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Year In Review: Business Moments, Deals That Shaped & Defined 2023

A photo montage of some of the business moments that defined 2023

By Taddewo William Senyonyi and Francis Otucu

Uganda’s economy remained largely resilient in 2023 despite supply chain disruptions occasioned by the Russia-Ukraine war, regional geopolitical tensions, World Bank loan suspensions to Uganda.

The Bank of Uganda (BoU) projects economic growth at 6% in FY 2023/24 and increase to between 6% and 7% in the medium term.

“The growth outlook is, however, subject to uncertainties, including slower than expected global and regional growth; a resurgence of supply chain distortions if the geopolitical tensions escalate; tighter fiscal policy in part due to unfavourable global financial markets, which could restrict government development expenditure, tight credit conditions constraining household consumption and private sector investments,” Michael Atingi-Ego, the BoU Deputy Governor, said while issuing the Monetary Policy Statement for December 2023 at BoU headquarters in Kampala on Wednesday, December 6, 2023. A lot happens in the world of business in the course of the year and in this article, Business Focus, in no particular order brings you business moments and deals that defined 2023.

Drilling of oil wells starts

Drilling/ spudding of oil wells at the Kingfisher Oil Development Area officially kicked off on 25th January 2023 and was presided over by President Yoweri Museveni. Kingfisher is managed and operated by CNOOC Uganda on behalf of the joint venture partners including TotalEnergies EP Uganda with 56.67% shareholding, CNOOC Uganda with 28.33% and Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) with 15%. This is after the Government and the oil companies reached a Final Investment Decision (FID).

For the Tilenga project operated by TotalEnergies EP Uganda, drilling of production wells commenced in July.  The Uganda oil project envisions drilling over 450 wells on 35 well-pads, leading to an estimated production of 230,000 barrels of oil per day, at its peak once production commences. The country expects to have first oil in 2025. As a result of the government’s initiatives, it is calculated there will be in total an $8billion boost to local businesses during the four-year construction period.

Uganda Airlines Expands route network

Uganda Airlines’ business plan could have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the national carrier under the leadership of Jennifer Bamuturaki continues to make strides. On October 7, 2023, Uganda Airlines launched the historic direct flights from Entebbe International Airport (Uganda) to Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in India.

Additionally, on October 19, 2023, Uganda Airlines luanched direct flights from Entebbe to Lagos (Nigeria). Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy. Lagos became the airline’s 13th destination. Other destinations include Mumbai, Dubai, Johannesburg, Bujumbura, Nairobi, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Juba, Kinshasa and Mogadishu.

Uganda and Saudi Arabia also recently signed the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) that will facilitate scheduled international air services for airlines from both countries.

The airline has eyes set on Guangzhou and London as the next routes. 2024 should be an exciting year for the national carrier.

Troubled Patrick Bitature and Muhammad Hamid

A number of once successful Ugandan companies are increasingly falling to debts mainly advanced by South African lenders.

Patrick Bitature, a renowned businessman with a chain of businesses under the Simba Group of Companies, has been in the limelight for the past two years over failure to clear a  loan of US$ 10 million from a South African credit facility (Vantage Mezzanine Fund II Partnership). This was acquired in 2014 and he was supposed to pay back starting in 2017. However, he didn’t meet his financial obligations and court ruled that he has to cough a whopping $35m in fines. It’s however understood that he was bailed out by President Yoweri Museveni.

Bitature isn’t alone. Muhammad Hamid, the proprietor of Aya Investment Limited, is set to lose Pearl of Africa Hotel Kampala (formerly Aya hotel). This is after he lost a bid to stay the execution of an order to auction the hotel for non-payment of loans amounting to over US$ 300 million (Shs1.12 trillion). He acquired the loan from also South African lenders-International Development Corporation (IDC).Museveni has not yet weighed in at least publicly on the matter. Are Ugandan investors poor at managing loans and growth of their businesses or they are being ‘trapped’ into debts?

Bank frauds

While internet/online banking is the thing today, safety of customers’ deposits remains a big issue. Indeed, 2023 saw a number of banks hit by fraud scandals. In February, Stanbic Bank was  involved in the $1.8m (Shs6.8bn) fraud case that saw 10 suspects including five staff of the bank arrested.  The fraud was initiated and executed through impersonation of Abdulhakim Hussein, the director of Nile Energy Limited. Hussein is said to be a Kenyan national of Eritrean descent.

Conniving with the bank staff, within a week, between January 23 and February 1, the fraudsters were able to transfer the $1.8m in eight installments using the bank branches of Freedom City and Garden City. On February 2, Garden City branch security busted the racket after Tefera Okuba, the Eritrean who posed as Hussein, was netted while attempting to transfer more funds.

In the process, the Freedom City and Garden City managers David Ssekitto and Moses Ayesiga were arrested. Others bank officials arrested also included tellers Geoffrey Nsabagasan, Ritah Komukama and Phiona Nankya. Police also apprehended directors of companies where the money was transferred. These include Brian Natukunda, a sales executive of Kalimjee Energy, and directors of Famane Investment Company Ltd, Oman Ghebreyesus, Elijah Daniel Wanzu and Dede Fiona Bwende.

The bank confirmed the incident but maintained that there was no “intrusion into the bank’s system as alleged by some media reports.

Stanbic wasn’t alone in this. Equity Bank Uganda and Centenary Bank also came under spotlight after customers’ money went missing without their authorization. Equity quite often denied any wrongdoing while Centenary confirmed the incident of a customer who had lost Shs100m.

The Bank explained that “there was connivance between a fraudster and one of our staff to make a PIN reset which enabled transactions at agents where funds were withdrawn.”

“The staff has been taken for disciplinary action in line with our zero tolerance to fraud policy,” the Bank added. The Bank said it had immediately refunded the client “as other means are being sought to recover the funds.”  These are just a few of the many fraud cases that went unreported/public.

Death of Keith Muhakanizi, Aponye

In April 2023, Uganda lost one of her best brains, Keith Muhakanizi. He succumbed to cancer while receiving treatment in Milan, Italy. At the time of his death, Muhakanizi was the Permanent Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister.  Before moving next door to the OPM, Muhakanizi, a renowned economist, served as the Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. His was a key pillar to Uganda’s economy.

In a related development, in July 2023, businessman Apollo Nyagamehe alias Aponye died in a car crash at Itojo, Western Uganda. Aponye was a businessman and owner of Aponye business empire which includes Aponye Mall. He was into transport, real estate, value addition and grain among others. He was employing hundreds of Ugandans. Many indigenous owned businesses have collapsed after the death of the founder. Will Aponye’s businesses survive and keep his legacy?

Airtel Uganda IPO undersubscribed

In August 2023, Airtel Uganda opened up share sale to the public as it planned to raise 800 billion shillings at 100 shillings per share.

This as in fulfillment of the requirement of listing at least 20 percent of the Company’s total stock onto the Uganda Securities Exchange, as per the National Telecommunication Operator’s license acquired in 2021.

However, the company’s shares were undersubscribed as it received offers to buy 4.36 billion shares (54.45%) out of the 8 billion shares that were up for sale, raising 211.43 billion shillings. The company was cagey with information throughout the process.

Just like MTN, the Airtel IPO did not avail its mobile money business as part of the offer because the two businesses are run as separate entities under the law. Airtel is the second telecoms operator to float its shares to the public after MTN Uganda about two years ago.

 

NSSF Scandal

The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) had been free from scandals for many years. However, 2023 proved that allegations of corruption, influence peddling and delayed decision making  scandals  are back to haunt the savers.

The parliamentary Adhoc committee that investigated the NSSF mismanagement unearthed the rot at the Fund, calling for dismissal and prosecution of top managers.

As a result, Betty Amongi- the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, refused to renew the contract of Richard Byarugaba, who had served as Managing Director of NSSF since August 1, 2010.

In August 2023, Among appointed Patrick Ayota as the Managing Director of NSSF. Ayota was Byarugaba’s deputy. However, Byarugaba rushed to court to challenge Among’s refusal to reappoint him as well as stop Ayota’s appointment. This scandal isn’t just about to end as it will continue in the New Year.

Keith Kalyegira Out, Josephine Okui Ossiya In at CMA  

Keith Kalyegira quit Capital Markets Authority (CMA) after serving it as the Chief Executive Officer for 10 years. CMA is Uganda’s Financial Markets regulator. He will be substantively replaced by  Josephine Okui Ossiya in February 2024. When he assumed office in 2013, Kalyegira wanted at least one Initial Public Offer (IPO) every year, but this wasn’t to be. During his tenure, Cipla Qaulity Chemicals, MTN and Airtel Uganda listed on the USE. He also saw the USE market capitalization expand to Shs11.8 trillion. A huge task awaits Ossiya to make the capital markets more attractive to investors and address the challenges at hand.

Charles Mudiwa joins dfcu bank

In April 2023, dfcu Bank Limited appointed Charles M. Mudiwa as its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer.

He substantively replaced Mathias Katamba, who resigned his position in January 2023.

Mudiwa, a Zimbabwean brought on board over 26 years of experience in banking, with strong business leadership, success in turning around businesses and increasing business profitability. He took over the leadership of the bank at a critical time as it implements enhanced customer-obsessed strategy to transform lives and businesses with innovative solutions and empowered people. In a statement, dfcu described Mudiwa as a change agent who believes in providing the best enabling environments for all employees. Will he live up to his billing?

EACOP Progress

After years of foot-dragging between the governments of Uganda and Tanzania, the construction of the East African Crude Oil pipeline has been scheduled for early 2024. The exciting part of it is that contracts worth over sixty-five million dollars are up for grabs. The deals on offer are different from the ones already given up for early civil works for the longest-heated crude oil pipeline.

China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering Company Ltd (CPP) was contracted to construct the Pipeline and Above the Ground Installations (AGI) in Uganda and Tanzania. CPP’s National Content Manager, Matiya Bagatya told the just concluded 4th Annual National Content Conference 2023 that the project has reached an exciting moment for Ugandans to earn from $65 million deals.

 Wendi App

This is perhaps the biggest innovation in the banking sector in 2023. In November 2023, PostBank Uganda launched “Wendi App”, a platform designed to foster collaboration between multiple banks.

The App is poised to transform the banking landscape in Uganda, offering customers a one-stop solution to access a myriad of banking services across multiple institutions.

“Wendi Wallet is aimed at bringing more Ugandans into the money economy through affordability, elimination of papers, and the ability to collaborate with other banks. “With Wendi you don’t need to have an account with PostBank, you can still get the full service of Wendi, even if you are registered with another ban,”  said Julius Kakeeto, PostBank Uganda’s Managing Director.

 

 

 

 

Cipla Quality Chemical Acquired

Mauritian based investment company, Africa Capitalworks SSA 3, in November 2023 completed the acquisition of 51.18% stake in CIPLA Quality Chemical Industries Limited. Africa Capitalworks SSA 3 (ACW SSA 3) acquired 1,864,299,646 and 4,871,038 Ordinary Shares of Cipla Quality Chemical Industries Limited (QCIL) from Meditab Holdings Limited and Cipla (EU) Limited, respectively, collectively comprising 51.18% of the issued ordinary share capital of QCIL for USD25 million (94.62bn).

“The Company name will be changed back to Quality Chemical Industries Ltd as soon as practically possible, and shareholders will be notified accordingly. There has been no change in Management upon conclusion of the Transaction,” the Company said..

 

Ban on Coffee over deforestation

 

Recently, the European Parliament approved a landmark deforestation law banning imports into the European Union of coffee, beef,  cocoa, soy, and other commodities if they are linked to the destruction of the world’s forests.

This move, set to take effect in 2025, demands verifiable proof that goods weren’t produced on deforested land post-2020 to avoid substantial fines, aimed at combating climate change. Speaking about the said regulations, which will also include taking coffee exports from Uganda’s registered coffee farmers, Museveni said this time round he agrees with the European Union for the first time. Museveni revealed that by coming up with the said regulations, the EU will have helped him in the fight against deforestation.

According to data from the online forest tracking portal Global Forest Watch, Uganda has seen an increase in deforestation in the last decade. Records released in 2021 show that while in 2001, the country lost 297 km2 of forest, by 2020 the figure had more than doubled (736 km2 of forest lost in a single year). At least 60 percent of Uganda’s coffee exports go to the European Market. The debate is ongoing about this move and how Uganda will overcome it without adverse impact.

 

OPM iron sheets scandal

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in Uganda is synonymous with scandals.  In April 2023, nearly 22 ministers were accused of stealing iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja.

Consequently, Karamoja Affairs Minister, Mary Goretti Kitutu, was arrested and remanded to Luzira prison on three counts of corruption, conspiracy to defraud, and loss of government property. Others charged were junior Karamoja Affairs Minister Agnes Nandutu and Amos Lugoloobi, the junior Finance Minister.

 

Prosecution alleged that Kitutu caused a loss of public property between June 2022 and January 2023 by diverting 14,500 pre-painted iron sheets intended for the Karamoja Community Empowerment Program to her own benefit and that of third parties.

 

The police have been investigating at least 22 ministers, 31 MPs, and 13 chief administrative officers (CAOs) believed to have irregularly received the iron sheets meant for the vulnerable people of Karamoja sub-region. Some of those implicated include vice president Jessica Alupo, premier Robinah Nabbanja, speaker of parliament Anita Among, and all three Finance ministers among others. Some have since returned the iron sheets while those who were arrested are out of jail on bail.

URA Shines, Rewards Taxpayers

In November, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) held the 17th edition of the taxpayers appreciation awards ceremony under the theme: Celebrating the economic heroes of Uganda. URA used the occasion to recognize the most complaint taxpayers in the 2022/2023 Financial Year. Coca Cola Beverages Uganda Ltd emerged as the overall winner. Speaking at the event, the URA Commissioner General, John Rujoki Musinguzi said that although the taxman collected about 25.2 trillion in FY 2022/2023, “we are still far away from developing our nation.”

“We were tasked to raise the tax to GDP ratio from the current 14% to 20% in the next four years. Once we achieve this milestone, we should be able to fund our national budget without relying on external donors. Developed countries with a high tax-to-GDP ably fund their national budgets without borrowing,” he said.

To this end, Musinguzi said everyone needs to contribute their fair share of tax. URA is expected to collect nearly Shs30 trillion in the Financial Year 2023/2024.

In a related development, URA Chairman Board of Directors, Juma Kisaame was recognized as the Non-Executive Director of the Year, 2023 by the League of East African Directors (LEAD), an organization that recognizes good corporate governance and leadership.

The  Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA – Uganda) also awarded John R. Musinguzi as an outstanding leader of the year and URA as the government agency of the year. In the government agency of the year category, the URA beat Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and NITA-Uganda.

Uganda Successfully hosts AFRAA 55th AGA

Uganda through Uganda Airlines successfully hosted the 55th African Airlines Association (AFRAA) General Assembly from November 19 up to  November 21, 2023 at Speke Resort, Munyonyo in Kampala.  Held under the theme: ”Strides to Transform Aviation for Development,” the event attracted 569 delegates from 49 countries. African airlines and countries were urged to ease travel restrictions and embrace the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

Biyinzika Poultry Firm Collapse

Biyinzika which trades under brand names Pearl Chicken and Biyinzika Feeds has been sold.  Biyinzika is one of the leading suppliers of day-old chicks, poultry feeds, broilers, and branded and unbranded dressed chicken.

An American family has since bought Biyinzika Poultry International – one of Uganda’s top poultry breeder farm.

The transaction, whose terms were not disclosed, was advised by South African firm, Verdant Capital.

 

“Verdant Capital has advised a leading UK private equity firm on the sale of Biyinzika Poultry International Limited (“BPIL”), a vertically integrated poultry business in Uganda, to an investor consortium including a US single-family office and a regional industry executive,” said  The sale represented a 100% interest in BPIL,” Verdant Capital said in a statement.

BPIL was founded in 1990 as a poultry breeder farm and has grown over the years to establish itself as a key player in the Ugandan poultry industry.

In 2014, a venture capital fund known as 8 Miles provided equity to Biyinzika Poultry owned by businessman Samuel Mukasa for the company to expand. The company was renamed Biyinzika International.  At the time, the company wanted to sharpen its focus on new products for regional markets.  8 Miles eventually took over the management of the business, compelling Mukasa to open Biyinzika Enterprises Ltd which is now struggling with loans amounting to Shs40bn.

A number of the company’s properties are set to be auctioned and these include  Dina apartments which has 28 finished apartments(1 and 2 bedrooms), 2 blocks located at plots 131, 133 and 135 Ntinda road, land in Nakawa Division measuring 0.36 acres.

Others include; Land at Bulemezi Block 44 plots 59 and 67 at Namusansula, Kasambya measuring 41 acres developed with hatchery building; three poultry houses measuring 2500sq meters; servant quarters; a complete fully operational hatchery with equipment that has capacity of producing 460,000 chicks per week; Land and developments at Bulemezi Block 795, plot 8, Buswagiro, Luwero district measuring 100 acres developed with servants quarters, workshops shed and dam. It’s not yet clear if Government will bailout the company.

 

 

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