By Patrick Ocaido
About 3 decades ago, businesswoman Sarah Kizito, popularly known as Lady Charlotte for her bridal parlour at Centenary Park decided to make her own destiny in the business world.
At the age of 19, Sarah who was born in a very religious Islam family of 7 girls and 1 boy, had completed her studies in London College in UK having went to Duhaga Girls in Hoima for Primary education and Tororo Girls School for Secondary education.
Unlike some people who dream about becoming medical doctors or pilots and engineers after school, Lady Charlotte always dreamt about being a fashionista by the age of 13 and was just reading about it in novels. She was inspired into fashion business considering the fact that there was no fashion house in Uganda by then.
Our reporter caught up with the soft-spoken inspirational businesswoman at her bridal shop and she narrates;
I do fashion as my hobby and I enjoy it as a business as well. I finished school by the age of 19 and I opened my business. It kicked out very fast because there was no competition. I managed to train a lot of people and handled many big weddings like Gen Salim Saleh.
I remember very well after Liberation war, most people who were coming from the bush were getting married and there were so many weddings and that is what boasted my business.
Before shifting here (at Centenary Park), my first shop was situated on Bombo Road and I didn’t invest much, I remember my initial capital was only $1500 (about Shs5.2m) which my dad gave me. I used the money to go to Dubai to buy fabric. I had also saved my pocket money from school which I used to buy two sewing machines.
This business involved a lot of training because there were no people involved in fashion so it was a challenge that most of the people I would train would go and start their own businesses to compete with me.
However, I just kept on training and as I speak most of the people in Kampala saloons were trained by myself and most of the people running fashion houses were trained by me. But I still get along with them because I believe what is mine is mine and I don’t look into other peoples’ businesses.
My business has been growing ever since I started it. It has never started growing because I personally get involved in almost everything. People dedicate too much, but don’t involve in the business, and after they make too much money, they stop getting involved.
CENTERNARY PARK WOES
In her narration, Lady Charlotte said that after expanding her fashion and beauty shops, she decided to start an estate business with her family known as Nnalongo Estates Ltd. Nnalongo Estates is a family business which is run by all the 8 siblings with their father-Zakariya Kizito Bulwadda as the brain behind it.
“It was through this company that we applied for a lease for Centenary Park which was a big bush in the middle of the city and nobody wanted to do anything about it because it involved a lot of backfilling,” Sarah Kizito said.
Initially the likes of tycoon Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige, commonly known as BMK had attempted to develop this land which had turned into a den of criminals but failed.
However, in 2006, the Kizitos got a lease for 13acres and got a management agreement where they were supposed to develop and manage it on behalf of Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
Whereas all was well, things turned sour when construction at Centenary Park commenced at the time when Nasser Sssebaggala was mayor. She started facing a series of hurdles in a bid to develop the area.
“All of a sudden we got info from our neighbor claiming that he has been given a title for 2 acres from the 13acres that we had contracted. We could not believe it and we ran straight to court, KCCA also took us to court that we had done some alterations in our plans which were actually very minor,” Sarah said.
It was until president intervened and decided that KCCA was wrong and that they should not have sold land which had already been given to another person. This first matter rising was however settled out of court after the two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which resolved that Harbour Investments keeps Plot 822 for 2acres and Nnalongo Estates got 3 and a half acres for their permanent structures and rest of the land remained as Centenary Park.
Lady Charlotte added that just when she thought all was settled and it was time to continue with their developments, by submitting their new plans with the alterations, all was turned upside down when KCCA started playing cat and mouse game by refusing to respond to their amended plans.
“So when (Jennifer) Musisi became the ED, we went to her asking for our plans, but she told us they had been misplaced and so we were told to resubmit, but did not still get any response. 5 years later, we got a rejection from the one which had submitted later and yet we even had proof that our plans had been approved. They even refused to give us occupational permit,” she said.
Lady Charlotte added that whereas they thought Musisi would become their survivor on Centenary Park woes, she has instead turned into their tormentor and frustrated them to the dot.
“Ever since Musisi came into KCCA we have not been able to do anything or any development whatsoever in this place. Everything has been a disaster. We have been on and off court,” Sarah Kizito said.
In 2012, the clash between Musisi and Sarah climaxed when the former terminated the latter’s contract and attempted to forcefully evict and demolish the structures at Centenary Park despite a court injunction.
“KCCA invaded us with a group of hooligans, I actually got a permanent fracture on my arm, my finger was broken, I can’t move it up and down and my arm can’t even cry 2kgs. I was undressed in front of my kids in public for no good reason. They didn’t even have anything to charge me when they took me to CPS,” Sarah recalls.
We were just lucky that the Minister of Trade (Amelia Kyambadde) had followed our story way back even when she was PPS and she had tried to intervene, she invited Jennifer for a meeting, but she didn’t show up.
While in court, we won the case and got Shs700m in compensation, because madam Musisi didn’t have power over the council. Council had told her not to carry out any evictions but she went ahead and attacked us.
After winning court case, we were waiting for our extension because the 5year initial time leases were expiring. But there was no response whatsoever from KCCA yet we were paying ground rent, premium, and everything was in order. But they refused to give us the extension.
Instead, Musisi had given us eviction letter to vacate by December 31 last year and leave vacate possessions.
So the council sat and decided that we did not do anything wrong to be evicted and therefore didn’t deserve her decision.
One wonders what is running in her (Musisi’s) head because we went to the same school, we come from the same village and we have never had a misunderstanding at all in our lives. But the way she is behaving, I really don’t know what is driving her.
Luckily enough a Good Samaritan managed to get for us our approved plans and occupational permit which they were hiding from us.
So legally, we are good even if they refuse to give us an extension, God will give us an automatic extension.
Consequently, on March 31, 2017, President Yoweri Museveni invited all the parties involved; Musisi didn’t attend but sent her legal team. During the meeting, UNRA boss, Allen Kagina told the president how the authority is planning to put up a flyover around Centenary Park and that structures must be demolished. Musisi’s representatives also backed the idea saying that National Water needed to put pipes that would pass through the structures and that the land was needed for infrastructure development.
However, Museveni made it very clear that there is no reason whatsoever why KCCA should not extend these leases because the plans were approved. He added that if UNRA wants to put up a flyover then they will have to compensate Lady Charlotte like any other person and insisted that everybody should be accommodated.
During the meeting, the president gave KCCA up to 3weeks to sort the ownership matter.
“So we expected our ownership fixed in 3 weeks but nothing has been done up to now. Instead, Musisi called us for a meeting and said that there is no land she is going to give us because the available land has already been committed to National Water and infrastructure developments despite the president’s directive,” Kizito said. Apparently, contractors are charging National Water Shs10m per day for the delays in the construction of sewage pipes.
Nevertheless, National Water has agreed to commence its works by passing their pipes outside the structures as ownership is still sorted.
“We have actually written another letter to Kampala minister telling her how Musisi has refused to implement president’s directive. All she wants is to evict us. But we hope this gets resolved soon, we are getting frustrated by the delays because our tenants don’t make money coz our customers think we are not here. And we have been like this for the last 8years, Centenary Park was booming before she started attacking us. I don’t know her purpose and what she is aiming at,” Sarah said.
(Adapted from Bwino Newspaper)