Sarah Nkonge Muwonge rose to fame in 1998 when she was appointed as Kampala City’s first woman mayor. But she is largely an entrepreneur who owns five schools spread out in Kampala, Jinja, Masaka, and Buloba; including Kampala Secondary School.
Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | She also owns shopping arcades in Kampala and Jinja towns, is a sportswoman, and patron of the She Cranes. She has won several awards for her entrepreneurship with the latest being, `The People’s Choice (Survivor of the Year) Award’ at the 5th Annual MTN Women in Business Award Ceremonial at Kampala Serena Hotel on March 17.
Some of the schools were started by her late husband, the renowned educationist, Francis Muwonge, whom she describes as a hardworking man, good father, and husband. But Nkonge launched the diversification into arcades after he died in 2008. She says she had proposed the idea to him but he had rejected it.
“My husband had concentrated on making timetables and even when he succumbed to cancer, he was busy making timetables for teachers,” she says.
She says she chooses to have her “eggs spread in different baskets”. So she joined the Kwagalana Group (of Kampala’s rich class) “to grab a thing or two on successful business management”. Sometimes she has ventured to honour those she loves. She named St Francis College Buloba after her husband and when her father died in 2007, she chose to implement his dream of planting trees on several acres. Ten years after, she is ready to harvest.
She says she will again run for the Lwengo District Woman MP seat in the next election in 2021. She ran for the seat in 2016 and lost. So is also considering resuming school at LDC to do a diploma in law something she says will add more value to her. Although Nkonge is seen mostly as a politician and entrepreneur, academia is her chosen path and her doctorate is in Education Management, administration and Planning. She got it from Makerere University in Kampala in 2014.
“It was for self-actualization but I also didn’t want my children to go at it before me,” says Nkonge, “The world has so many uneducated people who assert themselves in places and positions that they don’t deserve so I set an example to many people that anything can be achieved at any time.”
For 10 consecutive years, Nkonge taught at Kings College Budo in the 1970s, Nakasero Secondary School and Kitante Hill School among others. She has also previously lectured at Makerere University and Kampala International University. Her entrepreneurship journey dates back to the 1980s when she diversified from teaching to entrepreneurship on a small scale.
Perhaps her hardworking character stems back from her upbringing where her late parents, Geresom Charles Nkonge and mother Keziah Margaret Nkonge, instilled the culture. He was a chief of Buganda and one of the personal assistants of then-Kabaka of Buganda; Sir Edward Muteesa II. So he was filthy rich, but Nkonge and 12 siblings were allocated portions of land to till during holidays to earn pocket money.
“There is no moment in my life where I lacked anything but I worked for everything because we kept moving with father as he nurtured us and that describes my success today,” says Nkonge, “The more cotton you harvested, the more pocket money my father would give you.”
Nkonge started school at Ntinda Primary School before proceeding to Nalinya Lwantale Primary School in Luwero district. She spent all her secondary life at Gayaza High School before joining Kyambogo University for a Bachelor’s Degree in education. One school memory that stands out for her was when she was served food without sauce as a punishment for bed-wetting. She was so upset she persuaded her father to change school.
Nkonge has encouraged her children to take on administrative courses such that they can ably manage the smooth running of her business empire. Her eldest daughter, Mildred Nalubega Male is the resident director of the schools while her only son manages the arcades business in town.
Any three things we don’t know about you?
I am myself, a woman who doesn’t fear to try out new things however risky it may be. I have also identified myself and in so doing I know what I want. I believe that much as I have it, others should share in my success and if I feel that you can do something, I empower you to ensure that you achieve your dream. I love my life and know how to shade off the stress; I dance and sing and very soon, I will launch my song.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Going out with friends but I am also happy when my schools perform well in national exams.
What is your greatest fear?
With the present situation where many young girls are murdered, I fear for what the future will hold; especially when few young people are empowered to inherit the exact qualities that we have.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Sometimes I shout or I am very playful which irritates some people.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Hypocrisy and masquerading; there are very many foolish people who think they are very wise.
Which living person do you most admire?
First, it is myself because there are things I do which many others cannot do. Winnie Mandela is a woman of all seasons.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I enjoy going out for a dance where possible. I am also a frequent traveler who wants to reach every part of the world