Keeping on amidst uncertainties

When I started Kagera Safaris one of my dreams was to provide excellent inbound travel services to Uganda for people who wanted to explore Uganda on both the usual tourist routes and those off the beaten tracks. I was motivated by my love for travel and the belief that God had gifted us with a beautiful country which I thought everyone should have an opportunity of visiting. I barely had any marketing budget but looked forward to spreading the word out there and hopefully start to receive people looking to visit the Pearl of Africa.

I learned about the travel expos that happen in Europe and America which are our main source markets and dreamed of attending them someday. This seemed such a far away possibility considering that I did not have a marketing budget. However I believe that it costs nothing to dream and plan, so I often found myself researching about the different expos and what I needed for me to attend them. Eventually I had the opportunity of being sponsored for my very first expo through the USADF after being part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders and like they say the rest is history. It took my business on a path of growth that could have taken it years to achieve.

This year I have been growing in engaging the scriptures and speaking life on a daily basis regarding the different promises God has given me concerning my life and His purposes. Previously if something did not work out I quickly dismissed it as maybe not being God’s will.  Today instead of lamenting about the things that are not working out the way I envisioned or not as fast as I think – I speak the Word which is life in the midst of such situations. When the people traffic at this year’s ITB Berlin was much less than expected I spoke Gods Word and He sent us more traffic the next day. These are things I would previously comment about and complain, now I declare the Word. We had a mishap of ground staff striking at the Tegel Airport which led to cancelled flights and late communications but I chose hope through it all. I was not given boarding passes which meant I was on waiting list, I chose to be calm and wait on God and He came through as always. There was bad weather which interfered with the plane landing in Entebbe, we spent about 30 minutes circling Lake Victoria with people screaming. In that moment I remembered Gods Word and spoke it and chose to relax amidst the storm.

As I grow older I am amazed at Gods love and commitment to mankind, He wants the best for us and never gives up on us. That I can confidently say like Paul – For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. That when my time is come and I have accomplished my purposes I will rest. But for now I will continue to use the opportunities my Father opens up for me. That I will continue to encourage others to move out and explore their gifting, looking to the author and finisher of our faith. That yes it can be scary but remember God is on your team. You will do it, He will send help along the way.

Of leadership, the youth and the desire to be a Chef

On my last day of the Burundi visit, I prepared to start my journey early morning so as to have enough time for  the border delays. Border crossing in Africa (in my case its mainly been East Africa) can be a nightmare of sorts requiring so much time and worse if you are using public transport and are several people on the bus. My hope is that in the future this is improved to ensure faster movements of goods and people because like the old adage “Time is money” we cannot afford to keep losing such an irredeemable resource.  Again I think part of it is used by some government workers to maybe frustrate and show power which I find unnecessary.

Well the beautiful thing was that I was ready to start the journey back to Kigali where I had an 8 days safari with clients from Norway. I needed to be back in Kigali the day before they arrived. I arose early morning before sunrise to be ready because the driver had promised to pick me up at 6.00 am. By 6.00 am I was in my hotel lobby waiting for him but he was nowhere to be seen. It clocked 6.30 am and was getting frustrated at his time keeping. Eventually after several phone calls he arrived way after 7.00 am and to my shock he said he was not traveling to Kigali. Who does this? We had previously agreed, if he had decided not to travel he should at least have informed me? But I know that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God…’so I decided not to dwell on that and instead thank God that he has at least come and is taking me to find another taxi.

Again I sat in the behind seat but this time between two young gentlemen who were slim and so there was no squashing of my hips. After greetings it was silence as we waited for the car to fill up and we start our journey. The first part of the journey we were mostly quiet, spent enjoying the scenery and then the conversations started. I later learned that on my left side the young  man was a Congolese studying in Kampala and on the right side was a Burundian also studying in Kampala. They both spoke highly of Kampala and Uganda a country they will have their student lives shaped. It warmed my hearing how they enjoy their time in Kampala-Uganda and how they find Ugandans to be generally nice people welcoming to foreigners. In fact one of them hopes to stay even after school. I looked at my imperfect country and thanked God that He gave us a heart of welcoming all people who later make it their home. I know that as a country we have challenges of leadership at all levels but yet God gave us such a beautiful country, one needs to travel within Africa to appreciate the freedom, fertile soils and beautiful scenery.

Our conversations were about so many topics. We agreed that we are all struggling via leadership in small and big ways. We agreed that for some reason the leadership is pretending about the youth explosion and choosing not to invest in them. So then how do we bring change in countries where governments love to use the youth to carry out their ‘dirty’ work instead of equipping them with different skills to contribute significantly to the economy. It is as if they enjoy having them desperate then they can easily give them a gun and ask them to engage in situations of killing their fellow countrymen.

From the conversations what remained on my heart was the conversation about what influenced their courses at the university. One of them was very passionate about Chemistry which he opted to pursue at University. Originally he pursued Environmental science because he was made to  believe that there was lots of chemistry course units but later realized that was not the case, so he was now going full blast in Chemistry. The other is pursuing international relations which he clearly hates. He loves cooking and everything to do with food, in fact he wants to be a chef but his parents will not hear of it. His father does not want to hear of the idea so he has been pushed to pursue the course since he is currently in no position to pay his own tuition.

I do not know what it is with parents forcing children to study things that are not of interest to them. I think it has to do with this mentality of white collar office jobs versus blue collar jobs. In my view people will excel regardless of the course or choice of work. Maybe they will never be the richest people and rightly so because job satisfaction cannot be compared to the amount of money one amasses  while on this life journey. I quickly encouraged him to still pursue his dream of being a super chef even as he pursues his studies, he was quick to share photos of the food especially the different salads he loves to make. He shared how his roommates are forever glad to have him because he can never tire of cooking for them.

I love to encourage young people to pursue their dreams. For them to know that the journey is not necessarily easy but that it is possible to excel in whatever field they are interested in because after all it is God who gave them the desires for that particular field. They need to start small towards this dream and God will surely send help as they keep on the journey. I hope to meet these young lads again soon and see how to be of help on their journey. And of course the chef will do the cooking as we discuss and share ideas of how to live out fully the life God has given us. For now it on and forward for me, continuing on the journey of encouraging people to pursue the dreams, start that business or organization, study that course and generally keep on the move and never to give up because they have the help of the Almighty.

My Bujumbura Escapades

After the long but rewarding ride from Kigali to Bujumbura, I settled in the little beautiful New Cayor hotel. It was affordable compared to the service it was offering. I was later informed that 2 years ago such a hotel cost about triple its current price but due to the political issues the number of visitors have reduced. The hotel pricing in a bid to attract the very few courageous tourists and business travelers lowered their costs.

The day was spent exploring the different sites in and near Bujumbura town. I got a taxi to take me around town for the entire day armed with my list of to see places I sent out. After we set off from the hotel, our first stop was the forex bureau for some Burundian francs to be able to buy some souvenirs. It is very important to me to contribute to the economy beyond hotels by buying souvenirs. This I believe is one of the ways the general population benefits from tourism.

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My main reason for visiting Burundi and Bujumbura in particular was to learn about the country and the possibility of including it as a destination for Kagera Safaris. O how I love my work, I am forever thankful for what this work allows me to do. Travel and more travel which by far one of my favorite hobbies. On my list was visits to the hotels and other main tourism sites around this beautiful town. I was pleasantly surprised by this small town, there are quite a number of tour attractions in and around the city. There are also a number of beautiful hotels in Bujumbura and business was ongoing amidst the tense atmosphere because of the political issues but generally slow at the moment.

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My highlights of my visit was to Muse Vivant which unfortunately is a dilapidated Zoo in Bujumbura. The building could use a new coat of paint and some warmth from the staff. The animals in the cages too did not look the best. It seems like this place was once glorious but had certainly lost this glory. However amidst all this I was thankful for a rare opportunity of touching and sitting on a crocodile. I mastered all the courage I could gather and decided to risk and experience this.

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The other highlights was a visit to the monument where Livingstone met with Stanley. This is just a rock, it goes a long way to show how anything can be a tourist attraction. I also visited Louis Rwagasore Monument in the suburbs of Bujumbura. Louis was the first president of Burundi who was unfortunately assassinated within days of being announced president according to my guide. He was also a prince to the then Kingdom of Burundi. I was able to buy some unique Burundian crafts from the craft village.  Lastly I visited the large local market which has anything and everything, with parking for cars to other parts of the country and those across the border.

img_7291I highly recommend you visit Bujumbura, they have beautiful beach along Lake Tanganyika with affordable hotel rates, you will be surprised by the rates of Club Du Lac Tanganyika rates. Link up with a local to take you through this beautiful capital. Remember to ask permission before you take photographs of anything and everything. I lost over 30 minutes of my time because I took photos of a catholic cathedral. According to the guard, for all they know I could have ill intentions. Even after deleting the photos he was adamant to let me go, instead he insisted I talk to the Priest who would come in later. I thought this was unnecessary but well I obliged. Otherwise explore Burundi even beyond Bujumbura, that will be on my next adventure, for now Bujumbura is all I could bite and chew.

My expedition to Burundi – The heart of Africa!

It all started as a thought. I had heard a lot about this town set along the shores of Lake Tanganyika and I could only imagine being so close to a beach. I imagined people working in an office overlooking the lake and maybe they have lunch from which they get motivation to proceed with their work in the afternoon. When these thoughts consumed me so much coupled with several enquiries of people who would like to add Burundi to their tour of Uganda & Rwanda, I decided it was time to explore Bujumbura and Burundi. Whenever I want to include new products for Kagera Safaris, I company I privileged to own, I first visit those destinations and take part in the activities as much as is possible.

The moment I shared with some friends about my pending visit, there was quite a number of voices who did not think the timing for my visit was right because of last year’s political crisis in Burundi. Are you sure?  they often asked. Over time, I have learned that in life I cannot wait until I am all sure before I can embark on doing something. If I feel God has laid on my heart something I start working on it even before I know everything concerning the assignment, I start and a lot of other things get clarified along the way. Convinced I started my journey to ‘the heart of Africa’- Burundi. I battled with whether I should fly there or use road transport. Eventually I concluded that road transport was the best because it would give me the much needed experience since most of my tours are by road anyways. Why not experience it and then I can know what my clients will experience when they do their UgandaRwanda and Burundi tour. I divided my journey in 3 major parts.

1st part – drive from Kampala to Mbarara and spend a night at my parents home in the land of milk and honey also known as ‘Karo Karungi’ – translated ‘beautiful land’ in south western Uganda. The journey is about 4 hours from Kampala by public transport. It was also my longest journey driving, I challenged myself to take it amidst many discouraging voices. This year I am determined to stretch myself in many ways. Thankful that we arrived safely home and enjoyed our trip. The road was surprisingly with few vehicles compared to the usual maybe because it was a Monday, I was simply thankful. There wasn’t too many trailers which are usually heading to Congo, Rwanda or Burundi. Even the buses were surprisingly fewer – they are notorious for bad driving.  We left Kampala about 12 pm and arrived home in the afternoon slightly before 4 pm.

2nd part – The next morning after a restful night at my parents home and catching up with the happenings since I have been away, I prepared to start journey to Kigali. I needed to spend night in Kigali before proceeding to Burundi because there is no direct bus to Bujumbura. It worked out well because I did not want to travel with so much luggage to Burundi. I had a lot of luggage because I would later take clients on a 10 tour in Rwanda after my Burundi escapades. I met up with friends for dinner and went to bed preparing to start journey to Bujumbura the following day.

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3rd  part – I left the excess luggage in Kigali and grabbed a back pack and armed with my camera, started the journey to Bujumbura. Apparently the coaster buses from Kigali to Bujumbura that used to ply this route were stopped by the Burundian government from entering Burundi due to some political issues. I was advised to take a small taxi to the border (Rwandan side) and pick another at the border (Burundi side) to Bujumbura. I did not like this arrangement because I figured this would be expensive and frustrating way of traveling with lots of time lost on we changed cars. We inquired around and were informed that there were small taxis that go directly to Bujumbura, we were given directions to where they pack. We found one and I quickly found a seat between two Congolese ladies. The one on my right side made it her agenda to squash me the whole way but I was determined to enjoy my trip. Did I mention that I could not have a conversation on my journey because I neither speak Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Swahili or French and these were the languages being spoken in taxi so I missed learning from the locals throughout the journey.

There is a lot of suspicion in ‘the air’ so a lot of people are questioned over and over again. This leads to losing time at the border posts. The luggage’s are checked from both the Rwandan side and Burundi side which is quite frustrating for the driver who has to open all his passengers bags for checking. We got into our vehicle and headed to Bujumbura. I was excited and looking forward to my experience of Burundi and city of Bujumbura. Soon we later arrived in Bujumbura and the taxi man was kind enough to drop me at my hotel which a friend had helped locate for me.

 

Saying Yes to Leading

So this year I decided to challenge myself and stretch the boundaries of my work and the things I believe God has called me to and gifted me with. For many years I have known that I am leader in more ways than one but had my reservations to leading. One of the main hindering factors was the fact that I hate attention and being at the front. It’s true that you can lead without drawing too much attention to yourself but eventually the attention will come. I prefer to walk into a room and do whatever it is I need to do and leave without much notice except the one or two people I needed to interact with.

My close friends and family would always bring up the fact that I am a leader and God has given grace in this area. I have led them in some ways and mobilized them to take on tasks or causes close to my heart. After much thought I decided to grow this gifting instead of killing it further every year. My challenge is still that the introverted me prefers to disappear in the crowd and the more I respond to this challenge the more I realize that I need to be uncomfortable to grow in this area and use it to influence positively.

13423857_10153719561336395_608962128229805549_nI am a Mandela Washington fellow, a program under the Young African leaders Initiative (YALI) a President Barack Obama initiative to empower young leaders from Africa in areas of Business & Entrepreneurship, Civic engagement and Public management. Being part of this initiative reinforced what I knew and been hearing about myself – I am a leader. However I figured that I would still get a way and lead quietly. Then there was the opportunity to be on the East African Regional Advisory Board for YALI which I felt a strong nudge from God that this was the kind of platform I needed to grow my skills and start journey of leading more intentionally. With encouragement from a friend I purposed to apply but chickened out on last minute and did not apply. Secretly I was happy when the deadline passed, and I continued with my work. Later I received a message that the deadline was postponed and friend insisted that I apply. I clearly felt God say that the deadline was extended for me, I will spare you the details for now but eventually I did apply and post my ‘manifesto’ on the platform. Thankfully it convinced enough alumni who voted me.

This year, I officially accepted that God is calling me for something bigger than myself for which He has been preparing me for years through various trainings, networks and equipping opportunities. I say yes to the call. So when I had about the Harvest Institute – 1 year leadership program at my church I quickly signed up. The program is hectic considering the other things I am engaged in but I have decided that the time is now to start taking my leadership seriously because after all – Everything rises and falls on leadership according to John C. Maxwell. I know this will help me build a world class organization in Kagera Safaris even as I pursue my dreams of starting transformational education centers all over Africa, Asia, south America, North America and Eastern Europe.

This is the most hectic program I have been part of but I am willing to go all the way, after all growth is painful. We are required to grow our writing skills by writing a minimum of 2 blogs per month, read 2 books a month and write synopsis, publish a book before end of year, start a business/non profit or run for office, streamline the life purpose, join a team and serve on a church team etc. I already feel stretched but hey, this is what I signed up for. Yes to growth, will keep on and in time take others through these for their own growth.

Hurrah to leading in 2017 and beyond!

Maybe you should travel more

I remember from an early age how I loved traveling, the highlight were trips to Fort portal to visit my Aunt. Now that I am older, it is a short journey from Mbarara to Fort portal but then it was almost an entire day’s journey. While others dreaded it, I looked forward to it. I can truly say I was made for travel and adventure. One of Aunt’s while growing up insisted that ’embwa ekaguligasa ebigere’ which loosely translates to ‘the dog licked your feet’ because in my culture there’s a belief that this causes one to always been on the move.

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Canopy walk in Nyungwe forest – Rwanda

First forward many years on I am so grateful that I get to work in tourism industry by planning tours for people in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi under Kagera Safaris Ltd. This allows me to travel to all these destinations because I prefer to sell destinations where I have personally traveled. If I have not been there and the client asks about it. I will makes calls to gather enough information and include it on my familiarization tour. I am so thankful that I get to travel to destinations beyond east Africa as I market Uganda and Kagera safaris in particular.

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Visiting a Masai village adjacent to Masai Mara conservancy in Kenya

I look forward to many escapades across Africa and the world even and in particular Uganda, I am yet to exhaust it. Travel brings out the beauty of destinations, from the nature to the landscape, to the people. I find that in most places I visit especially in East Africa, I always leave after making some friends. Sometimes people ask me if I have known these people prior to the trip but I say no. I am amazed at how different and yet similar we are as humans. I think travel will reduce the ignorance people have of other cultures and hopefully build relations and connections that will allow us leave more in and at peace with one another. We shall see where we can offer help and by being helpful create a better world. In addition to increasing your knowledge, travel can also be relaxing and help  take off the stress and monotony of work – home.

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I invite you to consider traveling to a new destination every quarter a year. It can be in different country, different part of your country or simply different part of your town where you have never been before. Travel does not have to last many days, it can be for a short weekend or simply hours in a different part of town. Do not wait for only the out of this world exotic experiences but the opportunity to experience life. It does not have to be expensive either, you can choose to drive to your destination, travel with a group of friends or family or even take public transportation. Whatever you choose and can afford, get out of your little world and explore the wider world.

There is no rush in Mombasa, enjoy the white sand beaches…

Sometimes you hear of a place and watch videos and photos of these places and they seem out of this world and unreal. Truth is these places exist, thanks to God who knows human beings love beautiful places (even though sometimes we tend to destroy) and created this beautiful universe. I think it is not too much on us if the request is that we take care of it and leave it better so that those who come after us will enjoy this beauty.

Iconic Mombasa tusks
Iconic Mombasa tusks

My second trip to Mombasa was both leisure and business. I initially traveled to attend the yearly magical Kenya travel expo and stayed extra days to explore a bit of this beauty. My plan is to visit again this time on a purely leisure and indulge more in the different activities available by the Indian Ocean.

Magical Kenya 2015 - Selling destination Uganda
Magical Kenya 2015 – Selling destination Uganda

I love the relaxed spirit of Mombasa…the people are ‘forever’ in a holiday mood and whatever you do, they will not be rushed. There is a joke that unlike other African cities and towns, in Mombasa the cars actually stop because the people have to cross the road in such a relaxed way. This will make sense to you if you have traveled to other cities and seen how we have to run across the streets, because for some reason the traffic laws in many African cities forgot the pedestrians and if they exist, they rarely observed.

Coconut juice at Leisure Lodge, Diani beach
Coconut juice at Leisure Lodge, Diani beach

I recommend Mombasa as a great relaxing holiday destination. There are affordable domestic flights out of Nairobi if you fly into Nairobi and quite a number of flights directly to Mombasa. If you are in East Africa, there are several bus companies plying the route from major cities to Mombasa. If you go, I recommend at least 5 days experiencing the beach and history of the place.