Lydie Hakizimana: The Book Distributor At Heart Of Rwanda’s Drive For Knowledge Economy

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VENTURES AFRICA – A Rwandan businesswoman has taken advantage of the country’s dire need for English textbooks by striking a deal with the world’s leading educational publishing firm to distribute their books.

Lydie Hakizimana, who started a bookshop in 2006 that expanded into her company Drakkar Ltd, struck a deal with UK publisher’s Pearson Education to resell their textbooks in Rwanda and Burundi.

The deal has been the making of Hakizimana and her company. Rwanda’s goal is to be a knowledge-based economy, and shortly before her deal with Pearson the Ministry of Education had ordered that primary and secondary education be taught in English rather than French, creating a great demand for English textbooks that still remains. There is currently only one English textbook for every five children in Rwanda, though the government aims to have one book for every child by 2015. Through its exclusive reselling deal with Pearson, Drakkar is perfectly positioned to gain most from this governmental goal.

Though she started her bookshop in 2006 based on a long-standing passion for reading, everything Hakizimana has done in business seems to have been well planned and well timed. Having witnessed the initially popularity of her bookshop, she undertook a formal market survey to ascertain whether or not there was demand for a bigger book distribution business. After positive results, Drakkar Ltd was formed, at which point Hakizimana and her husband Tunga Kalisa started developing relationships with publishers. It was from this wooing that the exclusive deal with Pearson was born and Drakkar took its place at the heart of the drive to turn Rwanda – Africa’s “Rising Star” – into a knowledge-based economy.

The company has been a great success, and now has 45 employees and 30 part-time distributors across Rwanda’s five provinces. It has added exclusive distributor deals with Longman, Heinemann and Penguin to the Pearson contract. Kalisa has resigned from his managerial position at MTN to focus solely on the business. Hakizimana was African Sales Representative of the Year for 2011 and President of the Junior Chamber International Rwanda for the same year. Her entrepreneurship and business acumen saw her selected to represent Rwanda by the Institute of Economic Development of Women (IEEW) in a 2009 US government-sponsored programme.

Hakizimana has an avowed commitment to building up the reading culture in Rwanda, which remains undeveloped. She hopes to develop libraries in schools and hospitals providing children with free access to books. Drakkar Ltd is also involved in other activities, such as teacher training. Genocide forced her to spend most of her life outside Rwanda, but she is now committed to the country and sees entrepreneurial opportunities at every turn.

“There are still many problems (in Rwanda), but I now see them as opportunities where entrepreneurs like me can thrive and rebuild the country,” she says. She sees entrepreneurship as the means for the country to build its economy, but is wary of the problems posed by corruption.

“Corruption leads to a lot of missed opportunities,” she says. “Corruption stops someone to think that he can be an entrepreneur. Corruption makes you fear to take the risk. When you have corruption in a country, people are just discouraged. There is no hope. They don’t see themselves successful in the long term. They just feel that they need to know a minister or the son of the minister to be successful in a country.”