Rwandan entrepreneur who survived genocide toasts Edinburgh success

As BENJAMIN Murenzi celebrates his graduation from Edinburgh College with an HND in accountancy, his childhood home of Rwanda is never far from his thoughts. The 24-year-old hopes that his burgeoning coffee roasting business will become a main source of funding for the school set up by his mother and brother there.
Benjamin Murenzi with his mother, Justine after graduation from Edinburgh colllege. Picture: ContributedBenjamin Murenzi with his mother, Justine after graduation from Edinburgh colllege. Picture: Contributed
Benjamin Murenzi with his mother, Justine after graduation from Edinburgh colllege. Picture: Contributed

A blizzard of violence swept Rwanda from April to July 1994. During the 100 days of slaughter that claimed the lives of around 800,000 people, Benjamin lost his father, his older brother and most of his extended family.

At only two months of age, he remembers nothing of the genocide that reduced his family to single digits, but he grew up in the country that bore the scars of the brutal conflict.

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He said: “I know Rwanda after the genocide. People still had to live together, which was a weird experience when you know this person killed your family, but it’s your neighbour.”

The majority of the slain were Tutsis like Benjamin’s family, whose population was estimated to have reduced by 70 per cent during the massacre.

It is clear that Benjamin’s inspiration is his mother Justine. After his father was murdered, she was left to bring up the young family alone. It was only baby Benjamin, brother Robert, six, and sister Wivine, eight, left.

She wanted her children to be educated and have opportunities that she was denied because she was Tutsi. Justine was barred from school under the Hutu government’s rule.

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After the genocide, Justine took in ten orphans whom she raised as her own. Benjamin said: “She is amazing. She sets the example. I couldn’t make any excuses knowing that when she was 28 she was raising 13 children alone. She never made any excuses. I can’t find any either.”

When Benjamin was 11 and most of his siblings had left home, Justine moved to Belgium to work as a cook. Benjamin and his sister moved to Tanzania for school before joining her a year later.

The move to Belgium was a tough one for 12-year-old Benjamin. He said: “It was really hard. I had to adapt to a new culture and learn a different language. I learned that being black is different. In Africa, you are normal, but in Belgium you are different.”

He moved to Edinburgh to learn English before taking up a place at Edinburgh College’s Milton Road Campus three years ago. Benjamin has found it to be a welcoming city.

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He said: “I came to visit during the summer when the Fringe was on and I loved it. The people made it easier to be integrated into society because people don’t reject you.”

Set up with friend Ahmed Abdalla and named the Swahili and Arabic word for friend, Benjamin’s business Rafikï already supplies two Capital coffee houses. Soon Benjamin will visit Rwanda where he will seek out female suppliers.

He said: “There are lots of women coffee farmers there. The government gave it to them because so many had lost husbands and they had to care for their families alone. Because of my mum’s story I wanted to get involved and do more for women.”

Benjamin inherited his father’s name, love for sport and head for business. He said: “I have no memory of him, but he was a carpenter and professional footballer. I love sports and business, so they are the only things I can connect with him.”

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Built on land in the Rwandan capital Kigali that belonged to his grandparents before they were killed in the atrocities of 1994, Ecole du Bon Berger is an elementary school that teaches children from the ages of three to seven.

Funded through Justine’s work as a cook in Belgium where she lives part time, Benjamin hopes any profits from his social enterprise will help the school flourish. It started life as a cookery school, but soon became a primary education institution that now employs 30 staff and has 250 children enrolled.

Benjamin said: “Now I want to make Rafikï as successful as possible so the school can be successful. We can only do this because I had the opportunity to study in Europe. For some reason I had the chance my friends didn’t. Rwanda can be a great country but you have to invest in education.”