Leading the way for women entrepreneurs

At the head of a small family empire of six companies, Hibo Bacha is a businesswoman who sees her country as virgin territory, “where everything remains to be developed”.


During a recent trip to the Chinese city of Shenzhen, businesswoman Hibo Bacha was surprised to find a robot serving her dinner in her hotel room. “I had ordered room service. The robot was able to speak, it could even open and close the door,” she recalls. “When I came back to Djibouti, I said to myself that we had a lot of work ahead of us.”

A key figure in Djibouti’s private sector, the businesswoman draws inspiration from her travels to the four corners of the world to develop ideas for her country. In 20 years, she has built a small family empire of six businesses, including a hairdressing salon (Hollywood Beauty Center, created in 2000), a travel agency (Bacha Travel, launched in 2014), a real estate agency (Dream House Real Estate, 2019), a coworking and gaming space (Shoaz, 2021), a visa application agency (Bacha Visa Application Centre, 2022), and finally, a wall ceramics shop (Yusur Ceramic & More, 2023). All these businesses came under the Bacha Business Group umbrella in 2022. 

At the same time, this local figure is campaigning to promote entrepreneurship among Djiboutian women. In particular, she represents her country on behalf of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, which brings together businesswomen in over a hundred countries. She is also an ambassador for Women in Africa, an international platform dedicated to fostering support for African women entrepreneurs. “I’ve always been a role model for women,” says
Bacha. “I tell them that they have to take risks to go far, but by investing in areas where they have expertise, without trying to copy others.”

Promoting her country

In the course of her career, Bacha, 52, has worked as a flight attendant for an airline, a project manager for the World Food Programme, and as an employee at the US Embassy in Djibouti, where she held a management post for 17 years. The elegant businesswoman is full of anecdotes to share, such as the time 20 years ago when she helped to fly and land an empty plane belonging to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

In 2017, following a decisive meeting with one of the richest men on the African continent, she decided to devote 100% of her time to focusing on business. She then spent a year training in the real estate sector in Arizona before returning to her country, which she sees as “uncharted territory where everything remains to be developed”. 

A keen traveller with 125 countries to her name, Bacha never misses an opportunity to promote her country. “In recent years, I’ve taken part in world tourism conferences. When people ask me what
Djibouti looks like, I tell them about the whale
sharks that can be found every year in the Gulf of Tadjourah, I describe Lake Assal, an immense expanse of salt that lies 150 metres below sea level, or Lake Abbe, which resembles the planet Mars, with red sand and warm water rising up from the earth,” enthuses the founder of Bacha Travel, her agency
in the Djiboutian capital. “Our country has great tourist potential, but what we lack is infrastructure. We need to find investors to sell the destination,” she says.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Bacha owes her openness to the world and her entrepreneurial spirit to her mother, who traded clothes, jewellery and accessories between Djibouti, Dubai, India and China. Hibo Bacha has passed on the torch to her five children. “They started working very young. When I opened my hairdressing salon, there was one to look after the till, another to welcome customers and yet another to help the hairdresser,” she recalls, amused.

Recently, her daughter Zaïna came to help her develop the family business. “It’s important to bring back our skills and experience to try and develop the country,” explains Zaïna, who studied at a business school in France and then spent a year working for a major real estate agency in Dubai. The Djiboutian has no shortage of ambition: “I’d like to launch an estate agency. My dream is to build affordable houses and flats for the middle class. Because today, it’s very expensive to buy a property.”

Her mother is delighted to see her children getting involved in the family group. “They’re going to innovate by launching new businesses in their specific fields, in engineering and digital technology. In fact, my youngest daughter, aged 15, wants to become an architect. At the same time, I want to encourage women to open businesses that are close to their hearts. Djibouti has the potential to become a little Dubai or a little Singapore. Over there, everything is biometric, digitised. We need to draw inspiration from them.”

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Théo du Couëdic

Théo is a freelance journalist based in Senegal.