Three terror attacks have not made Justus Kisaulu think of fleeing Somalia. In fact the last attack which was the deadliest found him in his office, and only strengthened his resolve to stay on.
Kisaulu has been the general manager of Jazeera Palace Hotel in Mogadishu for the past four years.
He says, he has on different occasions stared death in the face but quitting is not an option.
When the hotel officially reopened on the second last day of September 2015, Kisaulu said there is hope and resilience and those are the major things that matter most in Somalia.
“During the attack in which lives were lost, the hotel suffered extensive damage and the easiest step to take after that number of attacks was to give up, close shop and walk away, but that would be tantamount to making evil doers victorious,” he says.
Kisaulu, 35, was born and bred in Kilungu in Makueni County. He has worked in the hospitality industry all his adult life.
“After college I started working with NAS Airport Services in Nairobi then moved to Nomad Palace Hotel in Garissa and later went to Nairobi,” he narrates.
While at working at Nomad, Kisaulu would meet Abdikarim Siad, a Somali citizen who encouraged him to visit Mogadishu.
Siad is the proprietor of Jazeera Palace Hotel. Kisaulu says he asked him to visit because he wanted to set up a hospitality project and “wanted me to be part of it.”
Following the invitation, Kisaulu visited Mogadishu in January 2012 and set his eyes on the project which was still at its construction stage. He decided to grow with it.
“I saw that the project was a good one and there was an opportunity not only for me but also for others so I decided to be part of it.”
Abdikarim Siad asked Kisaulu to get him a team of professionals who would help achieve the dream and he got employed as the general manager, a position he holds to date.
One of the reasons Kisaulu says made him stay was the commitment he saw among the citizens in rebuilding the country that had been torn apart by war.
“I felt that this was an important part of history of Somalia that I could not miss. I wanted to be part of that reconstruction,” he says.
There were challenges like lack of water, poor sewer systems and the incessant insecurity. But Kisaulu said every success has a starting point and he had to start from somewhere.
“Therefore I joined Jazeera Palace Hotel at the construction stage. The hotel was completed and become operational and even served as the first office of the president.
But it was not smooth sailing. “On the day when the president of Somalia was addressing the press for the first time in his office at the hotel, an explosion went off. This was the first attack on Jazeera Palce Hotel,” Kisaulu recalls.
The president checked out that very evening and the hotel reopened after two weeks in 2012.
Kiasulu who attended Mumbuni High School then went on to sit Institute of Commercial Management examinations at college level and studied hotel and catering management, was not shaken. His mission was to see the hotel stand regardless of what happened. It is for this reason that even after two more terror attacks directed at the hotel, he is still at the helm, in a foreign land.
In his position as the general manager, Kisaulu has welcomed high profile guests apart from the president of Somalia.
“I have interacted with the Somali premier, the Attorney General, Members of Parliament and the business elite of this country,” he says.
The hotel employs 150 people directly, a majority of them from Somalia, and can host up to 160 people on single night.
Kisaulu has a message to Kenyans that Somalia is not all about war as it has always been portrayed.
While it is not yet as peaceful the way most citizens would want it to be, the commitment towards rebuilding and peace is evident.
“I encourage fellow Kenyans to find opportunity here. Somalia has been a victim of negative media reports which deter investors and those seeking opportunities,” he says.
Even then, Kisaulu works from two offices. One office is in Nairobi while the other is at the Jazeera Palace Hotel in Mogadishu. He says that the Nairobi office is meant for getting clients from Kenya. He says that he has had so many clients from Kenya mainly due to the proximity of the hotel to the airport in Mogadishu.
Kisaulu shuttles between Nairobi and Mogadishu which he now calls his second home since he spends most of his time there. He is a busy man while at work but when he gets time, he does not just sit and laze about.
“I love going to the gym and at times I play football in the small pitch we have within the hotel. Life has to go on,” he says.
Kisaulu is proud of being a part of the reinvention of Mogadishu because, he says, even long after he is gone, his name will be among those who influenced the regeneration of Mogadishu and Somalia as a whole.
His dream is to see free trade and movement between Kenya and Somalia without travel advisories due to insecurity that has led to African Union forces pitching tent in Somalia for over five years.
In 2005, Kiasulu married Anne Ndanu and the couple has two daughters, Faith, 9, and Stephanie, 4. His family lives in Nairobi.
“My family understands the nature of my work and they support me fully. This is why I have the zeal to continue working here.
“My advice to the business community in Kenya is that this is the time to invest in this country because there are several opportunities,” says Kisaulu.
He argues that the last attack on July 26 was expected to close down the hotel completely but resilience is key amidst all these challenges.
He says that Somalia is ready to fly despite the pockets of violence that are always directed at investments in the country.
“Every country has its challenges but every challenge is a means to go forward. What finishes man is the inability to rise even after falling. We are not supposed to look where we have fallen but where we tripped,” he says.
He says that he is more than willing to relinquish his post once he has trained someone who will manage to run the hotel after him. He argues that life becomes more meaningful if people help others to rise.
One thing living in Mogadishu has taught him is the ability to cope with different cultures and to be personable. He has also learnt not to take peace and security for granted.
“Kenya is a country that is blessed and we must not take the calm we enjoy for granted.
“There are people out here who envy the fact that we have had peace for long and that cannot be gainsaid,” he says.
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