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Meet Haruna Sentongo, Uganda’s 34-year-old slumlord millionaire

Sentogo’s Haruna Enterprises U owns malls, apartment complexes and office buildings across Kampala.

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Ugandan businessman Haruna Sentogo.

Haruna Sentongo is one of Uganda’s most outstanding young entrepreneurs. The 34-year-old serial entrepreneur is the founder of Haruna Enterprises U Limited, a Ugandan real estate company that owns several shopping malls, apartment complexes and office buildings across Kampala.

Sentongo’s property portfolio includes the landmark Haruna Towers in Ntinda, northeastern Kampala, and Haruna Towers Wandegeya. His tenants include Uganda’s biggest banks and several bluechip companies.

All in, he boasts a property portfolio valued at several million dollars.

Sentongo recently recounted his entrepreneurial journey to Billionaires.Africa’s Editor-In-Chief Mfonobong Nsehe and explained how he accomplished so much at such a young age.

— You’ve accomplished so much at such a remarkably young age and built a successful property empire encompassing shopping malls, office complexes and apartments. How did you get started as an entrepreneur and when did you get your first big break?

— I was born in Kalungu village, Masaka district on Nov. 30, 1987 to Mr. Segawa Haruna and Mrs. Nakayiza Jalia.  My parents then moved to Masaka town where my father was a textile trader. I attended my primary education from Masaka and later relocated to Kampala City from where I studied my “O” level, “A” level and university.

When I was 16 years old, and enjoying my “O”-level vacation, my father gave me Ugx 300,000 to start a business to keep me busy during the holidays. I started selling women bags in a small makeshift stall, and that was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.

I later started wholesaling and saved up my profits. In 2005, I had accumulated reasonable savings and started selling home and office furniture from a store on Ben Kiwanuka Street in Kampala. I kept saving my profits and in 2007, I started trading garments. I would import in very large quantities from China, Thailand and Malaysia, and sell both on retail and wholesale to Ugandans. I was also supplying to South Sudan, Congo and Kenya. I later started buying prime commercial plots of land in different city suburbs around Kampala and in 2011, I incorporated Haruna Enterprises U Limited, through which I started constructing Haruna Towers in Wandegeya. With more capital inflows, I continued buying more land and developing more shopping malls and arcades and in 2014, I concentrated on the low-income suburb of Kisenyi, where I bought large chunks of land and started mass transformation, setting up mega trade markets.

In 2016, after realizing high demand for low cost drinking water among the workers on my construction sites, I decided to start a water and soft beverages processing and manufacturing factory giving birth to Nsangi Beverage company, which manufactures the popular View Water (bottled mineral water) and Salaam Juice.  I have now diversified into Skin Care Products (Cash and Roxy beauty-healthcare products) and a range of household consumables, among which include: candles, bathing, laundry and toilet soap and detergents, and confectionaries, through a number of factories based in Nakatema off Nsangi Masaka Road, operated under the subsidiary, View Investments (U) Limited.

I got my first big break way back when I made my first Ugx 1-million profit in the bags business, I got inspired worked harder as it kept on multiplying until today.

— Your company, Haruna Enterprises U is one of the fastest growing real estate companies in Uganda. What inspired your entry into the real estate business?

— After many years of trading in bags and garments and paying a lot of money in rent, I realized that having my own stores to keep my stock of goods was better than renting, hence the decision to invest in real estate.  I also wanted to provide stores to other fellow traders at a small fee. Along the way, I have realized that real estate is like no other business. I am currently expanding even more in other sectors but real estate is my primary business.

— I read a story some time ago about Kisenyi slum in Central Division in Kampala, which used to be a hotbed for violent crime and drug abuse. I also read that because of your projects over there, the slum is now a much saner place. Why did you decide to invest in the slums?

— Yes, it is true. Kisenyi used to be the epicenter of crime then. Even though some people still call it a slum, the fact is that it is now a thriving commercial center now.

There was very cheap land back in the day and no one wanted to invest there based on the prevalent circumstances at the time. But to me, the environment looked almost similar to that of Kubiri – another low-income area where I built Haruna Towers. I realized that I could change it for better to match the city standards like I did before at Kubili. So I bought huge chunks of land in Kisenyi and built Segawa Market complex, which has over 320 shops of different sizes and shape. Today, the tenants in those shops sell everything from spare parts for motorcycles to food products. The complex is very well organized and comes with generous parking spaces, and it is now the commercial nerve center of Kisenyi.  It has attracted a lot of businesses and enabled me to grow faster. Others have been inspired and are also investing in the area and changing it further.

Access to financing is always a challenge for many entrepreneurs – more so in Africa than elsewhere. How have you been able to fund the acquisition and development of properties and the growth of your manufacturing business? How did you nature relationships with financiers and potential partners?

— I am now free from bank loans, but it is the bank loans that I used well that enabled me prosper. Also, financial discipline and hard work have helped me to fund and expand my businesses at a very fast rate.

I first built a good relationship and big financial portfolio with my bankers right from the beginning when I traded in bags, furniture and garments, I had good cash flows over the years and whenever I needed funding, I could easily get loans on time. If you demonstrate to the banks that you can be faithful in meeting your obligations to them when they give you loans, they’ll always support you and roll out the red carpet for you if you approach them with a good proposition.

You are quite young. Has your young age been an asset or a liability in the pursuit of your business?

— My age has really been an asset since I have been welcomed by all in business. Many have treated me with goodwill as a young man trying to come up which has greatly helped me and worked in my favor.

Have you encountered any unique challenges in Uganda where you run your businesses – currency devaluations, inflation, political uncertainty perhaps?

— I cannot say that I have encountered unique challenges, but the currency devaluations used to negatively affect my loan repayments, making bank loans expensive back then.

Given the fact that most of my properties are initially in slums, I initially had to plead for customers to rent my premises, throwing in generous incentives such as giving many months for free.  The COVID-19 pandemic affected business in a major way. Many of my tenants struggled, so I had to waive over six months rent for them last year in order to help them regain business stability given the fact that they were not operating when locked up which caused me losses in billions of Ugandan shillings.

Politically, the business environment in Uganda has been very favorable for business growth due to the good security offered by our government.

Challenges in business are generally common but you have to move forward under any circumstance.

What does success mean to you?

— Success to me is the achievement of goals set in time and gaining from hard work.

What’s next for Haruna Sentongo and Haruna Enterprises U? Are you setting your sights on expanding into other countries in East Africa?

— We are planning to expand our real estate interests to Zanzibar and Mombasa very soon.

Any words of wisdom for young African entrepreneurs that are afraid of starting something?

i. Start with anything, anywhere. Start from anywhere, don’t wait to get a lot of money to start something. Start with what you have. I myself; started my business journey from a bags’ stall worth Ugx 300,000 (about $84) an amount I got from my father in 2003.

ii. Take risks. Surrendering what you have, however little, with hope of gaining more is called risk. If you have money and fear investing in a profitable venture, you are simply fearing to risk, but you will eventually end up using that money for survival and remain with nothing in the end. Always take risk without being afraid. Where there is no risk, there is no development and all that risk bring is good change. Without taking risk, you cannot move forward.

iii. Age is not important in business. I built my first property; Haruna Towers when i was a first-year student at Makerere University in 2011. Money doesn’t respect age. It respects those that respect it.

iv. Don’t throw money around. In my country Uganda, it has become a norm for many fellow youths who after getting some little money, to start throwing it in the air to prove their wealth. I despise them because they do not respect money. I respect every coin. Never throw money around. Money doesn’t want to be thrown around.

v. Start and set up your business from where you can afford. When  I bought my first plot at Wandegeya, many people laughed at me because it was a slum. I did not care about the laughter. But after building it there, it sold my brand, and I am honestly operating on it until today. That property has stood out from the crowd and has since attracted new developers in the area and I do not regret that investment decision at all.

vi. Filthy is wealth. Most of my properties are in slum places outside the Central Business District of Kampala City where no one had put their eyes before. This always allowed me to buy at very cheap rates. These properties have now gained too much value. For example: Nakayiza Market, Segawa Market and Haruna Towers all located in Mengo-Kisenyi and Haruna Towers, Kubiri, Wandegeya suburb.  It is just of recent in 2019 that i bought my first corporate plot at the swanky Nakasero from Mr. Drake Lubega, another legendary property mogul.

When I came to buy in these slums, no one wanted to invest this here. I remember I even begged tenants to come and get working space with free months offers at one point, but now there are many properties in the area, flooded with very many tenants.

vii. Know when to walk out of the business. A person should be very realistic in business. At some point, a business my swallow all your investment.  This is part of business, but be realistic and know if the business is not working or if it has overgrown. It is always important to find something else to do.” For instance, after trading in bags and garments for some years, I realized that instead of renting stores to keep stock, it was better he invests in real estate. Which decision has heavily paid off.

viii. Financial discipline is key. My current achievements are due to financial discipline. I have really put in a lot. Hard work and the bank loans that I have used well, have helped me be where I am now, despite the high interest rates.

ix. Get loans but use them well. Money is available in banks and ready to be used. After you build a financial portfolio and want to grow bigger, ensure you build a good relationship with your bank. Use the loans for their intended purpose to avoid financial problems. Despite that fact that I do not have any bank loans or bank liability at the moment, it is the loans have helped me expand at a high speed.

x. Put all your faith in God. I am where I am now only because of God.  For God has been very faithful to me. I keep running to God in hard situations and always give thanks to HIM for everything. God has always answered my prayers. With God, I don’t need anyone or anything; I actually do not have any plan, God is my superior plan and I got all I have from no one but God.

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East Africa

Kenyan businessman John Kimani receives $1.2 million in dividends from agro-allied firm, Kakuzi

Kimani owns a 32.3-percent stake in Kenyan agricultural company.

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Kenyan businessman John Kimani.

Despite a double-digit decline in the profit of Kenya-based agro-allied company Kakuzi in 2021, Kenyan businessman and leading media mogul John Kimani was paid a dividend of Ksh139.3 million ($1.2 million) from his stake in the agricultural firm on Friday.

Kimani, one of the Nairobi Securities Exchange’s wealthiest investors, owns a 32.3-percent stake in Kakuzi, He also controls substantial equity positions in Centum Investments and Nation Media Group.

The $1.2-million dividend, which was paid into Kimani’s bank account on Fri., May 20, following shareholder approval at the group’s annual general meeting, was paid from the Ksh431-million ($3.7-million) payout approved by the company’s board based on its 2021 financial results.

At the end of 2021, Kakuzi’s board of directors proposed paying its shareholders a dividend of Ksh22 ($0.189) per share, a 22-percent increase from the Ksh18 ($0.154) per share paid last year, despite reporting a 48.6-percent drop in earnings from Ksh622.03 million ($5.43 million) in 2020 to Ksh319.74 million ($2.8 million).

The company’s 8.7-percent drop in revenue from Ksh3.61 billion ($31.5 million) to Ksh3.29 billion ($28.7 million) caused the earnings to decline, which did not prevent the company from increasing its dividend payout by 22 percent.

Kakuzi Chairman Nicholas Ng’ang’a assured shareholders that strategic plans had been activated to accelerate and enhance returns by diversifying the variety of produce delivered to domestic and global markets in an effort to reward shareholders with an even higher dividend payout in the coming years.

“We are part of a global marketplace and the products we produce often face stiff competition from producers in other countries. We, therefore, embarked on a very significant diversification program several years ago to ensure that Kakuzi is not dependent on any one crop,” Ng’ang’a said.

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Led by Kenyan banker James Mwangi, Equity Group invests $3.3 million in DRC subsidiary

Its total investment in the country is now $148.4 million.

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Kenyan banker James Mwangi.

Equity Group Holdings, Kenya’s largest financial services group led by renowned banking tycoon James Mwangi, has invested an additional Ksh383 million ($3.3 million) in its Democratic Republic of the Congo subsidiary in 2021, as it moves to scale up the operation of one of its most profitable operations outside Kenya.

Its latest investment in its DRC subsidiary brings its total investment in the country to Ksh17.3 billion ($148.4 million), second only to Kenya’s Ksh40.7 billion ($349.1 million), highlighting its interest in the Central African nation.

The move comes after the Mwangi-led banking conglomerate purchased a 7.7-percent stake in Equity Bank Congo (EBC) from the German sovereign wealth fund KfW for Ksh996 million ($8.54 million), increasing its stake in EBC to 94.3 percent.

The acquisitions in other market segments sparked a change in the group’s traditional policy, as it had never acquired any lender outside of the local market, resulting in the group gaining a significant 27-percent market share in the DRC, compared to the 15-percent organic growth that it recorded in Kenya.

Equity Group’s profit increased by 36 percent in the first quarter of 2022, from Ksh8.7 billion ($74.9 million) in the first quarter of 2021 to Ksh11.9 billion ($102.4 million) in the same period of 2022.

The strong growth in earnings can be attributed to an increase in net interest income, which increased from Ksh20.34 billion ($175.1 million) to Ksh26.67 billion ($230 million) as the group delivered a resilient financial performance despite operating environment challenges.

EBC had the highest earnings growth in the first quarter ended March, with a 269-percent increase in net profit to Ksh1.4 billion ($12 million), as margins improved.

The subsidiary contributed 12.1 percent of the group’s net income of Ksh11.9 billion ($102.1 million) in the period, a 33.7-percent increase from Ksh8.6 billion ($73.8 million).

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Tanzania’s richest man Mohammed ‘Mo’ Dewji gives commencement speech at Georgetown University

Tanzania’s richest man also received an honorary doctorate in humane letters.

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Mohammed Dewji. ©Billionaires.Africa

Mohammed “Mo” Dewji, Tanzania’s richest man, delivered Georgetown University’s commencement address on Friday, where he also received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from President John J. DeGioia and the Georgetown McDonough School of Business.

In his speech, Dewji mused on how the interconnectedness of the world today has rendered us even more disconnected.

“Like many parents here today, I worry about the challenges facing your generation,” he said. “Today’s world makes it easier to forget our community. New apps offer simulations of human connection, but make us feel more isolated. You can sleep five feet away from a roommate, yet still feel more distanced than two isolated villages in Tanzania.”

The billionaire called on graduating students to create a sense of purpose for the environments in which which they’ll find themselves; devote themselves to service of community; and not pursue success for vainglory or the sake of self-aggrandizement.

“So, when we get lost, how do we find the natural path back to community?,” he said. “It comes from the Jesuit phrase, outlined in Georgetown’s mission statement: Cura Personalis. Care of the Person. In Tanzania, we commonly use a similar phrase: ‘Tuko Pamoja’, meaning ‘We are together.’ We are community. No matter where I travel, from rural Tanzania, to London, to right here in D.C., I’m reminded that the values of Cura Personalis and Tuko Pamoja transcend languages, politics, religions, and cultures. The need for community is universal, because it brings responsibility and purpose to our lives. Remember, graduates, your successes are not yours alone. When we focus only on ourselves, we lose sight of our community. And, eventually, we lose sight of our most precious investment: our time with each other.”

Dewji spoke of how his personal sense of purpose and desire to uplift the lives of Tanzanians inspired his decision to return to Tanzania and join his father’s commodity trading company after studying and working in the United States. Dewji also said he was dissatisfied with merely trading food and general merchandise items, and was keen to create jobs and opportunities for Tanzanians – a move that led him to pivoting his father’s company from a trading house to an industrial behemoth.

In the past two decades, Dewji has built METL Group, his family’s company, into one of the largest homegrown industrial conglomerates in East and Central Africa, with 35,000 employees and annual revenues in the region of $2 billion. The group manufactures everything from textiles and beverages to edible oils and detergents.

METL is also one of the world’s largest farmers of sisal, owns container depots and liquid storage facilities, and has an extensive property portfolio in Tanzania. Dewji, who owns 70 percent of the company today, has a net worth that Forbes estimates at $1.5 billion.

Dewji previously served as a member of parliament for Singida-Urban in Tanzania from 2005 until his retirement in 2015. He received a BSBA from the McDonough School of Business in 1998.

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