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Esther Mbabazi, Rwanda’s First Female Pilot, Paving the Way.


Up there in the clouds, nothing matters more to Esther than the need to discharge her duties diligently and ensure safe landing for her passengers. Not even the comments by her male counterparts or the side talks by the female folk who fear that her ambitions may be a little too big.

Before Esther Mbabazi showed up in the Kenyan aviation scene, no one imagined that a woman could be useful in any other position on an aircraft than as a flight attendant, which of course happens to be the dream of most girls; to speak posh, clad in short fitting dresses, with a suitable make up and a broad smile, while walking the aisle on an aircraft.

Little confession here, it used to be mine too, but it was soon overtaken by events.


Esther wasn’t the conventional girl; she had no time thinking dolls or desiring to look like one even for a second. Her thoughts were fiercer and astronomical. She was a tough and thorough young woman whose vision has been to tear into the clouds and engrave her name on its linings.

“Being a pilot really was my childhood dream, I don’t think anything was going to stop it. It started when I travelled with my family and we would get the free things for kids, like the backpacks. I really liked that and I just liked to travel. The whole intrigue of this big bird in the sky, I was amazed. That and the free backpacks planted the seed.”

At 24, Esther Mbabazi became the first female pilot in Rwanda.

Airborne beginnings………….

Even though Esther’s father, a Pentecostal pastor, died in a plane crash when she was only eight years old, she remained undaunted and firm in her decision to train as a pilot. It was a bitter pill for her family to swallow and so they resisted it in hope that the young girl would give in, but all the while she stood as strong as ever.

“Some people questioned why I wanted to do it, they thought I wanted to be a pilot to find out what happened to my dad, but that didn’t have anything to do with it,” she explains.

Esther Mbabazi

But that didn’t deter her in anyway; instead, it strengthened her decision and shaped her view of life,

.”[But] an accident is an accident. Like I said, if someone gets hit by a car, you don’t stop driving.

“You can’t live life being scared an in fear of anything. If something is bound to happen, you can’t stop it.” She tells CNN African Voices.

“It has moulded my character as a pilot, and I think what happened to my dad makes me a little more safe. It could have stopped me, but an accident is an accident. If someone is knocked over in a car you don’t stop driving. As a pastor’s child I know that you have to let stuff go.”

In all, she had her mother’s support even when other people deserted her for being too ambitious.

“I didn’t get any resistance from my mum,” she says. “In her time she was the only girl in her electricity class, so she doesn’t have any issues with what I do. She has five children and whether we want to do fashion or aviation, as long as we’re doing something we’re interested in, she’s happy.”

Now you know where she got that huge measure of strength.


Once she completed high school, Esther set out in determination to attend the pilot school in Uganda.

“When I went it was a one-way decision,” Esther remembers “If they bounce me, I’ll just pack my things and come back — so that was the way I joined pilot school, and it was a long journey.”

A year later, she began training with RwandAir in Miami and that marked the beginning of her astronomical affairs.

“My greatest memories are flying to different cities,” she says. “Being in the sky gives you a whole other view — you get to see what they call a bird’s eye view of everything.”

Esther Mbabazi was born in Burundi, where her family had moved before the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But they returned to Rwanda in 1996.

The power woman has now continued to pave the way for other women, and has no plans to take things easy.

“Time has changed,” she insists. “Women are out there working, technology has changed, and everyone has the brains to do something, now it’s not about how much bicep or how much energy you have.”

…………..but how much you are willing to pursue your dream.

Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor is a Journalist/Writer, Poet, Lawyer and God-Lover. She enjoys a good read and sees everyday as an opportunity to live and enjoy her calling whilst working towards perfecting it. She believes that someday soon, Africa will reach her full potential as the light-bearer of the world. You can find her on Twitter: @lovelyn_o

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