When you meet her, you are immediately struck by the assertive, determined woman she is. But beneath the tough exterior is a woman with a story, a story of adversity and abuse that has led to her becoming one of Uganda’s top travel and tour operators.
Jackie Kemirembe Rubuubi, the Founder and Managing Director of Platinum Safaris, started small. She began her career in the airline industry as a security officer with Sabena Airways, now known as Brussels Airlines. She worked there until the company, which she calls “a very professional workplace”, ran into operational troubles. It was forced to temporarily close down and change names. She had to make ends meet so she found a temporary job at the Kenya Airways office in Uganda’s capital Kampala.
Soon, a new airline, Africa One, made an entry in the Ugandan airspace. And Rubuubi was headhunted for a top managerial position. The offer came with many promises including tempting bonuses. This made her give it her best, but after some time on the job, Rubuubi started noticing the cracks.
“Suddenly, I had multiple directors to report to instead of the one that was indicated in my appointment letter. I also never got the bonuses despite signing lucrative deals,” she says. One of the male directors particularly got meddlesome in her duties, unilaterally issuing holiday breaks to members of her team. This upset operations in the section that Rubuubi headed. Frustration set in.
“It was pure harassment and lack of professionalism,” she says.
At the height of it, she decided to have a one-on-one with the female director about the state of affairs. It was going to be a conversation she would never forget – for a long time.
“The director I sought to confide in and the one I was actually supposed to be reporting to told me that as long as I remained employed with them, it wouldn’t be strange if she asked me to go and make their beds! In her view, I was to do anything they wanted me to do despite being a manager. I immediately made up my mind to resign, bringing an end to two daunting years. It turned out to be the worst job I ever had.”
That conversation gave Rubuubi enough reason to leave – and consider starting something on her own. She retreated to London where she found a job as an accountant in a retail food chain.
Within a year, she returned to Uganda on maternity leave. She never returned to London though she kept being paid her salary. She used the money to open a garment shop. The new venture wasn’t doing well but she wanted to avoid being employed again.
It was not easy.
At one point, when she traveled to Dubai to source garments for her shop, she met a Turkish couple who convinced her to open an employment agency to recruit people in Kampala and connect them to odd jobs in Dubai.
The couple turned out to be imposters when they vanished with the $27,000 Rubuubi had given them to process visas for the 230 recruits that had registered.
Her attempts to involve Interpol in tracing them were met with numerous death threats from the couple. She finally gave up and devised a new plan.
With an International Air Transport Association (IATA) qualification under her belt, Rubuubi decided to open a travel and tour company. She registered Platinum Safaris in 2002, starting operations in a small room.
Her first client was an official from the International Criminal Court who not only became a regular but also brought in other customers. The business prospered and she registered it with professional bodies. This brought more opportunities until she shifted office to a new location.
Today, Platinum Safaris is a leading tour and travel service provider in the East African region known for services such as air-ticketing, safaris across the Great Lakes region, honeymoon packages, visa advisory, conference planning and bookings for white-water rafting and gorilla-tracking.
Last year, Platinum received an accolade from Amadeus, a firm that provides travel software and technology solutions for the global travel industry, for its high adoption of solutions. The company also has a raft of honors from other industry players including airlines.
Rubuubi’s vision is to venture into luxury tourism similar to what is offered in Morocco. She is in the final stages of acquiring speedboats that will introduce a new tourism circuit connecting major islands on Lake Victoria, Africa’s greatest lake and source of the Nile.
She says that what she went through made her realize women surely deserve better at the workplace.
“No one expects women to perform better than men. But the fact is many women are stronger than men,” she says.