UGANDA, Wakiso | Real Muloodi News | Meet Dr Anatoli Kamugisha, owner and CEO of one of Uganda’s top real estate companies, Akright Projects Empire Ltd (APEL).
It is under APEL that Dr Kamugisha formed the impressive Akright City, a residential community in Wakiso District. Akright City is estimated at a net worth of USD15 million, with properties in Kirinya, Bweyogerere and the magnificent satellite city at Kakungulu Estates along Entebbe Road that sits on a 2 sq. km piece of land.
Location of Akright City
Akright City is bordered by Namugongo Road to the north, the community of Bwebajja and Kampala–Entebbe Road to the east, Namulanda to the southeast, Palm Valley Golf and Country Club to the south, and the community of Sekiwunga and Entebbe–Kampala Expressway to the west.
Dr Kamugisha’s Background
The 59-year-old APEL CEO was born in a peasant family of Ibanda in Western Uganda in 1963.
He recalls Batirimayo Ruhigirwa, his father, as a man of deep faith and an idealist.
“He instilled the same faith in me and I dreamt of building a city. My father studied up to Primary Six and was willing to support my dream to study and get empowered,” he says. His mother Tereza Ruhigirwa was a housewife and peasant.
He went to Mbarara High School and Rwomuhoro Primary School before enrolling at Kyambogo Polytechnic to study civil engineering. Due to his family’s bad luck, he left school after his first year.
“Our family was attacked and my father, our breadwinner, was shot in the head and leg. He was down for three years. I opted to look for a job to survive on,” he recounts.
Although he had a difficult start in life, he beat all odds and become a self-made entrepreneur with a sharp eye for money-spinning ventures.
Dr Kamugisha, with an entrepreneurial brain at a young age, pledged never to be a failure in life, even though he was unable to complete his civil engineering education at Kyambogo Polytechnic College owing to financial limitations.
His Real Estate Ventures
Dr Kamugisha set out to help people as a source of income. He would slash compounds and wash automobiles for friends and relatives. Ideas came to him as he was assisting others.
He didn’t have money, but at only 26, in 1989, Dr Kamugisha convinced his already working-class friends to give him some money to register his company.
With this, he formed his first company –Kanoblic Group of companies, a real estate and construction company.
“I didn’t have any money, but I had mobilisation skills; I mobilised a few friends who were already working to contribute some little money to register the company. My mindset was not that ‘its money which starts a business,’ I believe an idea is what starts a business. That’s why I was convinced that once the company is registered, we would get contracts,” he explains.
Although things were smooth at first, the inability of certain corporations to pay for services threatened to bring the company to its knees.
He says, “Banks never gave us money to construct. I tried to rise but it collapsed. I was glad to have got the experience and I realised that I needed to find focus, build the right concepts and find the right people to achieve the goals of the establishment.”
Dr Kamugisha’s entrepreneurial skills saw the firm was certain to fail within the foreseeable future. He closed Kanoblic in 1999 to develop a real estate firm that specialised in the construction of well-planned dwellings as a solution to Kampala’s slum settlements.
The Birth of Akright Projects Limited
Akright Projects Limited was established in 1999 to address the growth of slums.
“My experience at Kanoblic showed that there were lots of haphazard developments and lack of orderliness in building individual residences around Kampala and many other towns. So I conceived the idea of solving that challenge by availing organised residences in planned estates,” he explains.
Slums may be found all across Kampala, including Katanga, Kikoni, Kimombasa, and Kamwanyi among others.
Even though he risked, Dr Kamugisha wasn’t sure if his answer would help him go from poverty to prosperity because his success would come many years later.
With help of financial institutions and a few friends, he saved enough money to pursue his goal.
Hardships Kick in
Dr Kamugisha was confronted with numerous challenges. Akright borrowed money from Nairobi-based Shelter Afrique to create Namugongo real estate project.
After the development, Uganda Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) later informed him that certain houses will be destroyed to make space for electricity transmission lines in the same area.
“When we bought the land, it didn’t have any caveat and our physical master plan was approved by government. We asked to be compensated but UETCL said it would only pay for the houses which will be broken down, claiming that their project had been approved before ours,” he explains.
He adds: “When bankers had of the conflict, they recalled the loan immediately saying we didn’t do a thorough due diligence. The Shs500-million compensation from UETCL was not enough to pay back the entire loan so the bank sold property and this was a big blow to Akright.”
Pioneers in Uganda’s Real Estate Business
Dr Kamugisha, a pioneer in Uganda’s real estate industry, claims that a lack of capital and infrastructure made the early phases of the industry so difficult.
“No bank was willing to lend us money to invest in real estate back then. There was no mortgage finance and no line of credit to finance real estate development,” Dr Kamugisha says.
He adds, “It was only Housing Finance Bank which used to give mortgages to government employees to buy houses constructed by the National Housing and Construction Corporation.”
He recounts how banks repeatedly refused to provide him loans, claiming he was “daydreaming,” which left him frustrated.
He says, “Banks refused to lend me money for the project but I said no one would frustrate my dreams. I said with or without the money, I will make my dream a reality and the project is now alive.”
However, he quickly points out that this has changed now, that there are several institutions offering mortgage solutions.
Kakungulu Satellite City Project
In 2002, Dr Kamugisha bought land in Kakungulu to build a satellite city but lacked the resources to build ideal homes.
But being an inventive man, he chose to trade services for services to advance the enterprise.
Dr Kamugisha contacted architects to create a design for the project although he lacked funds to pay them to overcome the financial restrictions.
Instead, he traded land parcels for them, just as it was done for the attorneys who drew the contracts and contractors who constructed the estate’s roads.
According to Dr Kamugisha, he traded with Uganda Clays Kajjansi for roof tiles in return for a portion of Kakungulu land that had clay.
“This valley is where we got wealth. We didn’t have money for roofing tiles yet it had been decided that all houses in Kakungulu must be roofed with tiles. So we utilised what we had to get what we didn’t have,” Dr Kamugisha says.
“I did not have cash when I started; my capital was determination and innovativeness,” says passionate Dr Kamugisha, whose entrepreneurial journey is a typical ‘rags to riches narrative.’
The initial homes and property purchases in Kakungulu were mostly made by friends due to unfavourable publicity from some critics.
As a result, he was able to acquire money to purchase cement and other construction materials that could not be bartered for.
The multibillion-dollar Kakungulu satellite city has now expanded to become one of the biggest real estate markets in the country.
It is a well-known planned and self-sustaining community of twelve smaller neighbourhoods that includes all types of residential homes, commercial businesses like supermarkets and shopping malls, recreational amenities including a golf club and a golf course, a nature park, schools, and health facilities like hospitals and clinics.
The satellite city of Akright Kakungulu, which is located 18 kilometres off the Kampala-Entebbe highway on a two-square-mile plot of land, is stunningly beautiful and elegant.
Akright City: Dreams Never Materialising
Private communities like Akright are not without controversy. Although Akright City advertised itself as an alternative to African cities, it has evolved into something it was never intended to be.
True to this, Dr Kamugisha claims that in 2001, he purchased a 1,200-acre parcel of overgrown land halfway between Kampala and Entebbe, where the nation’s international airport is situated, and he set out to build a city there using what he refers to as the “Singaporean model”: orderly, environmentally friendly, and effective.
He believed that people would reside in the city and work there, in office parks, retail centres, and industries, leaving the turmoil and traffic of Kampala in the rearview mirror.
However, things didn’t exactly turn out that way.
“I’m selling people a future — this place attracts people with a vision,” says Anatoli Kamugisha, the founder of Akright City, looking over his partially completed project from a neighbouring hilltop.
Huge building sites stand next to soaring homes, and many roads are little more than dirt tracks carved into the hillside. The gorgeous golf course is deserted.
Many of Akright’s most ambitious components were dropped midway through the project as the funding dried up, including a sizable call centre that had originally aspired to help Uganda unseat India as the outsourcing darling of the globe.
Dr Kamugisha guarantees that the sluggishness is merely momentary.
But for the time being, Akright has become exactly what it was never intended to be: a Kampala bedroom suburb for diplomats, ministers, and other government officials who have the stamina to endure the arduous drive into the city, which may take up to two hours each way during rush hour.
Dr Kamugisha says, “Many of the people who live here have come from places with no good roads, no reliable water or electricity [on the grid] — what we call rich man’s slums — and they’re running from those haphazard developments to stay for the first time in an organized living environment.”
Neighbourhoods with enticing names like “European Village,” “New World Village,” and “California Village” are now less than half occupied.
Grace Amoah, who has lived in Akright for ten years and operates a tiny convenience shop there, one of the few businesses in the area, claims that life here is “more or less like Europe: it’s enclosed, we don’t see our neighbours, and everyone goes away during the day.”
She adds, “They want more people to come here, but I think the distances are too far, it’s too expensive.”
Akright never had a strategy for the poor, who have now erected shanty clusters along the city’s edges.
Despite its claims of secluded, first-world living, Akright’s growth has in some respects followed a typical Ugandan pattern.
“When you build for the rich [in Uganda], the poor will follow,” says Brent Potts, Uganda country director of Habitat for Humanity.
Shortcomings in Uganda’s Real Estate Sector
Dr Kamugisha claims that the absence of a defined housing strategy is restricting the sector, despite the laudable development seen over the years as a result of rising demand for organised housing units and a rise in mortgage products on the market.
“Government is not coming out clearly on housing policy issues and this is affecting the sector. We have no standard. That is why slums keep coming up. If nothing is done, Uganda will become a national slum.”
He also mentions that the sector’s expansion is being hampered by high mortgage rates.
Dr Kamugisha’s Advice
He advises, “How people package priorities are important. You should prioritise seven things. The shelter should top the list and much as it is expensive, anyone is better off working towards achieving it.”
He claims that the other six are: food, clothes, medical care, education, security, and marriage.
“When you are growing older, you must start tackling the most expensive. Do not dress expensive, eat expensively and forget shelter,” he says.
He encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to recognise their strengths and persevere to see their businesses expand to the next level.
“Many young entrepreneurs want quick money; that’s why they fail. Others think it is money that starts a business, which is wrong.
Dr Kamugisha adds, “Money doesn’t start a business, it’s the idea. Money is an accelerator. They should be patient and learn how to overcome challenges because they are part of business.”
He claims that overcoming obstacles and pursuing his dreams despite financial constraints has been his most important lesson.
“I have learnt that once you have a good idea which you think can solve society problems, go for it. You don’t need to have money to solve a problem. Once you attempt to solve the problem, it will magnetise money and it will come.”
He adds that he respects collaboration, has patience, and values creativity and interaction. In addition to living a simple life (taking things easy in life), integrity, in his opinion, is crucial.
“As an entrepreneur, many things can bring you down or lift you. But you should learn to accept whichever comes. If it’s a problem, accept and look for solutions of how to go about it,” Dr Kamugisha says.
“I have made many mistakes but also learnt from them. It has been a chain of correcting mistakes.”
In summary, focus on your objectives while making retirement plans, and everything else will fall into place.
According to Dr Kamugisha, although several local businesses have avoided the stock market, Akright Projects Limited plans to make the audacious decision to list on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).
His dream in 2006 was to have 12 Akright cities in Uganda by 2040. Everything did not go according to plan. By 2021, Anatoli Kamugisha has no city.
“Maybe I was overambitious. I am running things out of utopia. No one has gone into real estate and not burnt their hands,” Dr Kamugisha says.
“I am in court to recover my grabbed wealth and organising to service my debts to pay off liabilities. You cannot retire before paying debts. I would like to redeem or recover my stolen, lost and encumbered wealth. I am settling liabilities and debts that have been accrued over time,” he explains.
He is in the process of transferring ownership of Akright to a successor—preferably a young person—through a partnership.
“By 65 years, I would like to spend time with my children and grandchildren and perhaps play golf. I would also like to build a charity foundation that helps the underprivileged, pass on knowledge to others. That is my dream,” he discloses.
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