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Ugandan textile mogul Karim Hirji faces off with stepkids in British property war

His stepchildren claim they were fraudulently left out of their mother’s will.

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Ugandan textile and auto mogul Karim Hirji, one of the country's richest men.

The British Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has launched an investigation into the professional conduct of law firm Evans Dodds Solicitors, which was said to have drawn up the long-contested will of Barbra Ziba Nanyonga Hirji, the late wife of Ugandan multimillionaire businessman Karim Hirji. 

Before Ziba married Karim in 1985, she had three children from her first marriage to a wealthy businessman, Joseph Birungi. They include Linda, Anita, and Ronnie Birungi. Her first husband gave her control over numerous properties and estates that he left in her custody for the children. 

Ziba, who is also called “Charms” by many Ugandans, later married Harji. They had three children of their own: Anisha, Nabila and Karima Harji.

The property war began after Ziba’s death in London in February 2004 following a protracted battle with cancer, when Harji brought forward a will drafted by the solicitors.

The will named Karim Hirji and Joseph Ssempebwa as the trustees of Ziba’s estate, while Anisha, Nabila and Karima (Ziba and Karim’s children) were listed as the beneficiaries. This put the management of the estate strictly under Hirji and Ssempebwa’s control, Daily Monitor reported

Ssempebwa was a worker and family confidant of his late wife. 

His stepchildren were not named in the will. They proceeded to file a lawsuit against Hirji over their late mother’s estates in Uganda and in the United Kingdom, claiming the document is fraudulent. 

Linda Birungi, on behalf of her siblings, said: “We contend that the circumstances and process of obtaining the grant of probate to the estate of our late mother was tainted with fraud. The whole process was done so hurriedly and with such secrecy.” The statement was published in a recent report by the Daily Monitor.

She further accuses Evans Dodds of a lack of professionalism in dealing with vulnerable clients. “It is evident that Evans Dodd did not follow specific procedures for Solicitors acting for vulnerable clients to establish effective communication, mental capacity and to avoid undue influence or fraud,” she stated.

She added that “the involvement of Evans Dodds, both in the drafting and execution of the last will and testament of the deceased as solicitor and their simultaneous involvement in the sale and transfer of 7 Roffrey Court Swynford Gardens, London NW4 4XN (property belonging to the deceased) as purchaser’s solicitor/agent, raises issues of conflict of interest.”.

SRA, which is responsible for regulating the professional conduct of over 100,000 solicitors and thousands of law firms in England and Wales, has set out to investigate the circumstances surrounding the will. 

The estates under question include three properties in London, a life insurance policy worth £3 million ($4.26 million), two houses in Bugolobi, two properties in Kololo, two shopping malls in Kampala, two properties on Mawanda Road and others in Nansana and Gayaza.

Karim Hirji

Karim Hirji is one of Uganda’s richest men. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he began trading in textiles and alcoholic beverages in central Kampala. He is estimated to be worth $800 million as of 2019 and one of Uganda’s wealthiest. 

His company, Dembe Enterprises, expanded into the Dembe Group of Companies with interests in media (Dembe FM), automobile dealerships, finance and insurance, amusement parks and a chain of hotels under the Imperial Hotels Group. He also owns Uganda’s Commercial Bank Towers, which he has renamed Cham Towers.

East Africa

Malagasy tycoon Hassanein Hiridjee says Africa needs to invest in clean energy transition

Hiridjee is one of Madagascar’s wealthiest and most powerful business leaders.

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Malagasy tycoon Hassanein Hiridjee.

Malagasy multimillionaire businessman and AXIAN Group CEO Hassanein Hiridjee has stated that Africa must invest in a clean energy transition to bolster the continent’s renewable energy capacity.

“We must double our commitment within Africa to increase investments to shape our own energy destiny in order to meet long-term goals,” Hiridjee said.

Millions of Africans could be lifted out of energy poverty with the right strategy and investment in clean energy transition projects stimulated by collective action from the private and public sectors, he said.

His statement comes after U.S. billionaire Michael Bloomberg pledged $242 million to assist developing countries, including African nations, in transitioning away from non-renewables.

Hiridjee explained that such funding is needed to combat Africa’s continuing energy crisis, in which hundreds of millions lack access to basic electricity.

He added that the lack of access to basic electricity is only worsening as a result of the war in Ukraine and COVID-19, with 25 million more Africans living without electricity than before the pandemic.

Infinity Group, a leading renewable energy company led by Egyptian billionaire Mohamed Mansour, recently partnered with the Africa Finance Corporation to acquire Lekela Power, making Infinity the continent’s largest renewable energy company.

Hiridjee, one of Madagascar’s wealthiest and most powerful business leaders, has also played a formative role in developing commercially viable energy solutions that provide Africans with efficient, long-term access to energy resources.

Earlier this year, Axian Group completed the expansion of the Ambatolampy solar power plant in Madagascar, from 20 to 40 MWp.

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East Africa

Ugandan tycoon Charles Mbire to pocket $1.15-million interim dividend from MTN Uganda

Mbire owns a significant 3.98-percent stake in the Ugandan telecom outfit.

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Charles Mbire.

Ugandan multimillionaire businessman Charles Mbire is on track to receive an interim dividend of Ush4.48 billion ($1.155 million) from his stake in MTN Uganda after the telecom group reported a double-digit percent increase in earnings in the first half of 2022.

MTN Uganda is Uganda’s leading telecom service operator.

Mbire, the chairman of MTN Uganda and one of Uganda’s wealthiest businessmen, owns a significant 3.98-percent stake in the Ugandan telecom outfit, which operates as the fourth operating subsidiary of the South African multinational mobile telecom company, MTN Group.

The interim dividend will be paid electronically into his bank account at a later date from the group’s retained earnings of Ush902 billion ($232.4 million) at the end of its 2022 fiscal year. It is his first dividend from the telecom company since its shares were listed more than eight months ago.

The dividend payment follows a significant rise in the group’s earnings in the first half of 2022 despite a 4.9-percent decline in voice revenue, as it looks set to replicate its stellar performance in 2021.

As a result of the company’s strong financial performance, the board of directors approved the payment of an interim dividend of Ush5 ($0.00128) per share for the six months ending June 30, totaling Ush11.95 billion ($28.9 million), which is subject to withholding taxes.

According to data retrieved from the company’s earnings report for the first six months of 2022, its profit increased by 48.1 percent to Ush193.6 billion ($50.2 million) in the first half of 2022, compared to Ush130.7 billion ($33.7 million) in the first half of 2021.

The double-digit increase in profit can be attributed to a 10-percent surge in the company’s service revenue, which was driven by a significant increase in data and fintech revenue, which were more than sufficient to offset the 4.9-percent decline in voice revenue.

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East Africa

Led by Kenyan founder Owen Sakawa, AI-powered startup Elloe acquires Flo by Saada

Elloe was founded in 2021 by Sakawa, Abhijay Rao, and Aaron Madolora.

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Owen Sakawa.

Elloe, a U.S.-based conversational commerce startup led by Kenyan tech entrepreneur Owen Sakawa, has acquired Flo by Saada nearly three months after raising more than $1 million in a pre-seed funding round led by institutional investors.

Flo by Saada is a Kenyan social commerce startup founded by Gerishon Mwaniki.

The acquisition of the startup, which launched in 2019 to enable small and medium enterprises to build solutions and process payments through USSD and programmable SMS, was completed for an undisclosed fee.

Through the acquisition, Elloe will be able to accelerate its next phase of growth by scaling operations for its corporate clients and expanding its footprint beyond its current operations in Kenya and the Philippines.

Commenting on the transaction in a press release obtained by Billionaires.Africa, Elloe CEO and Founder Owen Sakawa said: “The addition of Flo by Saada technology is a natural extension of Elloe’s offerings and fits perfectly into Elloe’s strategy. It transforms customer interactions from simple communications to conversations across the entire spectrum of customer engagement points.”

He added that Elloe will be better positioned to meet customers’ evolving needs in the future as it continues to provide businesses with embedded commerce capabilities to simplify the way that they serve, connect with, and sell to their own customers from anywhere, on any channel.

Elloe was founded in 2021 by Sakawa, Abhijay Rao, and Aaron Madolora as a first-of-its-kind AI-powered, conversational commerce platform that allows small and medium enterprises to buy and sell products online across messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram.

With its proprietary technology that assists small businesses in managing their digital sales and customer service through an omnichannel platform that runs on messaging apps, the startup hopes to capitalize on opportunities in the $35-billion conversational commerce market, which has the potential to reach $130 billion by 2025 in emerging markets.

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