People were broken, and the country was in turmoil. People were not interested in investing in business and the few who did trade had to get goods from neighbouring countries. Prices were hiked yet the market for goods was small because people had no money.
"Due to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the business atmosphere in the country was terrible," says David Muhinda, a businessman in Kigali.
Born and raised in Tanzania as a refugee, Muhinda worked for the Tanzanian government as a cadre. In June 1994, he decided that enough was enough and returned to Rwanda, even though the country was still going through traumatic events.
"As a businessman in Tanzania, I couldn't even get a loan to support my business or pursue a university degree, even though I performed well academically, simply because I wasn't a Tanzanian citizen.
David Muhinda. Photo: Sharon Kantengwa.
"I had had enough of living as a refugee. I was working for the government but was not respected or treated fairly because I was not a citizen. Luckily for me, I was in touch with relatives in Rwanda and decided to come back home. At the time, the RPF soldiers had given refugees and Rwandans in the diaspora hope of liberating the country so we were all eager to return home," he recalls.
Doing business post-Genocide
Having returned to the shattered country, he thought of means to contribute to the country's rebuilding so that peace could be restored and business resumed.
"At the time, there was no development due to bad leadership of the former regime and the Genocide that destroyed even the little that was available. We had to start from scratch, teaching people the importance of reconciliation. I was appointed cell leader and our work was to help instil patriotism among Rwandans, teaching them to love their country and one another," he says.
With experience in business, he decided to venture into retail, starting with a carton of salt, from the very little capital that he had. The small retail shop soon birthed two pharmacies in Byumba and Kigali and through that, he was able to educate his sons.
"I ventured into the pharmacy business because at the time there were very few pharmacies and people would have to move long distances to buy medicine."
He, however, adds that doing business in the aftermath of the Genocide was no walk in the park. People not only lost loved ones but their finances as well and were beginning afresh. It took a lot of patience, hard work and customer care to earn loyalty from clients and grow his business.
"Joining cooperatives also contributed to helping my business grow, because we worked as a team of business people, shared ideas and saved money."
Today, the 60-year-old is a proud member of Champion Investment Corporation (CHIC), a private joint venture entity for Kigali, as well as, Ikyerekezo in Gasyata which has very good services and premises for modern garages - a tremendous achievement for him.
"At that time, the government did a lot to rebuild what was destroyed. Rebuilding roads, building schools and hospitals and easy access to loans contributed to improving the business atmosphere.
"The mind-set back then was different, people had lost hope and were dealing with trauma so they did not think of pursuing business. Others who were able to were scared of investing because they were uncertain of the future of their business. Today even those who are investing abroad are beginning to bring business back home and the country is attracting foreign investors," he says.
Muhinda's dream was to achieve an education even though he was denied the chance as a refugee. Having attained a diploma only, he decided to fund his education and pursue a Bachelor's degree in finance at University of Kigali, and soon pursued an MBA at Mt. Kenya University which he completed in 2012.
"Even though I furthered my education later on in life, it was a dream come true because I wanted to acquire knowledge to grow my business, something I would not have achieved as a refugee.
"RPF is the engine for development of this country. Young people like me wanted to come back because of their policy and aspirations for this country. Today we have security, people are investing without fear of thieves. We were destroyed by bad policy and now we are liberated by great leadership," he says.