In Rwanda, Craft Beer Opens the Door to Female Empowerment
Rwandan entrepreneur Josephine Uwineza is accustomed to challenging the status quo in her country’s food scene. In 2000, she brought Asian cuisine to the capital city of Kigali with the country’s first Chinese restaurant. Now she has her sights set on disrupting the pub culture in the Central African nation.
“There’s no craft brewery owned by a woman in Rwanda—not only never owned by a woman, but there’s no craft breweries in Rwanda right now,” Uwineza told TakePart.
Uwineza hopes to fill the void by establishing a brewpub in Kigali, where customers can socialize over a tasting or buy a six-pack to enjoy at home. This week, Uwineza and Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, based in Canada, announced their partnership with a Kickstarter campaign, seeking roughly $72,000 to purchase a bottling line.
Microbreweries have started cropping up across Africa, gaining popularity in Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa, but they haven’t made their way to Rwanda. The most commonly found beer in Rwanda is Primus, a light lager produced by a Heineken subsidiary.
“There are a few [beer] selections that are the exact same in every single bar, in every single store,” Steve Beauchesne, CEO and cofounder of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, told TakePart. “There’s this great opportunity for locally owned, locally made craft beer.”
Beauchesne, who cofounded Beau’s with his father in 2006, connected with Uwineza through a program called Peace Through Business. He was looking for a legacy project to celebrate Beau’s 10-year anniversary, and a brewery in Rwanda sounded like the perfect fit.
“We were looking for something that’s in our wheelhouse,” Beauchesne said. “We’re brewers. We’re not well diggers.” Beau’s won’t own the brewery or take a cut of its profit but rather will offer financing and expertise.
Rwanda is still recovering from the genocide of 1994 in which nearly 1 million people were killed in 100 days. Rwandan women, who afterward made up 70 percent of the population, demanded rights as they took over farms and picked up the pieces to repair the shattered economy. In the decades that followed, women changed the nation’s constitution to enshrine gender equality, provide land rights to women, and mandate that women comprise at least 30 percent of the nation’s parliament. For two years running, Rwanda has ranked in the top 10 countries for gender equality in the World Economic Forum’s annual report.
“Rwanda really encourages women to try in any business,” Uwineza said. Despite women’s gains, more than 60 percent of the country’s population still lives in extreme poverty.
Uwineza is confident that her brewpub can help change that. Along with hiring about a dozen employees to run the brewery, it will also fuel the agricultural sector.
“My main concern is the women in the village who are going to grow the raw material,” Uwineza said. “Those are the people I’m going to empower, because this is a demand that’s going to be constantly needed.”
Beauchesne and Uwineza are still in the early stages of developing recipes and selecting styles of beer, but they hope to incorporate as many Rwandan staples as possible, such as sorghum and banana. Rwandans have long distilled bananas to make homemade beer.
“We’re really interested in exploring some of these traditional brewing styles that you just don’t find in other parts of the world and kind of bringing a modern production and craft approach,” Beauchesne said.
Building the brewery will take time. Along with securing funding and training brewers, Beauchesne and Uwineza have to establish a distribution line. At least in the early stages, they’ll need to import hops, the bitter-tasting flower that’s used both to flavor beer and maintain its freshness. (Beauchesne is optimistic Rwanda’s climate will work well for hops farming.) The pair estimates that the first draft is still a few years from being poured. But Uwineza is confident Rwandans’ love of beer won’t dry up anytime soon.
“Drinking beer has always been something that’s traditional,” she said. “Anytime there’s an event, whether it’s a wedding, funeral, or any get-together, there’s always beer on the table.”