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James Mulwana 1936-2013

By Independent Team

The engine of Uganda’s industry loses its battery

On the morning after James Mulwana died on Jan.15, Issa Balafu, the general manager of Case Medical Centre where his body was preserved, spoke to the press. He revealed nothing about the cause of death and referred all requests for information to Nakasero Hospital where Mulwana, who has been a leading industrialist, farmer, a diplomat, was rushed at around midday the previous day. He added that Mulwana’s family did not want a post mortem and that it was Mulwana’s wish that he be buried immediately.

Odd as they may sound, these instructions in death reflected Mulwana’s quiet orderliness in life. Journalists who had swarmed his home in Kansanga soon after the death was announced, were met with the same reserved firmness from family members who remained barricaded behind their gated house and allowed in only mourners by invitation. Quite unusual for journalists who were used to thronging the homes of families in mourning, holding interviews around vigil fires, and photographing the body in gilded caskets in the main room. Nothing of that with Mulwana. He was determined to go in death as he had lived his life; quietly, with dignity.

When the leader of his Mamba clan, Katikiro Dr Adam Kimala, spoke to journalists at Case Medical Centre on the morning of his death, he said Uganda Funeral Services staff would collect the body at 12 noon and transport it to Mulwana’s home in Masilliba village in Busunju in Mubende District where he had his Jesa Dairy Farm. There would be no vigil at his home in Kansanga.

Initial indications were that Mulwana possibly died of organ failure. In the absence of a medical report into the cause of death at the time, even people who were intimately familiar with details deemed it disrespectful to divulge them.

Most who knew him in life said Mulwana, who was 76-years old, has always been very keen about his health and has never missed a regular health checkup, which he has been getting in London and Thailand, where he is the honorary consul to Uganda.

As a result, he has been relatively in good health apart from his leg that has been giving him a bit of trouble for some time. But he has been getting regular checkups and was living a normal life with it. There was also talk of mild hypertension but Mulwana was rarely found going into a local hospital for treatment for any ailment.

On the night on Jan.14, he reportedly developed stomach complications and was taken to Nakasero Hospital at around 11am the next day.  “The only time he has gone to a local hospital for treatment he actually up dying there,” a source close to the family told The Independent.

Godfrey Kaaya Kavuma, the former prime minister of the Buganda kingdom, has known Mulwana for over 50 years.

“I remember during Idi Amin’s time I was in exile in Addis Ababa,” Kaaya Kavuma recalled in an interview with The Independent soon after the death was announced. “Mulwana was on his way to Europe and spent a night at my house. I warned him about the dangerous situation he was in because Idi Amin did not want any successful person to live in Uganda. I still remember what he told me to this day. He said in Luganda, ‘obireka notobyegomba’ meaning you would rather die having enjoyed the good things you have worked for than die wishing you had them. I heard this for the first time from him and I have never forgotten it since.”

Dr Maggie Kigozi, the former executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority, was visibly emotional and inconsolable on the death of the man she described as her mentor.

“He saw the potential in me and encouraged me to join the Uganda Manufacturers Association as a board member. When the opportunity to join the Uganda Investment Authority came up, I went to him for advice. He encouraged me to go for it and for all the ten years I was its executive director he was always there to offer all the advice I needed.  He was indeed a great leader and a manager,” Kigozi said.

She says most important of all, Mulwana should be recognized for appreciating the role of the private sector and public sector in national development quite early. Mulwana revived the Uganda Manufacturers Association, an umbrella body for manufacturers in Uganda and played a key role in the formation of the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda – an umbrella body of the private sector players generally.

“He was always lobbying for the improvement of the business climate. He was a strong believer in partnerships. He always said one can’t get rich alone, so he had a way of working with all sorts of people and knew how to identify potential and reward skill,” Kigozi recalls.

Mulwana’s early years are shrouded in the same cloud of grey that his life and death have made so familiar. Elderly citizens like Senior Presidential Advisor John Nagenda, who are often the fountains of information about such things, could only say Mulwana “was from a humble background and never went far in school but always worked his way out to his success.”

By 1961, aged only 25, Mulwana was already involved in the import-export business. Earliest reports link Mulwana to a partnership with Chloride (UK), with which in 1967 he established Associated Battery Manufacturers Ltd in Uganda. This subsequently became Uganda Batteries Ltd, which is still the leading battery producer in Uganda.

Mulwana is best known for Ship Tooth Brush Factory Ltd, which he established in 1970 and grew into Nice House of Plastics Ltd, which is the flagship of his empire.

Mulwana’s products have always been designed to compete on quality and price. His motor vehicle batteries and plastic products are among the few locally produced products that most Ugandan consumers choose ahead of imported ones. The milk from his Jesa Dairy Farm is a market leader in quality.

In one of his rare interviews, Mulwana spoke to The CEO Magazine about his future plans.

“I don’t really believe so much in retirement. I believe in may be reducing activities. As long as I share responsibilities and duties with other people and keep only that that I can handle, I will always work,” he said and ended with a question: “If I retire now, what will I do?”

It is unclear how his many businesses will fare without his stewardship. His children are into business and one of them, Barbra Mulwana, is a respected manager and entrepreneur. Still, Mulwana had a gift for business that is so rare that it is irreplaceable when it dies.

Mulwana tribute

Mulwana was said to be close to the president and was a board member of the Presidential Investor Round Table (PIRT), a forum of investors based in Uganda, which was founded by President Museveni to help him interact more with the private sector.

President Yoweri Museveni (on Twitter)

The late James Mulwana was a wonderful man. I am deeply saddened by the news about [his] death. I extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and all Ugandans for the loss of such a wonderful man. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

The late James Mulwana was one of the few men in the inner circle of the Buganda Royal family and one of the closest confidants to Kabaka Ronald Mutebi. On the introduction ceremony of Prince David Wasajja, a younger brother to the Kabaka, at the end of last month, Mulwana was the spokesman for the Royal family.

Godfrey Kaaya Kavuma,

A power broker at Mengo and the chairman of CBS FM, had this to say about Mulwana:

James Mulwana was an honorable man. He was a family man, a real king’s loyalist and a strong and active member of the Mamba clan. Though a rich man and a diplomat, he was humble and a man of the people as well as a good Christian. He was always willing to help everybody and wishing everyone well. He was a hardworking man both at home and abroad in various sectors such as agriculture, industry and real estate.  How long will Uganda take to have a man like him? It will be a really long time.

Everest Kayondo,

Chairman, Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA)

The late Mulwana was a nationalist, role model and real father of the nation.  We last met at the end of last year and he was telling my members to go and buy shares in Umeme. It is unfortunate that he is dead. Indeed he was a humble man.  I urge all those handling his businesses which he left behind to work hard like him, grow the businesses and ensure they continue to exist for life.

Dr. Maggie Kigozi,

The former executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority, was visibly emotional and inconsolable on the death of the man she described as her mentor. This is what she had to say:

He was a mentor; he was always mentoring. He is a kind of person everyone should try to emulate. He is a man many people will dearly miss.

John Nagenda,

Senior Presidential advisor on Media and Public Relations:

He was born not as mwana wa ani (from a prominent family), but one who managed to standout from everyone. He didn’t go very far in school but worked his way to the top.

Mulwana was the Non-Executive Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank Uganda Ltd, having initially been appointed a Non-Executive Director in 1992 and then Chairman from 1998 until his death.

Herman Kasekende,

The MD, had this to say about him:

He served diligently and contributed to the growth of the bank for over 20 years.  At the time he joined the bank, there were only about 10 banks in Uganda with their operations mostly concentrated in and around Kampala and the major towns.  Mulwana and his board were keen to expand the bank’s franchise to ensure better support for small and medium enterprises and expansion to more areas in a bid to extend services to more people in Uganda.  He fully supported the move for Standard Chartered Bank Uganda to take on the former Cooperative Bank branches. The other late Mulwana’s proud achievement was that when he became the chairman, the bank was perceived to be serving only corporate customers and wealthy individuals. But over the years the bank has been able to dispel that notion and reached out to various client segments including SMEs. He will be dearly missed by the Standard Chartered fraternity.

Gideon Badagawa,

Was a lecturer until Mulwana identified him and encouraged him to join the private sector. He is now the executive director of the Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU), an organization that Mulwana helped to found.

This is what he had to say about his mentor.

This country has lost a great man, who has mentored many. He had large industries but was a strong advocate of the SME sector. Above all, he was a straight businessman all his career that spanned five decades.  In a country where integrity is a rare virtue, Mulwana held on to his values – I mean his level of ethics is very rare to find in business. It is not surprising that every company wanted to associate with him, which is why he has been on the boards of some of the most respected corporate institutions – in various sectors- and associations in this country.  Everyone – in government, business and public sector has been yearning to relate with him.  Every time, I have personally associated with him, I have had something new to learn from him.  Everyone should endeavour to live his kind of life.  He inspired me into the private sector when I was in the academia. I had a small chat with him and I joined PSFU in 2000 when he was the chairman. Afterwards, I sought his advice before I moved to UMA where I worked for two years before returning to PSFU the executive director. He has been like a father to me and I have been close to his family. I will dearly miss him.

Brief biography

Born: July 24, 1936

1967: He went into partnership with Chloride (UK) and established Associated Battery Manufacturers Ltd, which subsequently became Uganda Batteries Ltd.

1970: He established Ship Tooth Brush Factory Ltd; currently Nice House of plastics Ltd; which manufacture toothbrushes, household products, writing instruments and packaging products.

1988: He revived and served as Chairman, Uganda Manufactures Association until 2000.

1988: Founded JESA Mixed Farm, with a herd of 550 Friesian cows. Later, Jesa Mixed Farm’s operations expanded; leading to the establishment of Jesa Farm Dairy Limited (1994), with a milk processing, pasteurising and packaging plant to produce packed milk, butter yoghurt and cream.

1992: Started Nsimbe Estate Limited, mainly involved in horticultural farming for export of cut flowers, in a joint venture with a German partner.

2002: Started Jesa Investments Limited, a Commercial Property Development entity.

1993: He was appointed Honorary Consul of the Royal Kingdom of Thailand to Uganda. In October 2008, he was promoted to Honorary Consul General, a position he held to his death.

He has served on the boards of BAT Uganda, Private Sector Foundation Uganda, International Finance Corporation Business Advisory Council in Washington D.C., East Africa Development Bank Ltd, and Advisory Committee of the East African Business Council, Eskom Uganda Limited, ICEA, and Zain Uganda.

He was vice Chairperson, SOS Children’s Village, representative of the African Continent to the International Senate of the SOS Kinderdorf International General Assembly, and Patron, HOSPICE- Uganda, Trustee, Mengo Hospital, Board Member, Interplast Uganda and Board Member, St. Johns Ambulance Uganda.

2000, 2001, and 2002: He was named East African Most Respected CEO (3rd Place ) in a survey of peers  by PriceWaterHouseCoopers

His fortune is estimated to be US$30 million (approx. Shs 75 billion).

(Reporting by Peter Nyanzi, Joan Akello, and Aloysious Kasoma).

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