Deceased hotelier Bulaimu Muwanga Kibirige aka BMK was the epitome of local business success in the hotel industry. From scratch, he built the Hotel Africana dream from a small 42-room facility into an expansive national, regional and continental brand. Such business efficacy inspired so many Ugandan businessmen to copy and strive to be like him. One such silent tycoon is Joseph Ssettuba, the proprietor of Sir Jose hotel.
“My dream is to be like BMK so that I can build my hotel to be like Africana. You see BMK started with about only 42 rooms but by the time of his death they had grown to over 400 rooms,” Ssettuba intimated recently. But Ssettuba is not alone as tycoons Kirumira, Yanga among others have on record waxed lyrical about BMK’s influence upon them.
Last week however, the business community was cast into a frenzy after local publication Bukedde published what it called a leaked will of the tycoon. According to the report, BMK left his business in the hands of Susan Muhwezi, the wife to controversial minister Jim Muhwezi.
As per the said will, Muhwezi will oversee the operations of the Africana hotels as part of the professional lot left in the management of the hotel. Conversely, BMK’s children and other beneficiaries will be paid stipends arising from dividends and profits made from the businesses.
BMK Muhwezi Front Accusations
By Ugandan standards, BMK’s action is unprecedented and it is not surprising that it led to widespread chants of ‘ebintu bimaze ne biddira nnyinibyo’ (the wealth has finally been returned to the owner). To begin with, most cultures in the land dictate that a person’s wealth is almost by default bequeathed to relatives and children. Usually, these are clan mates. This wasn’t the case for BMK. One would have expected BMK to leave these things under stewardship of one of his clanmates or even prominent Muganda or Muslim buddies.
This however wasn’t these case; thus raising endless questions. Muhwezi hails from a different region and so many could not see the link that could make the departed tycoon “leave her in his things”. In fact, ever since this happened, many commentators opined that the only way things can play out in the way they are said to have played out is if BMK was a front for the Muhwezis. It is worth noting that in Uganda there’s a common fallacy that nobody can establish a multibillion empire and survive government sabotage. That the only businessmen that survive are those that either accept to work with the big generals or at worst, those that work for them as their fronts.
In this regard, it is worth noting that Susan’s husband Jim is a big-name general who is part of the NRA fighters; most of whom have since amassed a lot of wealth. It is thus easy to convince someone that he would have had the money to give to BMK. Secondly, Jim has been implicated in a number of big money scandals so it is natural for one to think that he could have stashed away some of this money and then gave it BMK to either give him a stake in his business or even buy him out.
Hotel Aficana extension land
The story is said that when late BMK wanted to expand his hotel, government gave him land near the controversial centenary park land. Ideally, this was supposed to be a wetland. However, he was able to reclaim it and establish a parking lot for the hotel’s patrons. The ease with which he got this land; and moreover in a wetland, convinced many that BMK could have had a powerful godfather in government— after all building in wetlands or even accessing and grabbing wetlands land is mainly a privilege of the high and mighty in the land.
Selling booze in his hotels
A few years ago, BMK got into issues with fellow Muslims who accused him of going against Islamic principles by selling booze in his hotels. A resolute BMK however quelled all such rebukes when he insisted that the booze would not make its way out of the hotels because having it was among the standards based on to rate the hotel. While his argument made business sense, many devout Muslims were not convinced. They were actually shocked that a staunch Muslim like BMK would defend the selling of booze in his hotels. This lent credence to the theory that he could have been a front who was simply working for an invisible master who had little to do with the concerns of Muslims.
The typical Ugandan tycoon is one who is always trapped in debt. This has been evident following the death of tycoons Mabiriizi, Ssemakula ‘General Parts’ and Andrew Zzimwe whose estates were so encumbered by loans that the beneficiaries had to lose some properties just to repay the huge loans. For BMK’s case however, not anything has been heard about loans, much to the bemusement of some Ugandans. It is however worth noting that in his book, BMK narrates how he was so religious and efficient at managing his debts and therefore always endeavored to pay his suppliers so as to keep in their good books.
This was reinforced by a recent clarification that was penned by his biographer Dennis Juuko. But despite the explanations, those that didn’t buy remained convinced that the man could have been a Muhwezi front and so it was possibly the Muhwezis that always pumped ceaseless millions in the business to steer it from accumulating any loans.
The real truth?
Despite the above theories, a credible theory has emerged to try and explain why, if indeed true, BMK decided to leave his wealth under the supervision of Susan Muhwezi.
A story is told that being an honest and straightforward businessman, BMK greatly despised people who amass wealth by employing shady and underhand methods. Unfortunately, by the time he neared his death he had learnt that many of the business cronies around him were not as straight as he would have expected them. It is at this juncture that the tycoon decided that he would not leave his children under such people lest they grab his children’s inheritance.
Sources say that towards his last days, BMK summoned all his 18 children first to Dubai and later Nairobi, where he read to them what he was leaving for each child and how he wanted the properties managed when he is gone. It is however said that in the said meetings, he stressed to his children not to deal with some so-called city tycoons because they were not very straight in their business dealings.
He thus promised to choose people who he thought were cool headed and without a huge appetite for his wealth. Sources say that it is through this criteria that he zeroed on Muhwezi’s wife Susan to be among these people. It should be noted that Suzan is a big-time hotelier and she is actually the chairperson of Uganda’s hoteliers’ association. This means she has vast experience in the business yet she is distant from the family in terms of blood ties and therefore it is unlikely she can stake any claim of BMK’s estate.