seen her expand what used to be a small cosmetic kiosk into four major outlets of cosmetics and women wear in Kigali and its suburbs.

She has created employment opportunities for 25 Rwandans both in and around her businesses.

She now supplies to wholesalers and retailers across the country.

Mukantabana has also been given exclusive rights to sell QEI cosmetic products and products from Nutricair in Rwanda and Burundi.

'I have also managed to send my children to universities in the United States and adopted more children including orphans who are studying in Belgium whom I am very happy to take care of. I have also given them a decent homestead, something that I dreamt of all my life," she says.

Her total capital investment now stands well above Rwf100 million.

What Women's Day means to her:

As the world marks the International Women's Day on March 8, Mukantabana says that time has come for women to take the centre stage and celebrate their contribution towards the country's economic resurgence. "Rwandan women of today should count themselves very lucky. The government has put in place a conducive environment for women to come out and shine in all sectors, we have security, the education system is gender friendly, and the labour market is not discriminative. With all these ingredients, therefore, I don't see any reason why we should have women that still want to lag behind," Mukantabana says.

The hurdles in her way:

"The challenge of being able to stand up as women and do what has been thought to be a man's job - that is to be able to run a business - is something that keeps me awake all the time."

"But also being able to steer a business amidst the increasing market competition requires an extra effort which sometimes can be so challenging," she says.

Advice to women:

Women must know that they owe the country their contribution, it does not matter how little the contribution might be or which sector it is, they have to do something to keep the country moving forward she says.

"We are mothers, and as mothers our role is to provide, therefore time for us to deliver is now," Mukantabana says.

She adds that entrepreneurship needs patience and hard work but above all, money, discipline and being a team player.

Future plans:

"Venturing in real estate is my next step, but I am also thinking of opening kids shops where young children's interests can be catered for," says the businesswoman.

What other people say about her:

Sylvie Umutoni, a businesswoman says; "Elvanie is an excellent and smart woman who never wants to compromise hard work."

Businessman Jean Christian Kayonga says: "I have known her as that kind of a mother with a golden heart who is always willing to extend a helping hand."

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