UGANDA, Kampala | Real Muloodi News | Prominent businesswoman and entrepreneur, Dr Amina Hersi Moghe (MBS), has been instrumental in the resurgence of much of East Africa’s economy over the years. She has been dubbed “The woman who changed urban Uganda” thanks to her contributions to the country’s infrastructure and economic growth.
Through her many companies, Amina’s business ventures span several sectors across East Africa, to include construction, property, retail, and infrastructure. Through her multimillion-dollar projects, she has brought employment and prosperity to the region.
The Kenyan woman entrepreneur of Somali descent is known for constructing several prominent landmarks which have transformed Uganda, to include Oasis Shopping Mall in Kampala’s central business district, and the Laburnam Courts Apartments, on Nakasero Hill next to State House.
Amina owns Kingstone Hardware Ltd, one of the largest distributors of construction materials in Kampala. She is also behind the Atiak Sugar Factory, which occupies over 16,000 acres and can produce 50,000 tonnes of sugar a day.
It is little wonder that Forbes magazine has recognized Amina Hersi as one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in Africa.
Amina Hersi Moghe’s Journey
Born to nomad parents who migrated from Somalia to Bungoma in western Kenya, Amina reminisces about her childhood in the Kenyan town.
“As a migrant family, we didn’t have much. We slept in a two-roomed house. My parents used one, and we shared the other,” she tells.
“It was a very conservative traditional Somali setting where, as young Muslim girls, we were not allowed to be seen or heard. We were not supposed to go out and play with other children,” she adds.
Amina’s father soon started a restaurant, and later expanded into butchery, selling meat. He passed away when Amina was 9 years old, leaving her mother, Sarah Hersi Ali, to take care of the children while at the same time managing the family business. It was then that Amina was first introduced to business, through helping her mother after school.
Amina’s mother, after having established herself as a prominent businesswoman in Bungoma, acquired a commodities trade shop dealing in produce like sugar, wheat flour, salt. She went out to the villages to buy the produce she sold to her customers.
Amina’s mother wanted Amina to master the art and skill of doing business, so continued to give her tasks at her shops and in her other businesses. In secondary school, she would ask Amina to help in her production distribution business, buying maize from the villages and selling it to the Bungoma Cereal Board.
Formal education was never a priority for Amina’s mother, whose vision was for Amina and her elder sister to take over the family businesses as soon as they came of age.
Despite this, Amina attended Lugulu Girls High School, one of the biggest schools in the region, for both her primary and secondary education, where she completed her S4 (Standard Four).
Later, Amina and her sister could enroll in accounting school, where they built on their entrepreneurial skills. This later influenced Amina to find Horyal Investment.
Amina dropped out of school at 18, having gone much farther in school than most Somali girls her age did. In her Somali culture, girls were typically not encouraged to go to school.
Amina Hersi’s Real Estate Business Ventures
In 1981, after dropping out of school, Amina turned business. Her mother was diversifying into the hardware business and tasked Amina with setting it up.
Amina’s mother advised her to start with nails because they were in high demand. So she started with this one item.
Amina narrates, “It was tough starting out. I only sold two units. I would look at the volume of business my mother was doing in her other businesses and it made me feel like a joke.” But her mother encouraged her to carry on.
Most of the other hardware shops sold nails in 50kg packages. This was too expensive for many people. So, Amina decided to break this down into more affordable units – a quarter, half and one kilogram. Hers was the only shop in the western province offering this service. Her business model was wildly successful, and attracted a huge number of customers.
Amina tells, “It also bought me a lot of goodwill from the people. Because they saw I cared enough to meet their needs; they started suggesting ideas for the growth of business. Each one would suggest that I bring in a certain item. When I told them I did not have the money to buy the items they were suggesting, they would deposit money with me to buy the items.”
Amina faithfully delivered whatever her customers paid her to, and thus her shop grew beyond nails.
Amina found further support through the connections she had made at Lugulu Girls High School. Her former schoolmates, who had moved to get married, or got jobs in Nairobi and other big cities, would entrust her with money to help build either theirs or their parents’ homes back in the village.
Venturing into Uganda
Amina’s mother had outgrown Kenya’s western province and moved to Nairobi, where she invested in real estate and engaged in cross-border trade, bringing commodities and produce to Uganda. The Ugandan economy was in tatters and industries were virtually nonexistent, therefore Uganda was heavily dependent on Kenya for virtually all commodities. As a result, Amina’s mother was extremely successful.
In 1989, Uganda experienced a construction boom. Amina had long been trading in Bamburi Cement as an agent in Bungoma, so she ventured into Uganda. She would import Bamburi Cement by road and rail, and sell to hardware dealers like Najja Hardware.
In 1994, Hima and Bamburi Cement factories opened in Uganda. Since Amina had already established a strong distribution network and vast customer base in Uganda, the former appointed her as their Ugandan distributor.
But even with two new factories, the demand for cement in Uganda far outstripped the supply, so Amina kept on importing her cement from Kenya. Dealing in cement was very lucrative for her.
Settling in Uganda; The Launch of Kingstone Hardware
In 1998, Amina tragically lost two of her daughters, aged seven and eight, in a car crash in Kenya. Following the tragedy, Amina’s mother encouraged her to move to Uganda to help her overcome the trauma of the loss and escape the constant reminders from sympathisers.
This marked the turning point in her life. Amina found it easy to settle down in Uganda and became the link to take care of her family’s business interests on the ground there. She was handling a high volume of business in Uganda.
Thanks to the overwhelming demand for cement in Uganda, Amina acquired trucks through external financing, and would deliver to her customers’ business premises.
When she settled in Uganda, she brought with her 500 train wagons full of cement from the Bamburi Cement factory in Kenya.
She narrates, “Now I faced a dilemma; I did not know whether the business in Kampala would work out causing me to stay longer, or I would have to pack up my bags and leave after a short time after failing.” So, I wanted to limit my expenditure on things like office rent, stationery, staff and other overheads. I had been taught to be frugal by my mother.”
Luckily, during her time conducting cross-boarder trade with Uganda, Amina had established a business relationship with real estate muloodi Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia through his Crane Forex Bureau. She had maintained a solid relationship with the business mogul, and when he opened his Crane Bank in 1995, she worked with the bank for other financial services.
So, when she found herself in this dilemma, she approached him. As good will, he offered her a desk in his office at Radiant House on Plot 20, Kampala Road. He provided free phone services, a fax, and his workers, whom Amina utilised at will.
Amina stayed in Sudhir’s office for about three months, during which she sold off most of her cement. Having established that business would work out, Amina secured her own place in Kyambogo, strategically along the Kampala – Jinja highway, on which her cement arrived in Kampala from Kenya.
Amina opened up Kingstone Hardware Store and continued dealing in cement and other hardware material. In 1999, she acquired land in the same place and started building her family home. Then in 2000, they moved in.
Over the years, Amina built a successful distributorship with a monthly turnover of US$2m (sh5.3b).
Turning to Real Estate
Amina had conquered cement distributorship and needed something more. She naturally progressed to real estate.
Amina says “My involvement in real estate was not accidental. My family was already involved in this business in Bungoma and Nairobi. I had seen how it was done. But then again, there is a direct relationship between hardware and real estate.”
It was now 2007, and the government was eager to improve infrastructure and accommodation in Kampala. Thus, the then Kampala City Council (KCC) allocated a lot of city land to developers.
Through her business and political contacts, Amina learned about the four acres of land on Yusuf Lule Road, where Oasis Mall now stands. She lobbied KCC for the land and got it.
A vacant piece of land also caught her eye on Nakasero Road in Nakasero. Through the Uganda Investment Authority, Amina wrote a proposal to President Yoweri Museveni, asking him for the land to build 164 top-end fully serviced luxury apartments.
Museveni agreed to meet her, and was impressed with the idea and her enthusiasm. He asked her if she had the money to execute the project, and she answered in the affirmative.
“In truth, all I had was my resolve, a family name in Kenya, and an excellent track record in doing business in Uganda. I had also built an impressive network of people I knew could help me pull my dream off,” Amina tells.
After acquiring both pieces of land, Amina made a business plan. However, getting financing wasn’t easy. Most local banks were uncomfortable that she had never undertaken projects of this magnitude and doubted she could pull them off.
However, Amina’s mother, using their impressive real estate empire in Kenya as collateral, approached Barclays Bank, Kenya, and agreed to bankroll in the projects.
Amina tells that the two projects were not only challenging, they were nearly impossible. Both would take much longer to complete than was anticipated, which required a lot of extra money. The commercial banks did not want to listen to any excuses about setbacks, and wanted their money!
Amina turned to PTA Bank, a trade and development financial institution, for help. Being a development bank, they finance long-term projects. They paid off the loans of the commercial banks so that Amina could continue and see her projects through.
In 2009, Amina finally opened the 40,000sq ft Oasis Mall, one of Kampala’s largest shopping malls, which observers estimate to cost US$50m (about USh176 billion). Amina is credited as the first to bring the high-end shopping experience to Ugandans.
The Laburnam Court Apartments took over eight years to complete. The first phase was completed in 2011, while the second phase was completed in 2013. Laburnam Courts is widely regarded as one of the finest residential addresses in town, secure with modern apartments next to State House Nakasero.
Thanks to Amina’s contributions to transform the city and surrounding areas, Amina has helped establish a notable and valued real estate market in Uganda. Because of her involvement in the real estate industry, president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ensured Amina has benefited from other incentives such as imported building materials without paying taxes for one of her real estate projects.
The launch of the business mogul’s sugar factory, Atiak sugar, in Northern Uganda, has brought revenue and development to the region. In partnership with the Gulu Women’s Entrepreneurs Association, Amina Hersi Moghe employs over 1,500 people directly with over 5,000 out-growers to develop Amuru, Atiak, Kamdin and Noya districts.
Recognition of Her Achievements
The New Economy, a quarterly business magazine based in London, named Amina African Businesswoman of the Year in 2014. Through her ventures and projects, Amina has directly and indirectly employed over 6,000 women and ensured they have equal opportunities.
She was also recognised as an award-winning businesswoman in 2019, having been named African Entrepreneur of the Year by CEO magazine, a reputable European publication.
Uganda Women Entrepreneur Association Limited (UWEAL) branded her the Best Woman Entrepreneur in 2021 because of her zeal to promote women’s entrepreneurship. They also named Amina the Investor of the Year in 2008.
In 2013, Kenya’s former president, Mwai Kibaki, awarded her the “Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS)” for her zeal and determination in fostering regional business, which is a key driver of regional integration.
Her work has earned her the respect of several African heads of state, such as His Excellency (HE) Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda; HE Mwai Kibaki, former president of the Republic of Kenya, HE Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi, HE Rupiah Banda, former President of Zambia, and HE Kalonzo Musyoka, former Vice President of the Republic of Kenya.
Many dignitaries from the East African region have visited her projects to see the transformation and impact they have had on the people and the city.
Forbes recognized Amina for her outstanding investments in Somalia and throughout the East African region. She is also the first female entrepreneur from Uganda to make the list of the top wealthy individuals, as she is one of Uganda’s richest businesswomen. And the second businessperson to make it to the list, following Sudhir Ruparelia.
Amina Hersi Moghe has risen from rural Kenya to become influential, serving as a beacon of hope and a motivating role model for young African girls.
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