KAMPALA. Mr Mansour Matovu, alias Young, was born in Masaka District.
Mr Matovu says he stopped formal education in Senior Two and then travelled to Ndeeba in Rubaga Division where he started dealing in merchandise. He learned on the job to repair vehicles and, in 1970s, strayed into the business of transporting goods to neighbouring countries such as Zaire as the DR Congo was then called.
“I was young when I started working. And I was blessed that I got money when I was still young. In fact, it is the reason why I was nicknamed Young,” Mr Matovu once said.
Folk Musician Lord Fred Ssebatta has severally claimed that Mr Matovu worked with him as a mechanic in the 1980s at Kayondo Garage in Ndeeba Town.
Rising to prominence
Mr Matovu rose to prominence when use of second hand motorcycles commonly known as, Mate, a Japan-made motorbike, gained traction with Ugandan riders. The snowballing in demand for the motorcycle reflected in assured cash flow for Young and other dealers, building a capital base that in later years powered his venture into real estate.
He started importing second-hand motorcycles directly from Japan. At the time, his only competitors were Bulayimu Muwanga Kibirige, who owns BMK, and Henry Bugembe, who owned Big Ways. All were operating in Ndeeba suburb, which today’s signposts its historical badge of a hub for automobiles and spares.
“I was trusted by my partners abroad because I was truthful. My business grew and at one time I loaded an entire ship with only my merchandise to Mombasa [port in] Kenya,” he says.
In the early 1990s, Matovu shifted from importing spare parts and motorcycles to the construction sector.
“I was getting old and needed to invest in tangible things so that I don’t lose the money,” he says.
His first buildings were in Ndeeba, his business outpost. There, he erected a number of storeyed structures that changed the then modest suburb’s skyline.
He later shifted to the central business district of Kampala, where he acquired plots that had old buildings. In an investments that birthed an organic urban renewal, Mr Matovu’s knocked down blighted buildings and put up modern, glittering ones. “I can confidently say that I was among the first business people to construct arcades with glass wall panels in Kampala City. People liked the designs and started building theirs using glass panels,” he said.
“When I built MM Plaza, one Ugandan of Asian origin called me to thank me. He said what I had done was uncommon among black business people in Uganda,” he said.
Although Mr Matovu rarely talks about governance, the photographs hanging on the wall in his office show where his political heart is planted.
One of the picture shows him shaking President Museveni’s hand at State House.
This, he said, was during one of the State House dinners that President Museveni hosts each year for Muslims at the end of the Islamic holy month. In 2009 and 2015, he was among a dozen business people who donated millions of shillings to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.
He donated Shs100m for the construction of the NRM House in Kampala City.
Among property he owned is Nabukeera shopping arcade. This structure, however, lies on the axis of raging conflict over Qualicel Bus Terminal.
The protracted fight pitted Mr Matovu and Drake Lubega, who are business partners, against former rally ace and businessman Charles Muhangi, who died last December.
The squabbles drew the attention of the President and hearing of the property row case dominated court chambers for years, but a determination by the men and women of robes failed to break the impasse.
The property was handed to Muhangi last year, but police after his death supervised an eviction of his assignees.
The wrangle has caught in its shadow dozens of tenants unsure who to pay rent to, and whose businesses suffer whenever the row boils to the tipping point of forcible closure of the commercial structures.
Mr Young says he can’t understand the cause of the persisting problem.
“If a person with any documentation can come and take my property when I have a title, what about a poor person in the village?” he asked.
It’s the one-million dollar question that only the rich, powerful and politically-connected can ask, and answer.