They say that if life deals you lemons, make lemonade. So what do you think would be the fate of a bleary eyed thirteen year old boy who, with the rather tacit agreement of his father, abandoned school and became a trader did with his lemons? That is the essence of Dr. Hajji Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige’s (honoris causa) autobiography, which we launched this week on March 18, 2021.
Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige’s (BMK) was born at Matanga on October 2, 1953 to Hajji Ali Kibirige and Hajjati Mariam Nayiga. He was the fourth child in a family of 36 children. Being his mother’s first borne, it was surprising that at a tender age he was sent to live with his aunt, Kevina Kyamulabi (a catholic) in Butambala. As they say, the rest is history, but along the way I got involved in this incredible story. I first met BMK on his return from exile in 1987. At that time he had just opened a spare parts outlet at the lower end of Jinja Road. What struck me was that despite being the owner of the business, he was also the bagboy and repairman. Apart from being an affable type, he was equally charismatic and friendly.
Fast forward to 2015, and he confided in me that for posterity’s sake, he wanted to record his life’s story after he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He felt that he had a story to share with his family and the world. We were on the twelfth floor of his BMK House where he had set up a personal office and command center for his empire. We then set up a plan regarding how we would go about this. First I told him that we needed to get the professional services of some good script writers and allow them to transcribe his story. He agreed to the plan and we commandeered the services of Joachim Buwembo and Denis Jjuko, both veteran journalists.
BMK is the relentless type. After six years of writing and the team continually discarding what the scribes had written, here we are. Despite his illness and poor health he never lost sight of the prize. He pushed the team and this week, we crossed the finish line. As a team we are all proud of the final product – “My Story of Making a Fortune in Africa”. What are the takeaways from his story?
The first takeaways for the reader are the lessons his father Hajji Ali Kibirige taught him about money. The business may be yours but the capital belongs to the business. You cannot touch that ‘kalugendo’. Wait for the business to pay you. More importantly, your honesty is your ace card. In his journey, the concept of honesty stands out singularly. For example, while travelling to Japan in the 80’s, he lost US $ 52,000 which partly belonged to some of his friends. While he never recovered the money, he did not rest until all his friends had been paid back!
The second set of takeaways for the reader are BMK’s own life’s lessons. These have been crafted as entrepreneurship lessons which we all need to imbibe every day. They cover two chapters, ranging from lessons learnt in business to dealing with offspring and family. And they are gems of wisdom – from managing ones health, to gambling and how to grow your wealth. It is not possible for me to single out any and do justice but you the inquisitive reader will have to do that for yourself. The autobiography also comes with a light side, that enables us to see the humanness of the man. Equally poignant in the story, is his generosity, regard and respect for others. This is a story of grit, honour and perseverance. In all of us there is a BMK, if we can find him. I am truly honored to have been part of the telling of this amazing story.
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Mat Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka