Till he was 14, Henri Nyakarundi didn’t know he was a refugee.
His household had fled to Burundi following the rising tensions in Rwanda that ultimately led to the ugly 1994 genocide.
From an early age, Henri had all the time fantasized about dwelling in the United States and chasing the American Dream. For him, the US was his life’s final lottery ticket and nothing else mattered. He needed to go away Africa as shortly as he might.
In 1996, shortly after re-sitting his highschool exams, the alternative got here — he was finally granted a US visa. In July that yr, he was on a aircraft sure for the US, the land of his goals.
A couple of weeks in the past, Henri reached out to me together with his memoir, My African Dream. I had found his identify earlier than but I didn’t quite know what to anticipate from the ebook. An try and distract myself to sleep by skimming via the ebook round 10:30 p.m. that night time turned out to be a gripping expertise that held me hostage until about two in the morning.
After spending ten years in America — a interval that included some jail time, being homeless, and ultimately building a very profitable trucking business — Henri packed his luggage and headed back residence to Africa.
Why would anybody depart the US, particularly after having obtained a taste of the elusive American Dream? In his e-book, Henri provides a brutally trustworthy and galvanizing account of how he chased, reached, and finally traded in the American dream he craved since childhood for an African dream that has totally stunned him.
Since he returned to Africa, he has built a exceptional know-how business that thrives in Rwanda, a nation that — identical to Henri — has risen from the ashes to grow to be a sensational and galvanizing African success story.
In this exciting interview, Henri talks about a few of the most essential classes on his journey from chasing the American dream to building an African dream. He additionally dishes out highly effective and eye-opening advice to entrepreneurs and other people in the diaspora wanting to achieve business on the continent.
That is definitely one in every of the greatest interviews I’ve executed in a very long time.
Right here’s the full text:
- 1 As a younger individual, you have been very eager to go away Africa to chase the American dream in the USA. How did that go?
- 2 Today, many sensible, younger Africans are keen to go away the continent to ‘greener pastures.’ How do you assume we will flip the tide?
- 3 Of all the opportunities that you simply noticed in Africa, why did you select to give attention to a photo voltaic enterprise?
- 4 What have been the three largest challenges you confronted with beginning, operating, and rising the enterprise?
- 5 What’s the most sudden feedback you bought from the market before or after you launched your product?
- 6 In the event you had to go back to sometime in your entrepreneurship journey, the place would that be, and what would you modify?
- 7 What’s your single most necessary advice to entrepreneurs who need to start a enterprise in Africa?
- 8 What do you need to say to those individuals who say there isn’t any such factor as an African Dream?
- 9 As a one that lived outdoors Rwanda as a refugee for a long time, how do you are feeling about the country’s new status as a position mannequin and shining economic success story for all of Africa?
- 10 On what media are you most lively. The place can anyone attain out to you?
- 11 And how can individuals get your superb e-book?
As a younger individual, you have been very eager to go away Africa to chase the American dream in the USA. How did that go?
Properly, that is the entire premise of the e-book truly. I was very naive about what the United States was all about. The USA ended up being the hardest country I ever lived in.
My favourite present rising up in Burundi was the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and I assumed everybody in the USA lived like that. Once I moved there, I used to be in Atlanta, Georgia. For the first time I noticed homeless individuals in America. I had to call my mum to inform her about it; that’s how shocked I was.
I struggled a lot in the States — I was homeless sooner or later, spent two days in jail — but I also discovered a lot. I went there as a boy and dwelling in the USA made me a man. All the challenges I encountered made me who I am in the present day.
However the elementary lesson I discovered dwelling in America is that wherever you go, you will see that challenges; they could be totally different however no country is perfect.
For example, the race issues that exist in the USA have been a shock to me. But I did not give up, I stored preventing for my dream of being an entrepreneur. It took 10 years for me to construct my first profitable enterprise in the US, but I was not fulfilled as a individual.
Today, many sensible, younger Africans are keen to go away the continent to ‘greener pastures.’ How do you assume we will flip the tide?
We have to share constructive narratives; we have to control our personal narratives and share more of our tales in Africa.
Social media is a recreation changer now, and traditional media not controls all the info; extra African success stories must be shared, and it’s occurring.
I keep in mind clearly, once I determined to go back house, however the information I used to be watching about the continent made me query my determination at occasions. I keep in mind watching certain elements of the information, then I might name a good friend in Burundi or Rwanda to verify the information stories I saw they usually all the time used to tell me, “do not worry they are exaggerating.”
It was once I got here again, and other people in the US started asking me the similar factor that I noticed how the media is creating an “Africaphobia”, and sadly, we buy into it.
We give so much credibility to international news media, as an alternative of focusing on our own media channels from the continent.
The second thing I might say is, some individuals in the African Diaspora unfold this damaging media too, to discourage others from going back and I am not positive why. I keep in mind once I shared the news with my pals, some had a adverse reaction to it, perhaps they needed to challenge their very own worry to others… who knows.
It is arduous for somebody who spent over 10 years overseas to only pack up and return to a place they used to call residence. The unknowns and uncertainty are often a deterrent.
Of all the opportunities that you simply noticed in Africa, why did you select to give attention to a photo voltaic enterprise?
Once I determined to return again house, I looked at two sectors that I consider introduced the most alternatives: the agricultural sector and the power sector.
Nevertheless, I saw more purposes that I might use with solar know-how. ARED just isn’t an power firm, we are a technology-for-social-good firm. Nevertheless, we need to deliver know-how to low-income areas like the rural or semi-urban areas the place you want energy; that’s the power element to our business.
Numerous the time, we develop solutions to unravel one drawback. However we have been the first firm to develop a one-stop-shop sensible solar kiosk platform that may charge phones, sell digital providers and provide WIFI connectivity options.
The Shiriki Hub, pictured here in the streets of East Africa, is one in every of Henri’s proprietary products. The solar-powered one-stop-shop offers intranet WiFi, charging ports for as much as 30 cell phones at a time, and high visibility co-branding area. (photograph credit score: startsomegood.com)
I actually consider the subsequent largest economic alternative in Africa, in addition to the agricultural sector, is connectivity. And this has grow to be our focus now.
Nevertheless, my mindset has shifted a little with the problem of worldwide warming; access to wash water will turn into the largest challenge the world will ever face.
What have been the three largest challenges you confronted with beginning, operating, and rising the enterprise?
The three key challenges I might say is first, discovering technical expertise in software engineering. This is still a big challenge for us.
We nonetheless outsource our product improvement abroad as a result of the lack of entry to talent in Africa, and the pool is just too small as a result of the demand for tech expertise in Africa is larger than the supply. The engineers we’ve on the continent are extraordinarily costly. And what I mean by expertise is somebody that has in depth expertise in a certain area.
While we now have the mind and manpower to close this gap, unfortunately, most African governments don’t spend a lot of assets to develop human capital. In case you take a look at China for example, a giant proportion of their GDP went into creating engineers, and after 30 years, now they export know-how.
The second challenge is access to funding. The tradition of innovation is new on the continent, but are you able to imagine that in East Africa, for instance, no authorities offers any grant program to help R&D?
Seed funding continues to be a distant conversation. The funding ecosystem could be very poor; we push startups to get loans to build businesses which is the worst concept. Most grants you discover on the continent are financed by overseas nations, and lots of of these grants usually are not really designed for African innovators.
The last problem I might say is our tax legal guidelines which might be insufficient for startups.
Are you able to think about that small corporations pay the similar quantity of labor taxes as a giant corporation? In most African nations, we have now punitive tax laws that target assortment, and not allowing SMEs to flourish.
It might be attainable to maximise the influence of Africa’s casual sector if we had more progressive tax legal guidelines. The challenge is we adopted overseas tax laws for an African panorama and that can’t work.
What’s the most sudden feedback you bought from the market before or after you launched your product?
The craziest feedback I received was that I used to be going to get killed as a result of some individuals couldn’t consider that we developed this know-how and we owned it.
I was advised that, and I quote: “the white man will kill you if they find out.”
Others thought the product was from China, and lots of others simply didn’t consider we might develop something that superior in Africa.
Destructive mindsets and self-hate are the largest challenges Africa faces and it must be addressed.
We maintain importing specialists from abroad. We maintain going abroad for medical checkups. So long as we don’t construct the confidence and satisfaction of our own residents, we gained’t be capable of declare true independence.
However, I need to clarify that not all the feedback I obtained was destructive. Some individuals did respect what we’re doing as a company.
In the event you had to go back to sometime in your entrepreneurship journey, the place would that be, and what would you modify?
My entrepreneurial journey began once I was about 14 or 15. I used to resell stuff to my associates and I keep in mind one time, I resold a bike my dad had purchased me at a larger worth, gave him the money and stored the difference.
I all the time used to hustle, however I began taking this entrepreneurial journey significantly once I acquired to the States. I keep in mind studying this ebook referred to as Assume and Develop Rich, and that modified my entire perspective about being self-employed.
I grew up with the similar orientation as most African youngsters: educational schooling was the key to success. You go to high school, graduate, get a job and work there until retirement. However that was not for me.
I might not change anything to be completely trustworthy. The rationale I turned good in enterprise is because of all the failure I encountered that basically made me the individual I am right now.
My mindset once I was getting began was that entrepreneurship was about getting rich and being profitable. But afterward, I lastly understood it’s about solving problems.
I used to assume there was a shortcut to success, so a lot of the companies I used to do have been those get-rich-quick schemes: invest this quantity and you get 3X in 7 days. After dropping cash, I needed to get up and obtained smarter.
For me, failure was my key to success.
What’s your single most necessary advice to entrepreneurs who need to start a enterprise in Africa?
Endurance. Despite the fact that Africa is the land of alternative, the previous ways are nonetheless ingrained in a lot of us. Politics, corruption in some nations — we still have the previous oligarchs operating the continent that also consider solely the West will help Africa.
Most youth or members of the Diaspora returning to Africa to catch the so-called ‘new wave of opportunities’ typically get disillusioned as a result of, on the ground, issues nonetheless do not transfer as fast as they need to.
Endurance is the key; to construct a enterprise you must begin with the foundation. Dashing won’t get you anyplace however will deliver you frustration and stress.
Should you need a license and it isn’t occurring fast sufficient, simply take a deep breath and work sensible. Africa is a sluggish wheel to turn, so it’s a must to watch out not to let your impatience get the better of you.
What do you need to say to those individuals who say there isn’t any such factor as an African Dream?
I not often would waste my power on non-believers, but if I needed to reply, I might tell individuals to take a look at the knowledge and the way the world is preventing to get a piece the pie.
We now have Chinese language, People, and Europeans preventing for affect, assets and market share in Africa.
Africa will probably be a 2-billion-person market in a few many years; startups are popping up all over the continent with sensible ideas to unravel key issues.
Eight out of the prime 10 fastest rising economies are in Africa. The continent is considered one of the very few locations the place you’ll find 10% returns on a savings account. In the US or Europe right now you’ll be fortunate if you will get 1% returns.
The problem is that we don’t control our own narrative, and our success tales do not get as a lot publicity as the adverse stories. And the worst part is we Africans buy into this destructive narrative and perpetuate the cycle.
The unhappy part is that a lot of the non-believers are Africans themselves.
I have been mentoring startups now for the final 3 years, and I can truthfully say I’ve seen the most superb ideas and the most sensible minds from young women and men. The African Dream could be very much alive.
As a one that lived outdoors Rwanda as a refugee for a long time, how do you are feeling about the country’s new status as a position mannequin and shining economic success story for all of Africa?
First I can say it is nice to have a country you possibly can name house. I did not know for a long time we have been refugees till I used to be a teenager.
I mean, I didn’t reside as the traditional refugee you see portrayed in the media. Although I used to be a Rwandan refugee, I truly lived a middle-class life and went to non-public faculty in Burundi.
I keep in mind clearly once I knew we have been refugees; it was when it was time to travel and my sister and I had to carry UNHCR refugee passport documents.
I was perhaps 9 or 10 and we have been going to Nairobi to visit some relations. We spent 4 hours at the airport, as a result of for us to get in, someone had to sign documents as guarantor that we would go away the nation (Kenya) within two weeks.
The first time I went to Rwanda was in 1996, two years after the genocide, and the country was nonetheless in disarray. I was there for less than a month, then I left for the USA.
The second time I had a probability to go back was in 2001, and the country was starting to change.
The third time I got here again was in 2008, and the capital metropolis Kigali had utterly modified. The country had just launched a one-stop-shop workplace for individuals to register their companies. At the moment, it took only 48 hours to register your company.
At present, it’s completed in four hours. I used to be, and I am still, blown away.
It was at that time that I noticed it was time for me to go back house. All this improvement and economic progress that Rwanda is experiencing brought two issues to me and I am positive a lot of other individuals.
First, a renewed satisfaction of being Rwandan. We have been not simply defined by our previous and by the 1994 genocide towards the Tutsi, but now we’ve turn into a vacation spot nation; certainly one of the safest and cleanest nations on the continent, building the largest conference middle in the region and so forth.
Second, the proven fact that Africa is able to attaining greatness without the assist of outsiders’ assets. After the genocide, no one would have guess that Rwanda would rise from the ashes, myself included.
Once I left the area, I had already determined I might never come back. But, I came again, and I feel that the key for Africa to rise is straightforward: we’d like great leadership.
Africa needs individuals who have vision, and who’ve a deep love for their country, without selfish interests. I am glad to see that the youth throughout the continent are starting to demand these things now.
On what media are you most lively. The place can anyone attain out to you?
It is rather straightforward to succeed in me; I’m obtainable on all major social media accounts: Fb, Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram beneath Henri Nyakarundi, and most of my contact info is true there.
On Youtube, I do in-depth movies to actually train younger entrepreneurs key methods on elevating money, expanding on the continent, and more.
And how can individuals get your superb e-book?
Solely for readers of Smallstarter Africa, there’s a particular 40% low cost on the worth of the digital version of the guide.
The low cost code is AK27D and it expires on June 30, 2019.
To get a copy of the digital ebook and claim the special low cost, all you must do comply with this hyperlink: My African Dream (on Smashwords)
But for those who choose a hardcopy model of the ebook, you will get it here: My African Dream (on Amazon).
Thanks for having me on your web site. If all the feedback thus far is anything to go by, your readers are going to like the e-book.
I want you all the greatest.