MEETING THE BOSS: ELLY KARUHANGA USES HIS OWN LIFE STORY TO INSPIRE EDUCATED BUT JOBLESS YOUNG P’PLE
By John V Sserwaniko
The turn up for the Friday “Meet The Boss” session was impressive and people kept time. Official start time was 6pm yet many began arriving as early as 4pm.
Leading city lawyer and corporate leader (also former MP & pillar in Museveni’s NRM) Dr. Elly Karuhanga was slated to give an inspirational talk to motivate young corporates never to give up in life. Operating under an entity called “UPTOWN GROUP,” the organizers (to their credit) ensured the Oil & Gas sector (very promising but one on which many have limited information) was the theme around which all discussions were centered.
Love or hate him, Elly Karuhanga is an eloquent public speaker and knows how to keep the audience keen and attentive. That exactly what he did at the Sky Hotel “Meet The Boss” session. Apparently, many in the young audience had an idea who they were waiting for. Karuhanga’s presence was first announced after 9pm but the large audience (initially expecting his presentation to start at 6pm) was patiently waiting. None showed irritation over his delayed arrival.
Cleverly chosen, Patrick Bitature’s SKY hotel (seated on top of Naguru Hill) was the venue for the event whose large attendance clearly exceeded what organizers anticipated. Besides the evening breeze, the rooftop of the hotel gave guests a clear view of the rest of Kampala city as they took photos chatting in small groups.
By 8pm, whoever went out struggled to locate their seat on coming back. Each paying Shs150,000 as entry fees, the crowd was so large many people just had to find where to stand. “Jesus Christ what is this I’m seeing? It’s proof many of us remain stressed and need inspiration even when we think we have jobs. Motivation is we all desire and lounge for; why else would all these people be flocking this place on a Friday evening?” remarked a young corporate working with a bank seated on a table next to ours.
On that Shs150,000 one was entitled to endless food and drink on top of photo ops with the many corporate executives in attendance. There was a special platform (besides the arrival red carpet) where the paparazzi waited to take photos. In the background was a huge banner with logos and colors of Next Media, Tusker Malt Lager, Sudhir Ruparelia’s Victoria University, Patrick Ruharuza’s IPS-K and other major brands that sponsored the event. And most importantly there was a lot of networking for future business opportunities. “I have met many good people and I look forward to great business partnerships,” remarked a young lady who later told Mulengera News she is into events management.
The curtain-raising, preceding Karuhanga’s presentation, came in form of a panel discussion where experts answered questions aimed at deepening everyone’s understanding of Uganda’s nascent Oil & Gas sector and the business opportunities therein. The very eloquent panelists included Aggrey Ashaba, Jessica Kyeyune, Saad Asmahaney and Robert Byaruhanga who used the opportunity to market his employer Victoria University where he heads Oil & Gas department.
As they eagerly waited for the night’s main man Elly Karuhanga, people in the audience were told about the $20bn coming under the next round of oil-related activities in the next 4 years. This is the aggregate of what is to be invested in operationalization of the refinery, pipe line, Kabale Airport, Hoima Industrial Park and central processing facilities. One only has to position themselves as efficient providers of the relevant services. They must also become accredited because oil sector is highly regulated, speakers repeatedly told the audience.
How to qualify growing one’s standards or brand to the level of getting global certification is one of the many questions Dr. Karuhanga sought to answer in his narrative. Many were saddened to learn that in the previous round of exploration licenses, foreign firms sunk up to $4.5bn of which only 28% (or $900m) remained in Uganda because we weren’t prepared. Panelists disclosed by enacting the Local Content policy, the GoU has done its part to ensure its people adequately benefit but (as Karuhanga later stressed) it will take personal initiative.
Karuhanga, who one of the earlier speakers praised for being the first MP to fly an aircraft while campaigning for Nyabushozi County Seat, flamboyantly walked in moments after 9pm. He was accompanied by his wife Stella and children as media cameras flushed. Also in his entourage was former Justice Ministry boss Dr. Joseph Matsiko who he introduced as his boss at KAA. Equally presented were some of the OBs and childhood friends he grew up with in Bushenyi Igara Kyamuhunga before his parents relocated to Nyabushozi in present day Kiruhura district.
Karuhanga, born January 1947, began by referencing on former Archbishop Orombi who referred to them as “future bosses, future generals, future presidents, future MPs and future ministers” whenever he was invited to inspire young people.
Saying its not all that mattered making him successful, Karuhanga revealed he had princely birth because his paternal grandfather was a son of the last king of Igara. On being born, that old man demanded to live with Karuhanga on grounds he was too handsome to live with his parents.
The old man lived at Itendero where he spoilt his grandson with love and material things. Elly’s parents lived some distance across in Kyamuhunga. Dignified as he was, the old man was an endless smoker and until he was 5 years and began school, Elly’s major occupation was to prepare the smoking pipe, loading it with tobacco leaves and lighting it for the old man’s enjoyment. Karuhanga told the Friday audience that the excessive materialism he was exposed to as he lived with his Jjaja at Itendero should ordinarily have spoilt and made him despise going to school.
“I always determined to be a big dreamer and there is no way I would dream big at Itendero. I had to get away from my grandfather. I was five years then and would see children return from school and I admired them. I escaped to go and live with my parents at Kyamuhunga to be able to go to school,” he recalls. He escaped and took whole week to reach Kyamuhunga because in between were many rivers and hills to cross for the 5-year old. His parents believed he had got lost and started looking for him. For all those days he was being cared for by good Samaritans who picked on him while on the verge of drowning in one of the rivers he had to cross. “I insisted I must dream big because my philosophy was why not since the time you use to dream small is the same amount of time required to dream big.”
It was that resilience and farsightedness that enabled him endure walking 8kms daily from home to Kyamuhunga Primary School. He was barefoot crossing rivers daily. In the end he became the first lawyer ever in his Mafundo clan and their only PhD holder so far. Now the clan head, Karuhanga said he is also the first graduate in his not so modest family. Challenging them to aim even higher, Karuhanga referred to Ugandan Patrick Bitature being the proprietor of Sky Hotel (boosting 4,000 guest rooms). “You actually can and should do better than that because Uganda still has a lot of unexploited potential,” he submitted.
Karuhanga, who earlier in the day had just been reelected as President of Ugandan Chamber of Mines & Petroleum, then reflected on the vastness of Uganda’s mineral wealth adding its way much more than what SA and other wealthier nations have ever boasted of. “Uganda has 38 different minerals; a record no country can match. It’s in your time that all that is going to be exploited and enjoyed.” He referenced on Mubende’s gold, Kilembe’s copper deposits and existence of a mineral called vermiculite vastly present in Mayuge. He said this is the largest deposit in the world. SA had it but theirs is now exhausted. He also referred to Tororo’s phosphates in Osukuru into which Chinese firm, Dong Song, is investing $600m.
He then referred to Oil & Gas sector whose 6.5bn barrels (confirmed so far) he said is enough to permanently transform Uganda. He said it took the President’s resilience and readiness to try to risk investing poor Uganda’s scarce resources leading to confirmation that commercially extractable oil existed.
“The lesson in all this is that never fear to try,” Karuhanga said as he moved to discuss his initially very scaring entry into politics. He said many people, including those very close to him, discouraged him doubting he stood any chance. “We had just returned from exile and I was being urged to stand in Nyabushozi where my parents had moved from Bushenyi. They just had a small piece of land there,” Karuhanga reminisced saying this is something his brother Prince Andrew Thembo was witness to. After a stint in NRC, Nyabushozi retained Karuhanga to serve as area MP (1996-2001).
In 2001, he was among those senior politicians who opted for early political retirement and didn’t seek reelection to keep their seats. Pals argued it was time to build on his vast experience to cross over to Arusha and serve as one of the 9 Ugandan EALA reps. Friends pushed hard and Karuhanga reluctantly offered himself though some instinct kept telling him God wasn’t in it. The President’s personal lawyer recalls: “The Sunday before nominations I went to church with my family and I prayed to God saying if its your will let me win and vice versa.”
Indeed, God spoke as Karuhanga (a Museveni/NRM diehard supporter) unexpectedly lost to UPC’s Yona Kanyomozi in a Parliament that was 80% NRM. The western EALA rep slot was pushed to the afternoon and from the eloquent campaign speech he characteristically made, everybody went for lunch convinced Karuhanga had already won. Here was a good candidate backed by the numerically strongest party in the House. That complacency explains why many would-be his voters in the NRM didn’t return to the afternoon session after lunch. That is how UPC’s Kanyomozi took the day, leaving Karuhanga in extreme political humiliation.
This enabled Karuhanga to test the veracity of the saying “there is a silver lining at every dark cloud.” The very uncertain future (much scorned Karuhanga endured that EALA afternoon and the days that followed) was to turn into gold as he consoled himself settling in as a partner at Workers House-based KAA he had co-founded with others like Bart Katureebe (now Chief Justice).
One afternoon an old friend walked into his KAA office and with him was Allan Bans, a Muzungu from Australia whose firm called Hardman had for years been struggling to do business in Uganda. The friend told Mr. Bans that Karuhanga was the best lawyer (with integrity) he knew in town and suggested he shares his troubles with him for relevant legal advice. Bans was desirous to venture into oil exploration in Uganda but wasn’t making headway. The government bureaucracy was becoming too much and needed a Mr. Fix of Elly Karuhanga’s stature. Indeed, the man from Nyabushozi turned out to be the much-desired attorney who knew both the law and people who matter in authority.
“We simply crossed over to Amber House where my old friend Kamanda Bataringaya was the Minister in charge. It was a very fruitful meeting and Allan Bans was very impressed. He was tired and wanted to return home in Australia. He asked me to become the President of Hardman and as we worked, the existence of oil was confirmed,” Karuhanga told the cheerful audience.
He was instructed to sign all the important documentation, including PSAs, on behalf of Hardman and this was naturally followed with generous financial dividend. The confirmation of discovery of oil in Uganda saw Tullow Oil come running to buy Mr. Bans out of his Hardman stake and was offered a cool $1bn. You can imagine how much Karuhanga partook of that sum. Even without him disclosing how much came to him, the clearly very inspired audience got the point.
Because he had exhibited high integrity in all his dealings as Hardman President, Mr. Bans strongly recommended Karuhanga’s retention to Tullow. This was granted and Tullow made him their Technical Consultant. “That is how I became Uganda’s pioneer private sector person on oil & gas. I exhibited personal initiative and desire to learn which my Tullow bosses harnessed by facilitating my travel and training all over the world to study oil & gas.” Karuhanga adds: “The defeat in Parliament [which elects EALA MPs] closed a door and yet God responded by opening more other doors, windows and ventilators and here I’m. It became clear the defeat I suffered in Parliament was the will of God who I prayed to.”
He says the opportunities resulting from his initial association with Hardman and eventually Tullow have by far outweighed what he ever imagined would reap from being an EALA MP. “But what is most critical in all this is the importance of integrity, making and keeping friends,” he stressed.
SURVIVING AMIN’S MEN
Recalling how his then girl friend Stella was almost killed during the 1970s merely because she put on a skirt shorter than what Amin had decreed, Karuhanga told his audience its easier to live with certainty in today’s Uganda than that of his youth. He recalled how his masterly of the law is what he deployed to scare policemen from Wandegeya to back off his Stella. He also advised young people to always wake up early in any case not later than 6am because “oil & gas-related opportunities won’t get you in your bed.” He referred to his wife’s grandfather whose herd never dropped below 1,000 cows and always forced visitors in his house to wake up at 5am and begin thinking for the day. He called for personal discipline and restraint because oil & gas is a highly regulated industry to guard against resultant consequences in case of any misuse. “To work there you must have skills which are certified to world standards because there is extreme regulation.”
He also stressed hygiene in whatever service one offers referring on Allan Bans, the Hardman Petroleum billionaire, who ate untidy fish in Hoima, fell sick and got bad impression about Ugandan prospects. “We booked him in Emin Pasha where we had the party to celebrate oil discovery in Uganda but he got too sick inside his room and I had to collect him there personally. He left the meeting saying ‘here is my lawyer and chairman to represent me.’ That was an eye opener to us regarding standards,” Karuhanga recalled.
To benefit from the 26 areas of business GoU has ring-fenced for Ugandans, one will have to be skilled and certified. Local content will benefit those who have integrity and certified skills. “By law 48% of the business is for Ugandans and foreigners coming here will be searching for partnership among those with certified skills and integrity. Networking and keeping friends matter because in Tullow I’m referred to as the best oil lawyer in Uganda because someone, an old friend, made the referral.”
At Makerere, Karuhanga stood for guild and lost to Prof Emmanuel Mutebile and one of the close friends he made during that campus campaign was to later become the President of St. Helena. “During the Chogm meeting in 2007, he was here and, in his address, he said ‘by the way I was at Makerere University where I made many friends including Elly Karuhanga. Is he in the audience?’ I was there and it was a good feeling seeing all those heads of state clapping as he said all the good things about me.”
Even at the risk of being misunderstood, Karuhanga also stressed the importance of obtaining professional advice always when making business decisions including reliance on things like legal and insurance experts. He referred to his rich Banyankore friends who build externally nice houses but get many other things wrong because they excluded architects and used a plan drawn by their spouses.
Before thanking President Museveni, the Energy Ministry, companies like CNOOC, Total & Tullow for nurturing the oil sector, Karuhanga also reflected on the role of luck and God’s favor in his life including convicting a wealthy Jewish pensioner who paid his $5,000 medical bills to undergo complex medical procedures in Sunton hospital SA after fracturing his spine as he played squash in the Lesotho exile.
Reflecting on how his co-founding KAA partner Katureebe became Supreme Court Judge and later CJ, Karuhanga said “integrity should always be your guardian angel and your stock in trade.” It’s the President’s personal integrity and that of the Ugandan state that explains why Total (one of the 5 big sisters of the world) can have faith to invest so much money and hope in Uganda’s nascent oil sector, Karuhanga observed.
The flamboyant city lawyer also referred to the difficult exile life he survived in Nairobi, Sweden, SA and Lesotho (where Prince Barigye was for him) because of integrity and friends he had made earlier. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755).