DENIS JJUUKO: Mukwano family should consider writing his biography

The late Amirali Karmali. (PHOTO/File)

By Denis Jjuuko

There is a thesis that Africans don’t read or write because our traditions were originally oral. Stories were being told around the fireplace from one generation to another. However, there have been changes since those days. Families especially in urban centres don’t have time to sit around the fireplace anymore. They actually don’t have fireplaces. Most people are hustling while the old people who would be telling stories are far apart from the young ones mainly in villages.

Last week, industrialist Amirali Karmali, known as Mzee Mukwano founder of the Mukwano Group as we know it today passed way at his home in Kololo, a Kampala suburb. Mukwano started in 1910 as a trading company before it became an industrial giant in Ugandan context in 1986. By the time of Mzee Mukwano’s death, he had passed on the running of this business empire to his son, Alykhan Karmali just like his parents passed on the business to him.

What made Mzee Karmali so tick? What made him one of the best entrepreneurs Uganda will ever see? What made his group so successful? I have read testimonies of his generosity from giving people he didn’t know school fees on meeting them for the first time. I have read obituaries of how he helped others start their businesses. Beyond these testimonies, there is nothing more from a guy who a built a business unicorn that touches lives in almost every household in East and Central Africa.

As creative, industrious, entrepreneurial and wealthy as he was, Mukwano although of Indian origin was as Ugandan a businessman as they come. Ugandan entrepreneurs rarely document their successes in autobiographies or biographies so that others can learn from them. Imagine if Mukwano had written an autobiography! Imagine if James Mulwana had written an autobiography! These books would be bibles for all of us who want to pursue entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs need mentorship, which with a busy schedule, can only provide personally to very few people. Books bridge that gap by people reading them to get lessons that they can use to solve their own problems. Mukwano must have faced challenges setting up his multibillion group — how did he overcome them? How did he raise capital? When did he start diversifying into, for example, real estate? When should somebody start diversifying? When should somebody expand from one shop to another, from being a trader to a factory owner? Which businesses did Mukwano start and fail? What succession lessons do we learn from him?

There are so many questions that we can ask today but Mukwano is no longer here to answer them. However, his son Alykhan and indeed other members of his family could start to write his biography. They surely know his story. They learnt a lot from him. If that is so much, Alykhan could write his own autobiography drawing lessons from his father. I know I might be insensitive to make a request when he is mourning his father but I believe this is the right time to ask him to do this.

So on Friday last week as the country mourned Mzee Mukwano, I was happy that my friend Dr. Innocent Nahabwe, founder of Galaxy FM, Amnesia Discotheque among other businesses was launching his book; Treating Small Businesses, lessons from his operations. His guest of honor was Sudhir Ruparelia, another entrepreneur who should also write a book. I hope Sudhir was challenged to do so. People would love to read his story.

Gordon Wavamunno has already written his book, the Story of an African Entrepreneur, which I think now needs to be updated as was written many years ago. The last time I spoke with Brahim Muwanga Kibirige, popularly known as BMK, founder of his eponymous BMK Group — a diverse compony with interests in hotels, construction, and real estate was writing his own book. I am sure lots of people can’t wait to read it.

We must encourage entrepreneurs and indeed top executives and captains of industries to write books. I know that many may not be in positions to write themselves. They just need to identify people who they can sit with and tell their story. Then those people with a gift to write can put everything on paper and go through the writing processes. That is what a lot of people who write books do the world over. If one can set up a Mukwano or Mulwana empire, they can surely write a book.


The writer is a Communication and Visibility Consultant.



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