By Peter Nyanzi
Boney Katatumba (PhD), 69, is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Pakistan to Uganda. The Katatumba group chairman has been a businessman since his childhood. With the profits from his businesses, he bought a bicycle in primary school, a motorcycle in secondary school, a car at university, and owned five airplanes by age 35. He spoke to Peter Nyanzi about his impressions of business.
When was your earliest involvement in business while growing up?
I was seven years old and in Primary One. I was squeezing banana juice and selling it to passengers on Kabale buses. Later, I employed four other boys. I eventually bought a bicycle from the profits. Mine was one of only two bicycles – plus the headmaster’s – in the school compound. Later after primary school, I went to Ntare School and in my Senior Four vacation I saw an opportunity of renting the Nganwa Hostel of the Ankole Kingdom. I applied for the tender and won it. I was about 15 years then.
From the proceeds I bought myself a Suzuki motorcycle. I employed a manager for the hostel, comprising 60 rooms, a bar and restaurant and dance hall, when I went for ‘A’ levels at Old Kampala S.S. When I joined Makerere University, I saw an opportunity of making money by washing students’ clothes and vehicles parked on Kampala City streets. I formed a company called Car Cleaning Organisation and employed several youth to do the work while I studied. I bought myself a car from that business.
How many business lines do you have currently and how do you ensure they are well-managed?
When I finished university I didn’t go around looking for a job. My elder brother was an architect, so I had a discussion with him about forming a construction company. We consequently formed Design, Construction and Materials (DCM), which later undertook some big projects around the country. We employed many people including white men. Having white men as employees worked wonders as we got several lucrative government contracts because they thought the company belonged to them. Having become a prominent person, one day I was told that one of Idi Amin’s men – a colonel – was looking for me.
So I got scared and fled to Kenya with my family. I left DCM in the hands of the white men to run for me. In Kenya, I saw an opportunity in the tourism industry. I lived near a private airport called Wilson Airport and many small planes were flying over our roof every day. I went over there and asked the guys at the airport if I could train as a pilot. Then I asked them, what if I buy the plane and train in it and train others? They said it was possible. So I bought a small aircraft and trained on it as a pilot.
After a few years I had five small planes taking tourists around East Africa under the Blacklines Tours and Safaris. I remember when Yusuf Lule was being sworn in, they asked me to pick the Chief Justice Wambuzi from Tanzania and bring him to Entebbe. So I attended the swearing in ceremony because I was the pilot of the chief justice. Apart from the aircrafts, I also formed DCM Kenya making water pumps. Currently I have retired, and I have passed most of my businesses to my children to run.
Any tips for young people who want success in business?
Once you get a business idea, be determined and implement it. But I would also advise them not to be too ambitious. Not everybody has the capacity to own a business because not everyone has the business acumen. Not everybody must own a business. If you have a job and you do it well, even if you are an employee, you can still succeed if you are faithful. You could be good as an accountant but it does not mean you can own the firm.
I see some people who have a job but are also running around after other things half the time, yet they can’t have capacity to manage them well. Then they end up losing the job and they also can’t run the other things. They end up as total failures. Do your job well and keep thinking and looking for other opportunities that you have the capacity to do well. Discipline and hard work is very important; do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it and be honest. Be a good person to work with and be willing to learn. Also, learn to save, don’t be extravagant.
But everyone is telling young people to be job creators instead of job seekers?
I think youth should not think that they can only succeed by owning a business. They only have to be hardworking and honest in what they do instead of everyone desiring to be a business owner. That scenario has caused a disproportionate number of foreigners being employed in Uganda compared to Ugandans. This is because employers tend not to trust Ugandans because they know that as soon as they get the job they will start running around to do their personal business and will not give their jobs full concentration.
Ugandans have been obsessed with this thinking of being business owners. I don’t think it is right. Not everyone can be a job creator because even the so-called job creators also need employees. It’s disorienting the young people to tell them that everyone must be an entrepreneur. Ugandans are obsessed with this business ownership thinking, which I think is unfortunate for our youth. I remember a time when the government of Austria gave scholarships to some 25 young people to go and study tourism and hotel management in Austria. When they came back, I asked some of them what they were going to do and most of them were telling me they were going to start their own businesses.
I would tell them but you don’t have that capacity or acumen to own a hotel because you’ve just been trained as a first class hotel manager. Why not work as a first class hotel manager in the existing top hotels? Owning and managing a hotel are two completely different things. That partly explains why many good jobs in Uganda are going to foreigners. I think the ‘be-a job-creator’ mentality is putting our young people at a disadvantage. You can only have more faithful employees than ‘job creators.’
It is wishful thinking to believe that there should be more job creators than employees. The poor chap is oriented to think he must own the business, which is not easy because one needs acumen and a lot of skills to succeed as a business owner. It is more important to be a focused, loyal, faithful and honest employee than desiring to own the business until you are able to be a business owner.
What are the most important lessons you learnt from your long legal battle with Shumuk over your properties?
First of all, it taught me that when you trust in God you won’t be put to shame. It also taught me that we still have judges in the Judiciary who are beyond corruption. So, I thank the Judiciary especially the judge who handled that case because he refused to be corrupted. Finally, it has taught me not to waste time in useless battles. If you are blessed, like I am, you will always succeed.
What did the Government of Pakistan see in you to pick you as their Honorary Consul?
I am a representative of the President and Government of the Republic of Pakistan to Uganda. The embassy is in Nairobi in Kenya but it is very far from here so they decided to have an office in Kampala, which they handed to a consul – a reputable person with a good name who can run it on their behalf. Former President Pervez Musharaf chose me about 15 years ago. He knew me personally as I used to go to Pakistan in my capacity as the president of the Uganda National Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
So he approached me about being the consul and I agreed. They don’t pay me a salary, but they gave me credentials, a diplomatic status, and a letter of commitment. I act on the behalf of the government of Pakistan. People come here for visas and we also give travel documents to Pakistani nationals. Some of these services are paid for and the proceeds help us to run the office.
How would you describe Uganda’s bilateral ties with Pakistan?
We enjoy very good relations; there is excellent cooperation in all areas including trade and other matters.
But Uganda’s export volumes to Pakistan are still low, why is that so?
It is growing. One of my key assignments was to attract investors from Pakistan. Some 15 years ago, Pakistan was ranked 15th in investment and trade with Uganda; it is now 5th. They have invested heavily in health, trade, academics among many other sectors.
What is your view about the business environment in Uganda generally?
When I was at UNCCI as president, one of my missions was to arrange business exchange trips to other countries. We have moved a great distance since then. Uganda’s business community is doing very well generally.
What advice would you give to the government to make the private sector more robust?
I think governments should help people to be free to move abroad. For example, it should be easy for Ugandans to travel abroad and it should be easy for nationals of other countries to come here. Some time back, Minister Asuman Kiyingi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs raised a complaint to my government in Islamabad about the difficulty of Ugandans experience to travel to Pakistan. The government is attending to it because Ugandans have been taking almost six months trying to get visas to Pakistan. People should be free to move to other countries. If there are Ugandan doctors here who can go to work abroad and get more money to send back to Uganda, I wouldn’t see that as a problem. Uganda would be the beneficiary.
What is your outlook for the economy in the next few years?
The Ugandan economy is doing very well. Once the politics is good, the sky is the limit for Uganda.
What advice do you give Pakistani investors in Uganda?
Let them form more partnerships with Ugandans. We wouldn’t want to create a situation whereby there is envy and resentment. They should work and live together with Ugandans in harmony.