By Mulengera Reporters
Being Kabaka of Buganda, a region that is home to the country’s capital city Kampala, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi ideally passes off as the most prestigious, influential and richest King in modern Uganda. And Mutebi, who arguably is Uganda’s most influential figure outside politics, has over the years exhibited great leadership and enduring entrepreneurial spirit by getting his handlers go into a number of business ventures on his behalf in the hope the same, once successful, can strengthen the glory of his Kingdom that boasts of a rich history and heritage of more than 1000 years.
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For instance on 31st December 2012, Buganda’s very enterprising Kabaka launched what was anticipated to grow into a strong presence in the Telecom industry. On that day, he unveiled K2 TELECOM in which his Bulange-based kingdom was to be the majority stakeholder. The company may not have succeeded as was anticipated, largely because of operational constraints beyond the control of officials at Mengo, but the truth is K2 continues to be a going concern today (so many years later). In this news feature, Mulengera News reflects on other business entities and rich enterprises in which the Kabaka has had a hand over the years.
Mutebi’s business shrewdness manifested the very first time he returned from UK exile in the newly liberated Uganda in 1986. As his palaces were being rehabilitated to habitable standards, the king quietly lived at a hideous farm house in Komamboga along Kampala-Gayaza road. He would meet and consult business-minded influential Baganda on how Buganda would economically survive as it pursued its much-cherished Federo system. Among those he consulted was Dr. Collin Sentongo, Godfrey Kaaya Kavuma (RIP), John Katende, Besweri Mulondo and others.
Since 1986, Mutebi has pioneered and incorporated a number of companies including Rexba Ltd, Royal Homes Ltd (overseeing the stalled Nantabulirirwa & Mirembe Housing estates), Mutesa I Royal University and others.
BUGANDA ECONOMIC BUREAU (BEB)
It was a think tank which innovated business ideas to increase Buganda’s economic visibility. The kingdom had been restored but couldn’t collect taxes as was the case before. BEB was under Mengo’s planning ministry and conceived investment ideas for the Kabaka. Leo Kibirango chaired it: members were Dr. Collin Sentongo, Jolly Lutaaya, Duncan Kafeero, Eng Dr. Herbert Robert Kibuuka, James Mulwana, Hajji Majid Bagalaliwo (owner of Century Bottling Company/Coke), Faisal Kasujja (brother to ex-EC boss Aziz Kasujja), Dr. Lukulwase Nsamba, Kanakulya Bbanga, Micheal Kawooya Mwebe, David Kyewalabye Male, Mike Mukula and Sudhir Ruparelia. Mutebi’s view was that as the Lukiiko and Sabataka Supreme Council concentrated on politics, BEB should plant seeds for his kingdom’s future businesses. His view was that Buganda must be an economic power with or without Federo. BEB members met in evenings after work to brain storm on ideas and were all volunteers earning no pay at all.
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BUGANDA CULTURAL & COMMERCIAL UNDERTAKINGS LTD (BICUL)
Incorporated in 1996, BICUL became the holding company for all commercial activities undertaken by the Kabaka. This was conceived by BEB and details at the registrar of companies show Buganda Katikkiro Buganda and Finance Minister are BICUL’s majority shareholders. BICUL also became majority shareholder in all companies under Mengo including CBS. Kabaka friendly people, regardless of nationality (like Sudhir and Mukula), initially freely became minority shareholders in these enterprises and that remains the case to this day. BICUL has wisely shielded Kabaka’s businesses from political interference at Mengo.
This is another of Kabaka Mutebi’s investments. The huge commercial complex sits on close to four acres of prime land along Entebbe road. It was constructed at Shs5bn by Complant, a Chinese construction company. Works began in 2009 and on October 12th2012, Kabaka Mutebi commissioned the completed building boasting of 6,000 Square meters in rentable space. The project was spearheaded by Buganda Land Board headed by Kabaka’s blue eyed boy David Kyewalabye Male and was all funded using internally generated funds without any loans.
Baganda are proud that the complex, which at some point housed both offices and commercial corporate operators like Nakumatt, was completed in record time without any scandals. The project created 100s of jobs for the youths during construction from nearby communities. The Kabaka sought to use this complex to create a sense of class in Buganda’s investments.
The building that was named after Mutesa I’s wife (Queen Mother: Mutebi’s great grandmother), Muganzirwaza who was famous for interacting with explorers, continues to be exclusively available for renting almost exclusively to strictly wealthy corporate clients. Muganzirwaza was also one of the most influential and insightful wives for 36 Kabakas Buganda has had since legendary Kintu founded the kingdom over 1000 years ago.
At some point Knight Frank had been contracted to oversee the management of the building, whose stature and standards are the first of its kind in this Katwe neighborhood. The king initially ensured all roads leading to the gigantic commercial shopping center complex were tarmacked to ensure it doesn’t escalate the problem of traffic jam. With over 60% of the rentable space filled up at all times, the complex remains a source of pride for Baganda since it’s opening in May 2013. All access roads are tarmacked connecting into the commercial complex’s both eastern and western wings.
There is spacious parking in the basement and compound and these certainly are some of the amenities that originally attracted giant stores like Nakumatt to book up space of up to 40% for their corporate clients living in upscale Makindye neighborhood and nearby places. Law firms and Banks too originally booked and took up space as well besides beauty parlors for the real rich Kampalans.
State of art modern photo studios, financial institutions and recreation facilities equally took up space in this commercial center at which millions of Mutebi’s subjects continue to marvel. Water fountains, similar to those at Serena, were also initially in place at this commercial complex. Mutebi was initially very much determined to engage in even bigger construction works which is the very reason why proceeds from projects like Muganzirwaza are meant to be ploughed back to fund more such ambitious projects meant to demystify Buganda’s detractors. One can of course not forget mentioning K2 TELECOM, which is another project the Mutebi-led kingdom continues struggling to get through. There are also other ideas such as opening the Buganda Commercial Bank, Buganda airline, a modern hospital, redevelopment of the 300 acres size Lubiri palace which remain on table.
CENTRAL BROADCASTING SERVICES (CBS)
It was BICUL’s most successful company and in his 422 page book “KING ON THE THRONE,” Katikkiro Mayiga recalls that CBS went on air on June 22 1996 and was Uganda’s 4th private fm station. In its recent reports, the “National Electronic Media Performance Study of Broadcasting in Uganda” shows that CBS has remained the most influential and listened to radio in Uganda. The study shows that prudent editorial management and Kabaka’s popularity combined to make CBS such a strong brand. Before it went on air, there was a steering committee for CBS comprising of Mustapha Mutyaba, Kawooya Mwebe etc. On 10/1/1996 Lukiiko members unanimously voted to found CBS and Sematimba headed its broadcasting section. He innovatively ensured CBS shunned conventional broadcasting and content.
CBS would be liberal in its broadcasting introducing hitherto unheard of concerts like ekitobero during which the Kabaka went out and freely interacted with his people. Lukiiko members were hurt when radio Uganda blocked pro-Federo programs during the CA period. Dan Muliika moved motion to found CBS and then works PS Eng Hebert Robert Kibuka headed fundraising efforts to get money to start CBS. Some envious Mengo bosses felt Kibuka was stealing the show and advised the Kabaka to call off the radio project arguing his officials would use it to overshadow him. The other reason was that it would air seditious stuff and annoy Museveni to bomb Bulange. Mutebi characteristically listened to all these but chose to ignore. He met Mulwanyamuli and assured him he was behind the project.
In fact, the King had tasked Kibuka to undertake feasibility studies long even before the Lukiiko got involved. CBS’ pioneer directors were Kaaya Kavuma, John Katende, Herbert Kibuuka, Mustapha Mutyaba, Joyce Sebugwawo, Jolly Lutaaya, Kaddu Kiberu, Sebaana Kizito, Twaha Kawaase, Sarah Bagalaliwo and Peter Mayiga. Kawooya Mwebe became station administrator and Rev Dan Kajumba the pioneer general manager. Staff, editorial and management sub committees were created and Robert Kasozi oversaw them aided by Abbey Mukiibi. Sematimba, who quit five years later for his own now struggling super fm, was head broadcasting section. In five years, CBS had 100 permanent employees and gave birth to a second station (89.2fm) besides paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
This was another business the Kabaka started but unlike all the others, it folded within two years. It was launched on 11/12/1997 and the background was the desire to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of Ngabo newspaper which championed Buganda’s cause, being owned by Grace Ndugwa Semakula the then 2nd deputy Katikkiro. It was timed to be launched on the day to coincide with the handover of Mengo palace by Museveni to the Kabaka. Kabaka’s strategists wanted to exploit the euphoria accompanying the palace return by the central government to launch the paper whose success was expected, as a business, to be just like CBS’.
However, there was bad omen as its first edition suffered hiccups when the printer broke down, delaying the paper’s coming out by two days. Mulengera News recently reviewed the August 2000 Probe Committee report into the circumstances under which Njuba Times, which at some point sold an average of 20,000 copies per day, came to fail. First of all CBS had 51% shares and it injected $33,330 (which is over Shs300m). CBS was the majority shareholder. Another 5% was allocated to Kabaka’s other royal company called Central Technical Services Ltd which was a construction company (we shall detail it later).
The other shares remained unallocated. Majority CBS directors initially opposed the Njuba Times project arguing even CBS itself still had loans; was still struggling a little bit and most importantly starting a daily newspaper required much more financial and quality human capital than was available. The Kabaka was personally very passionate, having practiced journalism in UK for many years during his exile life there. With Kabaka’s endorsement, hundreds of staffers were recruited for the bi-lingual paper. It comprised 28 pages half of which was Luganda and the other English.
However, the paper lacked editorial depth and content that would compete with existing titles. Its distribution network had problems: depending on Daks couriers which distributed competitors like Monitor. Njuba Times had a huge bureaucracy which bloated its payroll. John Katende was board chairman and other highly paid top bureaucrats were Kaaya Kavuma, Grace Semakula, Jolly Lutaaya, Henry Balamaze Lwanga, Kawooya Mwebe, Ben Senyonjo, Peter Sematimba was Managing Editor, Peter Mayiga and others.
It had two editorial structures and roles over-rapped along the way. Intrigue cropped in as top managers accused each other for bad decisions each time things went wrong. Senior editors were Moses Serwanga (later went to work with Monitor newspaper before becoming a lawyer), Deo Byabafumu and Paul Waibale Sr. Towards the end, Apollo Makubuya was head hunted from Sembule bank to become executive director of the dying Njuba Times. Deadlines couldn’t be enforced because Mengo lacked its own printing press. All these shouldn’t blind us to the fact that Njuba was initially a very prestigious enterprise and attracted $172,000 in advertising revenue in its first 6 months.
CENTRAL TECHNICAL SERVICES
This is another business the Kabaka started with advice and guidance of Herbert Kibuka. It was incorporated in August 1995 as a subsidiary of BICUL. It won big contracts in construction, civil works, electrical and mechanical works. As of the year 2000, its gross turnover was $1m (about Shs3bn). It always won road construction tenders in Mpigi, Wakiso, Mukono and Luwero districts. Francis Buwule was its Chairman/MD and board members were Martin Kasekende, Simon Nyanzi, Joseph Semogerere, Enock Kato and others. In June 1997, Herbert Kibuka became CTS’ Special Advisor to the board. Thomas Muwanga Mulondo was the general manager. Its headquarters are at Kawempe Quarry which Buganda Land Board later on came to manage on Kabaka’s behalf. Other Kabaka companies closely under CTS included Royal Travel Bureau for tourism business and Buganda Investments Ltd.
It’s like a charitable organization through which Kabaka extends philanthropy like other rich monarchs and aristocrats, like Aga khan, do. Officially it’s registered as an NGO dealing with youth and women issues. Below it, is a network of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs). It mobilizes funding for the CBOs which do the implementation of the charitable projects. Kabaka chairs its board of trustees and members at some point included Matia Lubega, Princess Dorothy Nasolo, Bp. Micheal Senyimba, Hope Mukasa, Joyce Mpanga, lawyer Andrew Kasirye and Rebecca Nyonyintono. Kasirye and Hope Mukasa were at some point charged with roles of being chief fundraisers for the Foundation which would annually mobilize a minimum of $60,000.
Since its inception in 1997, KF has done two major projects namely model villages in Bukalango Wakiso district with coffee and banana plantation demonstration farms to popularize best crop husbandry practices amongst the very poor farming communities. The other initiative has over the years had to do with the children’s center in Wakiso district which offered free vocational education besides rehabilitating street children. Kabaka always demonstrated a big heart towards street children since his 3rdcoronation anniversary in 1996 when he interacted and ate with them at Lugogo indoor stadium.
NABAGEREKA DEV’T FOUNDATION (NDF)
This is another supposedly wealthy charity initiative in which the Kabaka is peripherally involved. Directly, it’s spearheaded by his wife the Nabagereka. It was launched in November 2011 in Bulange Mengo and through it, the Nabagereka mobilizes women to promote community works and children to preserve cultural norms through initiatives like ekisakate. The NDF board was at some point chaired by Solomy Bossa, a High Court Judge, economist Maria Kiwanuka Kiwana (of Radio One), lawyer Sarah Bagalaliwo, elder Aloysius Semanda (who pioneered Celtel with Wasswa Birigwa & owner of Multitech Business School), Arthur Bagunywa, Princess Sarah Kagere, Judy Kamanyi and Mary Mutyaba.
BUGANDA CULTURAL DEV’T FOUNDATION (BUCADEF)
It was conceived by BEB to promote agricultural initiatives in Buganda after it became clear there was no way the much-cherished Federo would be granted under Museveni’s reign. It was launched in July 1996 as part of activities to mark Kabaka’s 3rd coronation anniversary. Utilizing funding from bodies like USAID and MOH, BUCADEF has over the years built boreholes besides creating awareness on poverty, environmental degradation, health, good farming practices, fish farming and others. In it’s hey days, its network went as far as villages, parishes, Sub County, district and regional levels. Kabaka is the patron for BUCADEF whose founding managers at some point were Vicky Mayanja and Kyewalabye Male who would initially serve as mere volunteers before the donor money began flowing.
The BUCADEF governing board at some point had the likes of Joyce Sebugwawo, Collin Sentongo, Peter Mulira, Twaha Kigongo and Dr. Lawrence Kaggwa (former Mulago boss). Besides boreholes, BUCADEF also put in place health centers and microfinance programs in Wakiso, Mpigi, Kiboga, Mukono and Luwero districts. BUCADEF has also transformed lives amongst 15,000 fishermen and their families in Bussi islands on Lake Victoria. It educated and sensitized people on HIV, for instance and general behavioral change. It worked in remotest communities were the economically most deprived lived. It also implemented Nutritional and early childhood development programs in liaison with MOH.
BUGANDA KINGDOM DEV’T STRATEGY (BKDS)
This was meant to serve like a permanent think tank through which the Kabaka consults before making any major investment decisions. It was meant to design for him short and long term investment strategies to guide Buganda in this modern era. Its membership at some point comprised of members like Collin Sentongo, Annie Kabogoza Musoke (a USAID lawyer), Masembe Kanyerezi, Hajjat Nassimbwa, AD Kisawuzi, Christine Kabugo, Sarah Kiyingi, Nsamba Lukulwase, Bbale Mugera, Badru Kiggundu (formerly of EC), George Kitaka, Sarah Bagalaliwo (wife to Coke owner), PS Joseph Serwadda, Mukasa Mulindwa, Kanakulya Banga, Higiro Semajege, William Muwonge, the late F Serubogo, JC Muyingo, Andrew Kasirye, Dr. Maggie Kigozi and Peter Mayiga.
BKDS some years ago came up with the 10 year Royal Development Drive or Plan whose implementation became threatened by lack of adequate finances. BKDS had six sub committees which guided and developed blue prints for the different Kabaka ministries at Mengo. Its report one time revealed that failure to collect or partake of the taxes collected from within its territory partly explains Buganda kingdom’s vulnerable financial position. It also attributed the cash squeeze at Mengo on the fact that the law empowers tenants on Kabaka’s 350 square miles of very prime land mostly in Wakiso and Kampala district to pay peanuts in lease premiums. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org).