UGANDA, Kisenyi | Real Muloodi News | Millionaire, serial entrepreneur, and real estate mogul, Haruna Ssentongo had promised to transform Kisenyi, the largest slum in Kampala, and he was keeping to his promise.
Previously a renowned hub for criminals, the former ghetto has seen itself transform into an ever-developing business point in the city centre. The crime that previously categorised Kisenyi, primarily drugs and robbery, is slowly phasing out.
Haruna Ssentongo has been largely credited as the central driver behind the slum’s rapid transformation. In an interview he gave in August, he says he realised the slum needed elevation to the City’s standards amid the growing population, which increases business demand.
Haruna’s ever-developing infrastructure in the area has facilitated extraordinary business growth. Nakayiza Market, N. M Apartments, and Haruna Towers are some of the prominent establishments in Mengo-Kisenyi that Haruna has developed under his Umbrella Company – Haruna Enterprises.
Haruna’s developments have attracted a lot of businesses and investment to Kisenyi. With shopping malls now sprouting on every road every day, Kisenyi has gained a magnificent outlook, becoming one of the fastest-growing suburbs of Kampala.
Haruna is also the proprietor of a tragic building in Kisenyi which recently collapsed while under construction, claiming the lives of six people, and leaving six others injured.
There is no doubt the building collapse and loss of life has weighed heavily on him, not just financially, but on his heart and soul. Understanding his life and the motivations behind his success can give readers an insight into why.
The Life of Haruna Ssentongo
Surprisingly, Haruna’s entrepreneurial journey comes from a humble background in Masaka, which began when he was just 16 years old.
The real estate mogul reveals that it all started during his O-level vacation when his father gave him UGX 300,000 (about U$84) to start a business to keep him busy during the holidays. He then began selling women’s bags in a small makeshift stall, and that was his launchpad to become who he is today.
He worked hard and expanded his business. “I got my first big break way back when I made my first USh1 million profit in the bags business. I got inspired, worked harder as it kept multiplying, until today,” he says.
He later started wholesaling, while continuing to save up the profits.
How Haruna Ssentongo Became a Real Estate Muloodi
In 2005, at 18 years old, after accumulating a reasonable amount of savings, Haruna ventured into selling homes and office furniture at Ben Kiwanuka Street in Kampala.
In 2007, he started importing garments from countries like China, Thailand, and Malaysia. He would then sell both wholesale and retail to Ugandans, as well as supplying South Sudan, Congo, and Kenya.
Haruna experienced outstanding success and with it came growth, and an appetite to take on more risks. He diversified and started buying prime commercial plots of land in different city suburbs around Kampala.
“After many years of trading in bags and garments and paying a lot of money in rent, I realised that having my own stores to keep my stock of goods was better than renting, hence the decision to invest in real estate. I also wanted to provide stores to other fellow traders for a small fee. Along the way, I have realised that real estate is like no other business. I am currently expanding even more in other sectors, but real estate is my primary business,” says Haruna.
In 2011, while still a first-year student at Makerere University, he incorporated Haruna Enterprises U Limited. Through this, he started constructing Haruna Towers in Wandegeya. He started realising more capital inflows and embarked on acquiring more pieces of land to develop properties like shopping malls and arcades.
But the difference with Haruna is, he was willing to invest in the suburbs that no one else was.
“Yes, it is true. Kisenyi used to be the epicenter of crime then. Even though some people still call it a slum, the fact is that it is now a thriving commercial center,” he says.
“There was very cheap land back in the day and no one wanted to invest there based on the prevalent circumstances. But to me, the environment looked almost similar to that of Kubiri – another low-income area where I built Haruna Towers. I realised that I could change it for better to match the city standards like I did before at Kubili. So I bought huge chunks of land in Kisenyi and built Segawa Market complex, which has over 320 shops of different sizes and shapes,” he narrates.
“Today, the tenants in those shops sell everything from spare parts for motorcycles to food products. The complex is very well organised and comes with generous parking spaces, and it is now the commercial nerve center of Kisenyi. It has attracted a lot of businesses and enabled me to grow faster. Others have been inspired and are also investing in the area and changing it further,” he adds.
Prior to his building collapse, he was asked if he had encountered any unique challenges in Uganda: “Because most of my properties are initially in slums, I initially had to plead for customers to rent my premises, throwing in generous incentives such as giving many months for free”, he answered.
In speaking about more recent times, he says “The COVID-19 pandemic affected business in a major way. Many of my tenants struggled, so I had to waive over six months rent for them last year to help them regain business stability, because they were not operating when locked up, which caused me losses in billions of Ugandan shillings.”
Today, Haruna’s properties house over 2,000 businesses, and approximately 100,000 customers within Uganda and in neighbouring countries. Haruna Enterprises employs more than 600 people, from casual labourers to C-suites jobs, and has deservedly won numerous Kampala Capital City Authority awards for supporting the city’s activities.
Haruna attributes his entrepreneurial success to savings as a discipline, building trust and creditworthiness with financial institutions when acquiring loans, and his great faith in God.
“Put all your faith in God. I am where I am now, only because of God. For God has been very faithful to me. I keep running to God in hard situations and always give thanks to HIM for everything. God has always answered my prayers. With God, I don’t need anyone or anything; I actually do not have any plan. God is my superior plan, and I got all I have from no one but God,” he says.
Haruna Ssentongo is one of Uganda’s most outstanding young entrepreneurs. The 34-year-old millionaire has done great things to uplift Kisenyi and contribute to Uganda’s growth, and he will continue to do so, despite his setbacks.
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