I felt like a knife piercing through my heart when I heard about the death of Annette Nakalema Kiyimba Kironde on February 2 in Massachusetts, USA.
Annette, as she was known in tourism circles, mentored me as her employee at Afrique Voyage in the early 2000s until I became bold enough to move on. In an era when the tourism sector had little regulations, Annette was the face of Ugandan tourism due to her pragmatic approach to marketing, which transcended into other sectors.
Annette had special attributes of moving things that many felt impossible and she had a knack of building relationships with strangers. No one would beat Annette to a tender because she always offered much more than one would bargain for. She was one of the finest in the industry.
At Afrique Voyage, she did little direct management and often encouraged us to be our own bosses, only checking on me to find out whether I completed my task. She always said you should never bite the hand that feeds you because she believed that every person you meet in life is for a purpose.
She was a mentor for many people at a time when there was no proper mentorship in the tourism sector. What I also remember well is that at the time, there was no one in the tourism industry with a long-term experience that other companies could look up to to read the business environment.
That in a way affected her growth at a later stage when things drastically changed yet she was not prepared. For instance, Afrique Voyage’s major focus was on ticketing. Ticketing was the big thing at that time because it was possible to earn a commission for every ticket you sold; you would get nine per cent if I remember well.
Tourism accounted for a tiny percentage of her business yet on a personal level, it was my major focus and that’s where I had interest. Ticketing became tricky when airlines went online and tourists started booking online. In turn, commissions started dwindling to six per cent, three per cent and then zero per cent. This greatly destabilised her and put many companies out of business.
It affected everyone who had not diversified to secure themselves for the future. Today, we are lucky that we have people to learn from in the sector. But I will never forget Annette because she was special; every time she put her effort into something, she would achieve it.
Meanwhile, the thing I learned from her was that she lived her life to the fullest and loved her children like her life depended on them. She gave them the best life they could wish for.
She always brought them to work and they would sometimes participate in the chores we did. I have been in touch with her from the time she went to the USA and I was due to meet her recently when she came around town.
My brother drove her around when she was here but I was far away upcountry. I called my friend Andrew Kasirye, who was also her close friend, to organise a get-together but due to circumstances, we didn’t meet and that’s when I heard she had gone back.
People today praise me but don’t know the indelible mark she had on my life and I know many top industry players whom she nurtured. People may not know that Annette’s hand is still visible in many other tourism businesses. I will greatly miss you, Annette. Rest in peace.