Posted: Fri Apr 16, 2004 8:31 am Post subject: Uganda's rich / Karim Hirji / Alykhan Karmali ..
The rise, fall and rise of Uganda's rich
Certainly, some people not only have many cash and own Uganda's most valued properties, but also pay heavy taxes and employ thousands of the population. To tell who among them is the richest is no easy job. Over time, some of them have prospered and continue in that direction. But some have hit hard times. Sunday Monitor's Sheila C. Kulubya & Elizabeth Kameo give you a glimpse into Uganda's money men
The Mukwanos Uganda's list of the rich and famous would be incomplete without Alykhan Karmali and Amirali Karmali. This duo, popularly known as the Mukwanos, is the most successful father and son business partnership today. They own the Mukwano Group of Companies, one of the biggest conglomerates in Uganda. It comprises: Mukwano Enterprises Ltd, A.K. Transporters Ltd, A.K. Oils & Fats (U) Ltd, A.K. Plastics (U) Ltd, A.K. Detergent (U) Ltd, Mukwano Sweets & Confectioneries (U) Ltd, Rwenzori Commodities Ltd and Mukwano Forex Bureau Ltd. As is the norm with the rich, it is not easy to establish their bank balance, but with more than 10,000 employees on its payroll and payment of over Shs 40 billion in taxes annually, it's safe to assume that the Karmalis will not starve even if they chose not to work another day. Like many tycoons, the Karmalis neither like to talk about their wealth, careers nor their family history. However, a recent article in the East African newspaper gives an insight into how they made their money. Legend has it that a Mr Ali Mohamed Karmali, a pioneer Indian Investor who came to Uganda in 1904, laid the foundation of the empire. After working as a shop assistant in Jinja, he shifted to Mbarara, before settling in Bukandula, in Mpigi district, where in partnership with other Asian families, he did a roaring trade in cotton and coffee. Mr Karmali was reportedly so popular with the locals that they nicknamed him Mukwano gwa bangi (a friend of many)," later shortened to "Mukwano". It is also here that Mr Amirali Karmali was born in the mid-1930s. The business took off when the family moved to Fort Portal, where the young Karmali, acquired a second-hand truck and begun to transport produce for sale in Kampala. Soon after, he expanded to western Uganda and some areas of eastern Congo and thereafter moved to Kampala, where he opened his first shop under the business name Egesa Commercial Agencies. In 1972 the then President, Idi Amin got his infamous dream - in which God comm anded him to expel an estimated 80,000 Asians and redistribute their assets to indigenous Ugandans. Karmali isn't willing to discuss this sad chapter in the history of Ugandan Asians. However, other sources claim that he never went into exile. That he was 'hidden' by good Samaritans for a number of years. While many Asian businesses were looted and taken over in the late 70s Mukwano was able to rebuild his business and in the early 80s established Mukwano Enterprises Ltd., which later expanded to include Mukwano Industries (U) Ltd. In 1995 Mzee Mukwano relinquished control of the Group to his son, Alykhan Karmali and became its chairman. He now spends most of his time in Fort Portal, growing and processing tea for export.
The Madhvanis Roni, Manubhai, and Prataphbhai Madhvani The name Madhvani conjures images of luxurious and expensively furnished mansions in sprawling estates, company jets, and lots of cash in the bank. And its presence is not just felt here in Uganda. The internationally famous Forbes Magazine regularly lists the Madhvani family as one of the richest in the world. Like the Mukwanos, Muljibhai Madhvani, a pioneer Indian investor who came to Uganda at the turn of the last century, built the Madhvani empire from scratch. By the time of his demise, the Madhvani's owned Kakira Sugar Works, tea and sugar estates, schools, colleges and recreational centres. By then, the Madhvani empire had grown so big and controlled about 10% of the country's exports. Their fortunes took a plunge in the 70s, when former President Idi Amin expelled the Asians. The directors; Manubhai and Prataph joined the Asian exodus and fled to Britain. In the 80s, the family returned to Uganda, repossessed their property and rebuilt the business. The rest, as they say, is history. The Madhvani group is one of the largest employers with more than 10,000 employees on its payroll. Among its possessions are Mweya and Paraa Safari Lodges and Kakira Sugar Works. Nile Breweries, under their wrap for a number of years, was however sold to South African Breweries in 2001.
Sudhir Ruparelia, Chairman, Ruparelia Group of Companies
Mr Sudhir Ruparelia There is a rumour that has been circulating the grapevine-that property mogul Sudhir Ruparelia owns half the city of Kampala. He usually laughs whenever he is asked about it and says it's a "big lie" spread by his competitors. However, if you made a count of his investments, it is easy to see why people continue to whisper behind his back. Sudhir owns a building on almost every busy street in the city; most of them situated in prime locations. No one, (except himself, and he doesn't talk much about it), knows how Sudhir made his money. But what we know is that before the 90s, he was not among the wealthiest in Uganda. Some say Sudhir hit a jackpot in the Premier Lottery, while others have wild stories that he struck gold while doing kyeyo in the UK. Bur Sudhir says the secret to his success is: hard work, persistence and a bit of luck. "To be successful, you should make sure you achieve your goals, and never give up. There are so many road blocks but you must continue with a strong determination," he says. Whatever the origin of his riches, Sudhir seems to have it all; flower farms, hotels, resorts, banks, country clubs, et al. His estate, encompassed in the Ruparelia group, is one of the biggest in the country. It includes: Rosebud, Meera Investments, Speke Resort and Country Lodge Munyonyo, Crane Bank, Speke Hotel, Crane Forex Bureau, Kabira Country Club and Kabira International School. Others are: Tourist Hotel, Goldstar Insurance Company Limited, Premier Finance Limited, Kabira Leisure Centre, Crane Management Services limited, Crane Financial Services Limited, Sanyu FM, Sunrise Radio and Kabira Forex Bureau Limited. But he has a soft spot for Speke Resort in Munyonyo and his prized fitness gym at Kabira Country Club, which is sometimes touted as the best-equipped gym in East and Central Africa. It is said that behind every successful man, there is a good woman. But Sudhir's wife, Jyostna, is no ordinary housewife. She is a businesswoman in her own right and runs the Rupare lia group together with her husband. Some people in the know claim, that she is the real mover and shaker.
Karim Hirji Most people know him as a rally driver rather than a rich man. But there is more to him than just fast cars. The rally ace is a hotelier and owns a string of hotels; Hotel Equatoria, Grand Imperial Hotel, Imperial Botanical Beach hotel and Imperial Resort Beach Entebbe. Imperial Finance and Insurance, Didi's amusement park and Dembe Car sales are the other big business names associated to Karim Hirji. According to our information, he started small - by selling textiles and spirits. His first shop, Dembe Enterprises, was then located on Luwum Street just before Mukwano Arcade. From just a one-man show, his business has expanded quickly and now includes a car dealership under the umbrella name of Dembe Group of companies. Always one to shoot for the moon, Karim is reportedly constructing the first seven star hotel in Uganda, at the Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Entebbe.
James Mulwana Nearly every one in ten Ugandans has used a nice pen, plastic mug, basin or jerry can. The man behind it all is none other than James Mulwana, founder and owner of Nice House of Plastics. He is not just one of East Africa's finest Chief Executive Officers (CEO), but he is also one of the most successful businessmen in Uganda. Some sources claim that he was once a bouncer at the then famous Suzana nightclub in Nakulabye, some decades ago, before lady luck smiled at him. Mulwana was an early bloomer and got involved in the import-export business. At one time, he ran a mail order business, exporting wooden combs to Shepherds' Bush in the United Kingdom. Some say, life for Mulwana would have probably followed much the same routine had it not been for his friend, Dr William Kalema, formerly the Chairman of Uganda Manufacture's Association. Kalema predicted, rightly so, that manufacturing was the future for the development of emerging economies like Uganda. He reportedly introduced Mulwana to Chloride, a British company that was at the time looking for partners in Uganda. The company opened a motor battery manufacturing line in Kampala, with Mulwana as managing director. Apart from the Battery company, Mulwana set up Ship Tooth Brush (renamed Nice House of Plastics), the first company to manufacture toothbrushes in Africa. The battery line shut down at the height of political instability in the 70s and early 80s but re-opened soon after peace returned to the country. The Nice product line has now diversified into tableware, packaging and knapsack sprayers. The factory sells 12,000 batteries a month and has made pile for Mulwana. But that's not all Mulwana owns. In 1986 he started Jesa Mixed Farm with a seed herd of 82 Friesian cows, which have now multiplied to thousands. In 1994, he added a milk processing plant. In 1992, he entered a partnership with some German businessmen and established Nsimbe Estates, now one of the country's biggest exporters of cut flowers. In his own words, Mulwan a once told the East African newspaper thus: "his success is the contribution of many people".
Dr Martin Aliker If being a chairman of board of directors were a profession, Martin Aliker, would easily be the best in the field. Mr Aliker is on so many company boards: The Monitor Publications, Uganda Breweries-the list is long. He has practically made a career out of it. A former minister in the NRM administration, Aliker has built up a reputation as an honest and diplomatic person. But while he might not own a flourishing business empire, he owns sizeable shares in Uganda Breweries and Coca-Cola, whose dividends, we hear are enough to keep three future generations of Aliker in comfort. Dr William Kalema He is not only James Mulwana's friend and former chairman of Uganda Manufacturers Association, but he is also a successful entrepreneur in his own right. His company, Simba Blankets is the most successful blanket manufacturing company in Uganda. Edward Mperese Little is known about this reclusive tycoon, although he has been around and running a successful business since the mid 1980s. Apparently, he started off with a wholesale shop, down town Kampala Road and today is the proud owner of a number of tourist hotels, inns and lodges. His trophy collection includes the famous Lusam Inns, and Samalien hotels, named after son Lumansi and daughter Samali.
John Ssebana Kizito Kampala's mayor is not only charged with keeping the city clean and taking care of the capitals' drainage system, he also has a knack for business. His Sure House on Bombo road is a hot property in the city and is making the good mayor a tidy return on his investment. But that's not all the property that Ssebana owns. He's got other prime buildings scattered all over the city as well as Statewide Insurance Company. He was also once a partner in Inter-state Insurance. Gordon Wavamunno In the 1960s, this entrepreneur started off driving a special Hire taxi. In his Biography, he says he owes his success to his adopted strategy of "flexible business diversification by putting my eggs in as many baskets as possible". According to Wavamunno, he has followed a flexible and varied approach to doing business - thus his success. Since his luck in the 1960s, Wavamunno has ventured into a variety of businesses: transport, insurance, banking, trade, tourism, entertainment, the electronic media, property development, manufacturing and farming. So far his Mercedes Benz franchise is one of the most popular in the country. Wava as he is popularly known started out with a taxi hire service in his hometown, Mbarara and later on diversified to a bus service, which he named Rugaaga Bus Service. This used to link his village, Rugaaga to Mbarara town. He later on moved to Kampala and started up another bus company, which collapsed and he moved on to Spear Touring Safaris Ltd the forerunner of Spear Motors. He was not so lucky in the tourism sector due to the turbulent 1970s but that did not stop him. He still owns a fleet of tankers and trailers that transport goods to and from Mombasa. Companies in which he has stakes include: GM TUMPECO, Wava Holdings, Spear House, Wanno Engineering, Batunga Quarry, Radio Simba, WBS, Nile Bank, United Assurance Company, Nakwero farm and Victoria Flowers Ltd located in Entebbe near the airport. Hussein Shire He's one of the quiet tycoons. He keeps out of sight and h ates showing off his wealth. But when he walks into a room, his very presence whiffs of wealth. Shire is the owner and CEO of Gateway, one of the largest bus companies in the country - with more than 100 buses operating all over Uganda. Gateway is also the only Ugandan company that operates a service to Kenya. Born in Tororo, Shire, a Somali by origin started his career in the transport industry, ferrying passenger in a blue Peugeot 504 car along the Tororo - Malaba highway. Besides this, he also had a grocery shop in Tororo town, and would sell sodas and ice (barafu) to travellers. Todate he still owns the shop. With profits from the Peugeot and the shop, Shire bought a kamunye and a trailer. Years later, he established the Gateway Bus Company, which is a runaway success. Captain Roy Dairo Air His AfricaOne venture may have been one of the aviation industry's most spectacular failures, but the end is still a long way off for Captain Roy. His Dairo Air Cargo is the biggest cargo airline in Africa, and is making him tons of cash. The flight captain also owns the Conrad Plaza on Nasser Road and has also become a big player in the horticulture industry. Charles Mbiire He is a big shareholder in MTN- Uganda and owns a host of properties in Kampala. Whereas he does not often draw attention to himself, we cannot forget that it's in Mbiire's spacious mansion that Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi slept during his visit to Uganda. Mohan Kiwanuka Radio One, Oscar Industries Most of us know his wife, Maria Kiwanuka, the MD of Radio One. But Mr Kiwanuka is a real king in the business world. Though he owns a host of businesses, Oscar Industries-his flagship is the moneymaker. They ran out of rich luck Bassajjabalaba's Cinderella dream cruelly crumbled.
Mr Hassan Bassajjabalaba In some ways, the story of Hassan Bassajjabalaba's rise to wealth is as unreal as that of Cinderella. Two years ago he rocketed from obscurity into the limelight after his company, Yudaya International won a bid to redevelop the Constitutional Square into a shopping mall estimated at $10 million. Before then, little was known of the man who came to be popularly known as Hassan B. Even more puzzling, no one seemed to know how he had made his money. News that he had in fact inherited a prosperous hides and skins business from his father, was met with a lot of scepticism and disbelief. The business reportedly started in the 1950s and expanded. Bassajjabalaba's company, Haba Group of Companies, was the biggest exporter of hides and skins. He made the most of his fortune while it lasted and bought a string of hotels (White Horse Inn Kasese, Rena Hotel in Namirembe and Lake View Regency Hotel in Mbarara). Onto this, he added the City abattoir and Kampala University later renamed Kampala International University. It is rumoured that he owned a fleet of 720 cars, some of them with personalised numberplates. He also had an interest in Uganda Meat Packers and was planning to open several fuel outlets. But while Cinderella successfully married her prince charming and lived happily after, Bassajjabalaba's empire slowly started crumbling - when the Uganda Revenue Authority came calling and started investigating him for tax evasion. At the same time, the International Police (Interpol) was keeping an eye on his business operations, following reports that he had failed to pay close to $11million (Shs 20 billion) to some Italian businessmen. When the story broke, Bassajjabalaba was reportedly very distraught. It was rumoured that he spent days locked up in his house. At the time, business analysts attributed his troubles to heavy loans and his penchant for investing in assets that did not offer a quick return. There are now whispers that Bassajjabalaba is quietly selling off his acquisiti ons to repay the loans. It is not clear what is left of his empire or how much control he's got over his remaining assets. Suffice to say that he enjoyed his place in the sun until the revenue people demanded for their pound of flesh.
Mr Haruna Ssemakula General Parts Uganda No businessman has faded off the scene as much as Hajji Haruna Ssemakula. The former General Parts boss keeps pretty much to himself these days. Gone is the troop of business associates and well-wishers who used to crowd him, and gone too is much of his wealth. Semakula was part of the exclusive club of self-made millionaires who rose to prominence at the advent of Museveni's regime. Legend has it that before he catapulted into the world of the rich and famous, he was just a taxi driver, plying the Kampala-Busia route. A near fatal car accident cost him his car and an arm. Soon he was up and about and joined the exodus of Uganda business in Japan and started importing auto spare parts. Before long, he established himself as the largest supplier of Japanese auto spares in Uganda. In a bid to expand his business, he borrowed billions from Uganda Commercial Bank, now Stanbic. Instead of putting the money to its intended use, he reportedly gave a big chunk of it to buy favours from some bank and business hot shots in town. His kindness also proved his undoing. He spent a fortune to promote his business and self. He often held weekly draws, with eventual winners walking driving off in a vehicle. Every Tom, Dick and Harry who entered his shop, along Ben Kiwanuka Street, including those who did not have a single cent, would have a soda to quench their thirst. While his hospitality is to be envied, it was eating away at his business. Semakula also made a name for himself at Makerere University, where he became a Bill Gates of sorts. Former students recall that he used to give them trucks full of sodas during campaigns, and inter-hall cultural festivities. Charities also reaped big from Semakula. At one time he donated a vehicle to UWESO; as well as vast sums to orphanages and mosques. When he failed to repay his loans in time, NPART took over the business to recover some of the monies. Most of his assets; buildings and cars were sold off leaving him with barely eno ugh to maintain his lifestyle. Semakula took the matter to court, but there is no end in sight yet-the case is still dragging on, and it could be years before it's fully resolved.
Kagimu Bazira His name rings a bell, especially to the people of Entebbe, where he owns prime property. He is one of the lucky few that are born into money, which he reportedly inherited from his grandfather. But while it has set him up in a luxurious lifestyle, it was not enough to buy him a seat in parliament in the late 1980s. But his fortune has taken a dip and his once famous construction firm Bazira Construction Company in Lutembe is no more. "I can no longer be counted among the rich and famous businessmen in Uganda, my company ran into trouble and legally is no longer in existence," Bazira told Sunday Monitor recently.
Thomas Katto He stunned the business and social circles, last year, when it was announced that he was bankrupt. He dresses well, mixes with the 'right' crowd, oh, and he still has enough cash to buy his buddies rounds of drinks at popular hangouts in town. Some of his associates however swear that Katto has hit a dead end after he sold off all his companies - but most importantly, International Credit Bank, Sanyu FM and Sanyu TV Boney Katatumba He was a household name in the 1980s and early 1990s, thanks to a vigorous ad campaign on UTV. His most famous business was Katatumba Academy. Then there was the Katatumba airline, Hotel Diplomate in Muyenga and Black lines House in the heart of the city. These days you are likely to find Katatumba, also the honorary Consul General of Pakistan in Uganda, at his offices at Black Lines House. He seems preoccupied with trade between the two countries and talks very little about his once mighty business empire-most of which has been sold or leased out. He might not be as visible or as influential, but our sources tell us that Katatumba still has lots of cash. Sulaiman Kiggundu Whatever happened to him, only God knows! As soon as trouble knocked at his door, he became a shadow of himself. In fact his more combative wives are far more visible these days.
Mr Sulaiman Kiggundu After a six-month stint in jail for bankruptcy, Kiggundu has slid out of the limelight - since his release from Luzira prison. Once the owner of Greenland Bank and Governor Bank of Uganda, he hit rock bottom when his businesses were closed, liquidated and others sold off to clear outstanding government loans. Like Katto, Kiggundu might be down, but he is definitely not out. He is still living good life, away from the prying eyes of the press and keeping out of government's hair. New breed Godfrey Kirumira Of the famous Kirumira Towers. He insists that he is no tycoon. "I am still borrowing money to expand on my business," he says. True. But show us a millionaire who has never borrowed money and we will show you a murderer who has never killed. It's interesting that for Kirumira, a successful businessman is one who is no longer dependent on loans. However, those with a business head on their shoulders know otherwise and maintain that he is stinking rich. Like Michael Ezra, Katumwa and the rest of the new breed, Kirumira rose to wealth and prominence after the NRM ascended power in 1986. The most prized businesses assets we know so far are Kirumira towers and several fuel outlets (Shell and Gelp petrol stations). We cannot also ignore his influence in Express Football club. He has been known to lure players away from his rivals with extraordinarily fat cash bonuses. To us, he has the markings of someone who has hit it big time.
Michael Ezra-sports philanthropist His is a typical rags to riches fairy tale. Interestingly, no one seems to know how Uganda's newest and youngest (he is 30 years) millionaire made his bucks.
Michael Ezra In a recent press interview, Ezra's father said he is as stunned about his son's wealth as the rest of us. Apparently, it's only Ezra who knows the fountain of his wealth, and right now he is not talking. But he has promised to unveil the shroud of mystery surrounding his wealth - when he is in the right mood for doing so. For now, all we know is that he comes from a relatively poor family. Born Michael Semakula, Ezra left Uganda 10 years ago and returned a millionaire. Ezra has the typical rich man's syndrome; he loves to show off and brag about his wealth. Currently, he is based at the Sheraton hotel where he has taken over the entire Presidential Suite. He owns five customised Mercedes Benzes as well as the very first Lamborghini in the country. But unlike many rich men, who are solely concerned about their bellies, Ezra likes to think of himself as a sports philanthropist. He has bailed out the national boxing team The Bombers out of their financial troubles, and he has also dipped into his wallet to bankroll the national athletics team. He footed the bill for last year's Uganda Sports Press Association gala at Hotel Africana, and also made a donation of Shs 15 million to the child king of Toro, Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru. His list of good deeds goes on and on. Is he here to stay? There is no telling the future. However, if things continue to move well, and he does not get into trouble with the law like Hassan B and Haruna Semakula, we are likely to see more blank cheques bouncing around (no pun intended).
Mr Andrew Kassaga - Zzimwe Andrew Kassaga - Zzimwe. It is rumoured that Kassaga, popularly known as Zzimwe, started off in the fish industry in Kibuye. In the late 80s, he graduated to a hardware company, along Market Street, and later set up Zzimwe Hardware and later Zzimwe Construction Company. But those in the know claim that Zzimwe has scores of godfathers in the political establishment - who continue to help him secure plenty of lucrative contracts. Lawrence Mukibi Everyone in the education circles has heard of Mukiibi - of the St. Lawrence schools. The schools have become an empire in their own right, and today attract a huge number of foreign and local students. In 1992, Mukiibi started out with one branch, Progressive Citizens High School located near the Kabaka's lake in Mengo. It has since expanded to four campuses at different locations. They are flourishing and making pots of money for Mukibi. He is not just an excellent headmaster, but he is also a smart businessman. David Katumwa His wealth remains a mystery. From vending old sports shoes, he now owns one of the biggest sports shops in Kampala.
Mr David Katumwa He is into sponsoring sports events and is now building a sports complex in Kampala. Moses Kalungi His luck has been in owning property; the most famous being Kalungi Plaza, in the city centre. If he owns any other big business complexes, then he has kept them a secret. Dick Kizito He owns Kizito Towers, one of the city's premier shopping centres and a host of other businesses. Mutaasa Kafeero He is also a property mogul like Kalungi and Kizito and owns Mutaasa Kafeero shopping centre in the heart of the city. Haji Yusufu Matovu Proprietor of YOUMA tiles. Henry Bugembe Owns Big Ways and prime property in the city. Omar Mandela, His City Tyres is one of the biggest and most successful tyre outlets in the country. But he is mostly famous for his undisputed loyalty and financial support to Sports Club Villa. Brahimu Muwanga Kibirige - BMK He owns Hotel Africana, BMK Health club, BMK Heavy Machinery, BMK Industries (manufacturers of polythene bags), BMK Nairobi, BMK Tanzania, BMK Zambia and other prime property in Uganda. He made his money from selling auto parts and motorcycles. Otto Before he faded off the scene, his Vita foam company was the biggest manufacturer of mattresses in Uganda. He also co-owned COVMO motors, an importer of spare parts and cars. But now, he has made a comeback and has reversed his fortunes.
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