By Patrick Ocaido
On May 08, 2017, whereas members of the public were biting their nails in anticipation of the Financial Year 2017/18 National Budget, city tycoon Amina Morghe Hersi was lost in her thoughts wondering how to revamp what she termed as ‘her collapsing empire.’
Amina,52, was among the few chosen dignitaries who represented at Kampala Serena Hotel where Matia Kasaija, Minister of Finance was dividing the national cake.
To the Somali-born prominent businesswoman who has spent most of her time investing in Uganda, the national budget that was read last week means nothing to her. Amina whose investments include Oasis Shopping Mall, Atiak sugar factory in Northern Uganda and the Laburnam Courts Apartments, on Nakasero Hill adjacent to State House among others, says that Ugandans should prepare themselves for tougher times for as long as government does not start embracing local content.
“My brother, my entire empire is collapsing now what else can I comment about from the ministry’s national budget speech? So I really don’t want to talk badly about the budget because I am already struggling with my problems,” Amina said during an exclusive interview.
However, like any other persevering entrepreneur, Amina has not lost hope and believes that Uganda’s economy will one day stand tall if government starts supporting local content as highlighted by President Yoweri Museveni during the Budget Reading.
Asked to comment if she is not affected by Museveni’s statement not to cut interest rates for business people, Amina said,” I think the president’s speech was misunderstood. He (president) meant to say that he can only do so for the good of agriculture or industrialization. And that is why he was saying we need to support and encourage our local producers.”
Amina who was talking like a wounded lion did not have sweet words for government institutions and officials. To her, whereas President Museveni has very good ideas to support local content that will in turn employ local people and raise country’s GDP, he is only failed by his own institutions and government officials who are only encouraging imports.
“Let me give you an example. I am putting up a sugar factory in the North which is 70% complete. I got challenges because Crane Bank that was funding me closed. And now I have been appealing to the government to help me complete the factory, but they are not doing so and are not even restructuring my loan. Now tell me why we won’t continue facing ‘bad economy’ if we can’t support each other locally?”
She added, “Recently, my sister Amelia Kyambadde (Trade Minister) whom I respect very well, when there was crisis of sugar she wanted to import 30,000 tons of sugar without taxes. So I was telling Finance minister Kasaija if he calculated that tax waiver compared to the little money that I wanted to finish this factory so that we can produce more sugar for ourselves.”
“Now our people are looking for quick solutions. When we support local content, we employ our own people, we shall give business to our own country, the GDP will go up, but when you rely on import, you will lose the exchange rate and we shall also be giving jobs to other countries,” Amina cried out.
SUGAR CRISIS IN THE COUNTRY
Like they say, “What an old man sees sitting down, a young man cannot see standing up”, Amina thinks that the skyrocketing sugar prices in the country are not as a result of ‘bad economy’ or increased costs of production, but as a result of reduced sugar cane productivity due lack of nutrients in the soils.
As if that is not enough, Amina thinks that government faulted by issuing licences to several factories which do not even have their own out growers. Among those companies include; GM Sugar, Mayuge Sugar Industries and Kaliro that are all said to be struggling for the little sugar cane that farmers grow. This has in the short run led to sugar crisis in the country because pioneer sugar factories like Kakira and Lugazi have stopped investing in farmers through farming inputs for fear that they may still sell the cane to other factories.
“This is bad planning from the government. But now we shall not sit on the problem in the east, because in the north where I am, people have chunks and chunks of fertile land which they can use to plant cane. But our people in the government are not looking at this as a variable option,” she said.
Amina added that her attempts to engage the government to support local people to give them credit to engage in the industry have been futile.
“People in the north are poor, they can’t access credit. I even tried to get them money from Uganda Development Bank because they have co-operatives, but officials there told me Amina we need 3 years audited account from these people, we need tangible security. But these are poor people and the only wealth they have is their land. So these people are putting up all these terms and conditions so that they can bring foreign investors,” she said.
“It is our institutions that are encouraging foreigners to come and do things which we can do. And this is what the president has been preaching against. Now recently, they imported 100,000 tons of rice without tax. Do you know that in the whole of north, people have planted rice and even have no money for it?”
Upon completion, Amina is optimistic that her Atiak Sugar factory will turn things around for the betterment of the country for it will not only bring revenue, employment and development for the region, but will be championed as the first large scale industrial project for Northern Uganda.
This is only a dream come true if Dfcu restructures her loan and government bails her out to finish the mill.
AMINA’S JOURNEY TO SUCCESS
Shelving aside Amina’s business woes, the workaholic married business lady who has divorced twice in the past has a story of success to tell.
The mother of three was born on September 27, 1964 in Bungoma in the east of Kenya, where her mother, Sarah Hersi Ali, was a prominent businesswoman. There has been contentions on whether Amina is Kenyan or Somali, but businesswoman says that although she was not born in Somalia, her ancestors come from the northern Somalia near the Red Sea which is not even closer to East Africa.
Her grandfathers eventually came to Kenya because Somalia was colonized by two countries; Britain and Italy where Mogadishu and others areas was colonized by the latter while northern Somalia was colonized by the former. It is the British who then moved the intelligent Somalis to their other colony-Kenya to work as farm managers and this is how Amina’s grandfathers found themselves settling in Kenya.
She went to Lugulu Girls High School for both primary and secondary education before dropping out in S.4. It is at that moment that the 18year old Amina was introduced into his mother’s business where she started running a small hardware stall that only sold nails.
“This hardware was strictly selling nails because this is where people in Bungoma had problems. In a day I would sell like 1000 Kenya shillings (about Shs30,000) I would get tired by the end of the day but I was happy,” Amina said. It is the nail store that expanded further until she moved to settle in Uganda in the 1990s after she lost her two daughters in a motor accident. While in Uganda, she invested in real estate business that later expanded to multimillion dollar empire. She is now overseeing her $120 million sugar project that has of late stalled. Amina own the Oasis Centre, a multimillion-dollar shopping mall complex and grand scale luxurious apartment Laburnam Courts that are both situated in the center of the capital. She also runs one of the largest distributors of cement and other hardware materials in the country. In 2008, Amina received the Woman Investor of the year Award for her large-scale projects that are changing Kampala’s skyline.
(Adapted from Bwino Newspaper)