Interview with Hamis Kiggundu, CEO and Director of Ham Enterprises U Ltd
What is your assessment of the real estate sector in Uganda? What are the latest trends? Is the sector competitive?
We are mainly trading real estate on the commercial buildings side such as malls, etc. It is very competitive due to the demand. Business here is booming, especially in the CBD of Kampala. New buildings are coming up every day. In addition to the commercial sector, I am also in real estate. I have a project of 500 houses which is expected to be completed in one to two years. I am also planning on entering agroprocessing and value addition because of the dynamics of Uganda. This country is blessed with fertile soil and good climate. We have a rapidly growing population which is currently at 42 million people. We are very grateful for the government that is in power today.
The NRM government came into power when we had a population of less than 10 million. But in only 30 years, we have grown to 42 million which is an indicator of prosperity and development. When people are stable, they have the capacity to settle down and create families.
However, this growing population lacks jobs and employment, specifically because the population is growing at such a high rate when you look at it in comparison with the economy and available employment. The best way for Uganda to focus on our natural resources is to find what we have as a country that is an advantage to cater to this growing population. The government should direct most Ugandans into agrobusiness through agroprocessing and value addition. If we create the demand for this produce, we will encourage more Ugandans to come as well. Here in Uganda, it rains every day. Whatever you put into the soil will grow. If we adopt a more profound agro-based developmental strategy, Uganda can advance very fast. First and foremost, we can give employment to the Ugandans who are unemployed now.
The other problem is that development in Uganda is concentrated in Kampala. For development to be substantial, it needs to be spread throughout the country. The only way you can spread it is by making sure that people in remote areas have the capacity to be productive from their areas of origin.
If we put integrated agroprocessing plants in different locations in Uganda, we will get Ugandans to till their land for commodities or agroproducts that we can put into processing and create not just domestic demand but regional and international demand as well. If we can attract sufficient market for Ugandan agroproduce, we will get more income into the country and Uganda can achieve financial independence as time goes on. The major problem in Uganda now, despite the fact that we have a population of 42 million people, is that the majority are unproductive. Population in terms of economy is supposed to be an asset or capital. But in many African countries, not just Uganda, population has become a liability.
They are increasing in numbers but they are not productive. If you can get them to be productive, they will equally contribute to the welfare of their individual capacity as well as society and the collective national development of our country and the continent at large.
You wrote a book recently touching on these topics. How would you make these people become productive suddenly? What advice do you have?
I have many commercial buildings. We have close to 10,000 tenants. I am putting up a 500-home estate which will be a society with shopping malls on 150 acres. I am putting up an agroprocessing plant and factory. That I am doing not in line with individual development per se, but it is something I really want to do for my society.
Success and failure generally in life, be it an individual level, a society level, or an international level, are governed by the same principles – factors of demand and supply. In most cases, it is a general principle of economics that there are always limited resources. One’s ability to make it in life or improve their society depends on their ability to brainstorm on the prevailing challenges before them and find a way forward. Your ability to find solutions to your problems is the determinate factor of actual prosperity at the end of the day. From a general perspective, in Africa, Europe, etc., it all starts with the mind. The mindset is the governing factor of any kind of development in life. If the mindset is right, you will be productive. If the mindset is wrong, then you are likely to have failures. It is reality even if people are offended. That is why there is a very clear difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is basic information which everyone has. Wisdom is one’s ability to turn that knowledge into the practical. The outcome of wisdom is prosperity and success. In Uganda, we have a very big problem. People are so negative. They lack responsibility for themselves. I often say, it is okay to tell a lie, but the moment you start believing in your own lies, then you become the number one victim of your circumstances and repercussions. People do not believe in success. They do not believe in the ability to make it. Negativity defeats reason. People are thinkers, but they do not reason. The difference is so narrow and thin, but the majority of people do not see it. Thinking is a thought. Reasoning is the ability to make a deep, critical analysis of the prevailing circumstances around you leading to a certain positive decision that in the end turns out to be prosperity. It is basic but complicated. The best way to improve someone’s personality or life is by getting to their mind. Once you put their mind right, the rest is automatic.
How do you put someone’s mind in the right direction?
It is very simple and basic, but people do not take the time to brainstorm on the simple realities and principles of life. So many people cannot tell the difference between the realities of thinking and reasoning, yet everyone has the ability by nature. It is a matter of choosing to use it or not. By the time someone is finished with my book, “Success and Failure: Based on Reason and Reality,” they will no longer be thinking, they will be reasoning. It is just a trick of the mind. If you can open your mind, then everything is possible. It is a matter of opening your mind to reality. Why look at presumptions when there is reality before you? In most cases, the law limits presumptions and looks at substance. But people are not open to looking at life for what it really is. If this is a white shirt, why do you call it black or blue? It is white. It all starts with you being honest and fair and realistic to yourself. Then, you can make decisions in accordance with prevailing circumstances. That is why you find nations and individuals spending their entire lifetimes trying to find solutions to non-existent problems. They failed to address themselves to the actual problem at hand. Why presume when there are facts before you? The intention of my book is not to tell you what to do. The intention of my book is to give you the ability to open your mind to possibilities and see how best you can explore the limited resources available to you to make it in life and improve your society.
What activities do you do in business?
I have many commercial buildings. We have close to 10,000 tenants. I am putting up a 500-home estate which will be a society with shopping malls on 150 acres. I am putting up an agroprocessing plant and factory. That I am doing not in line with individual development per se, but it is something I really want to do for my society. If I put up an agroprocessing plant, I will have created demand for agroproduce and that will enable Ugandans to grow produce, then we will look for the market.
In the real estate sector, what projects are you working on? What are your competitive advantages? Why should people choose your houses?
In my estate, I am trying to introduce something that is new to the market. I am offering modern, contemporary houses. I want to add value and class to our way of living which has not been the case in Uganda so far. I can see that it is being done in the European countries because I have also tried to invest in the UK. I have a company in Manchester trading as Ham International UK Ltd. I have a logistics company in Dallas trading as Ham Express Logistics that deals in trucks. What we admire in those countries we are trying to bring here. By nature, God made a choice and put us where we belong. I am African and I am Ugandan. I am so proud of my country and I love it very much. Whatever I desire out there, I would want to do it here. Instead of me moving to a European country to work, I would rather work hard and make a difference here in Uganda.
Are you looking for international partners or investments?
One of the commanding factors when it comes to economic terms is capital. One of the challenges that we have in African countries is lack of capital. We do not have sufficient capital to do standard, reasonable business. We may be forced to go look for partners outside of Africa where the money is plentiful. In Uganda, even the banks that are trading within this economy are small. They have a single borrower’s limit of 10 to 20 million dollars. If you have dreams beyond 20 million dollars, that means that this is not the right economy for you. That means we have to look for capital outside.
How easy is it to get capital?
When you look at the dynamics of the Ugandan economy, it is obvious that it is solid and has the capacity to grow. The biggest challenge we have found in trying to source capital from outside is the negativity that has been attached to Uganda as a country and to Africa in general. When you talk about Africa, people know it for diseases or wars. But when you get on the ground, we are here doing big things and great things. The return on investment in Africa is 10 or 15 times better than in any European country. I have tried to invest in those countries. Here, the ground is still virgin. With the right amount of capital, the sky is the limit in Africa. If someone were to give you 100 million dollars to invest in Africa, in six years, I could turn it into more than 1 billion dollars. There are plenty of things to do here and plenty of things to invest in here, but there is limited capital. It is the only frustrating factor in Uganda now.
What are your current projects?
Currently, I am constructing a stadium which will seat approximately 35,000 people. We are doing the 500 homes and the agroprocessing plant. The agroprocessing plant is not the future of Ham Enterprises as my company, but the future of Uganda as a country. I took the responsibility upon myself and invested close to 2 billion Ugandan shillings to put together a research report about Uganda’s economy. I divided Uganda into 10 agro zones in accordance with the kind of crops or agrobusiness that comes from that area. Some areas are specific to livestock or grain or simsim. I have a written projection that will require about 120 million dollars for each integrated agro project including the land, the machinery, the processing plant, the storage and silos. The 10 zones will require approximately 9.2 million dollars. If this project is put into action, after a period of 10 to 15 years, Uganda will be one of the most developed countries with one of the biggest economies in the world.
What is your vision for the company in three years’ time, the medium term? What do you want to achieve?
I am 35 now. With God’s will, I have achieved substantially on an individual level. If it is about cars, I have driven them all. If it is about houses, I have built the best. What I am looking at is beyond the personal. It is something that can have an impact. I am looking at a legacy. What can I do for my society? What difference can I make in my country? That is why my major focus now is on agroprocessing and value addition. I want to make my fellow Ugandans productive regardless of where they come from, be it Arua, Soroti, Mbarara. For development in Uganda to be in the truest sense of the word, it should be a time whereby someone can grow up in Mbarara or Arua or Soroti, live there, have a family there, study there, and die there with no need for a Ugandan who is born in Arua to come to Kampala. The only effective way of doing that is creating demand for what they produce. If we are going to put in agroprocessing plants and create demand for their agroproduce, there is no need for them to leave. Even car dealerships and the best international schools will open branches there because people will have sufficient income to provide education to their children in those schools. It will widen the tax base. Currently in Uganda, we have a population of 42 million people with less than 1 million paying taxes. How can we expect the government to develop this country when it has a tax base of only 1 million people but a population of 42 million? We should make Ugandans more productive. Less than 5% of our population is productive and they have become a liability, despite the fact that population is one of the key factors of development in any society. A population should be looked at as a tool of trade, as a tool of capital. If you make it productive, we can produce food for a huge number of people in the world given our geographical location, our natural circumstances, good climate, fertile soils. But none of this is exploited yet. We need to create systems and structures to make sure we make Ugandans productive. Our problem is not politics. That is only 20%. Even if you built a new government in Uganda, these same circumstances and challenges will exist with a growing rate of Ugandans without jobs and doing completely nothing. That is when the crime rates go up opposition leaders gang up and start creating chaos everywhere. The key to not only Uganda but Africa’s problem lies within economic independence, sustainability, certainty, and efficiency. If we can achieve this, we will not have any more political problems in Uganda.
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