No American dream, but an African dream

The “African Dream”

‘I exist because of we’

No American dream, but an African dream. Africa is booming with an economical growth of between 7 and 10% annually, Léon van Rijckevorsel and Leontine van Hooft know all about it. They had the guts to make plans that consist of twenty five million Euro’s on investments in tourism projects. Was it purely love at first sight with Ethiopia and Rwanda or was there something else that drove them?

It’s 2006 and Léon and Leontine were asked brainstorm about the development and creation of a school in Ethiopia. It’s about the introduction of a tailor made training program at the Tsedale Nega College, a business school for highly educated tourism students. Now in 2013 we look back to see what was gained by Léon and Leontine.

“The program is ready and we were invited to the official launch”, says Léon. What we see when we arrive is a real eye opener. What a beauty of nature and richness in culture! We fall in love with the country’s friendly people, but we are also overwhelmed by angriness. The anger was caused by the fact that in the Netherlands they only show the poor side of Africa instead of promoting its beauty and enormous touristic potential.”

Leontine and Léon, Ethiopia and Rwanda are where you have projects. One remembers still the video clip of skinny children of Band Aid (A dedication band of famous singers all over the world), which was filmed in Ethiopia. And in Rwanda one remembers the terrible genocide between Hutus and Tutsis nearly 20 years ago…That does not sound exactly like tourist destinations…

But just that is exactly the issue, Leontine continues. The West gets their information from other western friends which is distorted and they focus on the negatives ignoring the positives. We want to do something against this sided view.  We believe the glass is half full. We believe that together with good local partners it’s possible to invest in a touristic enterprise, that creates jobs and which sustainably adds a higher standard of living to the local population. Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and in 2012 it was on the 6th place.

Why tourism?

“In 2012 the G20 (is a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major economies: 19 countries plus the European Union) acknowledged the important role of tourism as a vital economic motor and human development worldwide. It delivers jobs for women, contributes to better health and meets almost all millennium goals. That’s why we looked for beautiful locations to build sustainable eco-chic resorts. We found such a site together with the director of the business school in Gorgora. We also found a second site together with the Ambassador of Rwanda near Kibuye: Mbabara Island.”

Change in the way of thinking

“We started with a pilot building. We thought it would be important to adapt to the African style, as we were focused on guests of the West who love this kind of architecture. So a building was made of clay with a thatched roof. However, Ethiopians advised us to build much more modern buildings and we have taken their advice.

The pilot building becomes information centre for building and selling of the villas. Besides that, we will also develop water sports. The pilot building will therefore be the base for private boats to have a drink. Later this building will serve as staff building. The architecture of the hotel and villas is inspired by the Ethiopian Kings palaces with an international touch. The travel routes taken by King Solomon, mainly along the River Nile over the continent is the brand name of the resorts that will arise in the future (Solomon’s Hidden Treasures). We connect here by storytelling which is an African way of communication.

Green Square

“What we learned is that you always need to work according to the green square, a square of NGO’s (Non Governmental  Organizations), social partners, knowledge institutes (empowerment of capacity of the local inhabitants),  government (active partnership, financer) and business (find co-creations in private sector that suits you) but not only in the private sector. Broad co-operations offer new possibilities to do business and they enlarge the chance of success. Working according to the Green Square offers a possibility to be a strong partner in the whole process.”

The other side

“Of course there is poverty, but that is in money terms. The rural Ethiopia is mainly an exchange economy, money to pay the hospital…. that’s what lacks. In Africa one sees poverty in a totally different context. For example there once came a very committed and enthusiastic social worker to a rural area and went to the mayor: “I came here to help you to fight poverty. Could you please tell me where it is most urgent? There I would like to start. But anywhere I go, people tell me they don’t know poverty. The mayor was surprised, but had also to laugh and said: Dear man…look around you. Do you see any poverty? We just have each other. Just this is the power of African thinking known as Ubuntu, which means ‘I exist because of we’.

Ubuntu can be found everywhere on the continent, on the levels of organizations and on the level of a human being.  Interesting it is to see how it could be translated to the Western world.  Hans Wijers (Dutch former minister of economic affairs) has formulated some tribal management lessons on the basis of Ubuntu.

Management lessons on the basis of Ubuntu:

The six most important words for a manager are:

‘Yes I have made a mistake’

The five most important words for a manager are:

‘I am proud of you’

The four most important words for a manager are:

‘What do YOU think?’

The three most important words for a manager are:

‘Can I help?’

The two most important words for a manager are:

‘Thank you’

The most important word of a manager is:


Book about African Leadership

Leontine van Hooft wrote a book called “The Power of African Thinking”. This book is about Ubuntu, connecting leadership and a new world. It describes what exactly it is, that good leaders like Nelson Mandela, Kofi Anan and Desmond Tutu come from Africa. It includes Leontine’s personal experience in doing business. Furthermore, it also explains the growth of the African economy and what the Western world can learn from it. The book will be available at very soon.

More information can be found at:

Photo: MTD