ACHIEVER – Siraje Sserunjogi, 37 owner of Kikonge Investments
Siraje Sserunjogi walks with an easy gait that befits a thriving businessman. He owns Kikonge Investments, a multi-national company that runs four fuel stations, and an outlet that deals in fire-fighting equipment. He also co-owns a 200-acre fruit farm with his father.
Since the Budo Junior School fire tragedy, he has been promoting cheap but effective fire detectors from the UK. He has also an established transport haulage company. He employs over 50 casual and part-time workers in his various enterprises.
Thirty-seven year old Sserunjogi was born Hajji Abubaker Magala of Kikonge, Mityana District in 1973. He went to Jjeza Primary School, then to Kibibi and Gombe for O’level.
In the early 1990s, while residing in Luzira, he worked as a food vendor in Owino market. His earnings were meagre to say the least. He sometimes walked to and from work because he has no money.
In 1996, after failing to break through, he took his little savings and returned to the village and started buying coffee.
With sh40,000 as part of his savings, he bought a bicycle and a weighing scale.
“I moved around the village buying coffee. At the end of that season I had saved enough money to buy a second hand motorbike, a Yamaha Mate,” he says.
At the end of the 1997 season, he had saved sh2.7m as his capital. Unfortunately, he lost it all.
“My friend borrowed all my profit from my coffee sales but did not pay back. I became broke. All I had was my treasured motorbike,” he says.
He sold his motorbike and moved to Kikandwa in Kasanda District. Back to using a bicycle, he continued to work hard, with the aim of going for kyeyo in Japan. However, he ended up in London.
In the first week of his stay in London, Sserunjogi took a walk around.
“Suddenly, I met a group of Ugandan and told them I was looking for a job. Word went around the Ugandan community about a young man from home, looking for a job,” he recalls.
One of the Ugandans knew a place that needed a car washer. Sserunjogi grabbed the opportunity with open hands. “I worked diligently at the car washing bay and my bosses liked me. I was earning £27 (sh70,000) per day. I saved every penny I got,” he says. He then moved to Heathrow Airport before becoming a taxi driver.
“After several years, I decided to return home because going for kyeyo should never be an end itself. However, whoever wants to go for kyeyo should realise that things are not as rosy as they seem,” he cautions.
Starting the fuel business
Sserunjogi did not initially have the idea of dealing in fuel. It was in 2002, after his return from the UK that he realised that there was no fuel in Kikandwa town. He discovered that sometimes it took months for the town to get fuel.
“I enquired about the owner of the always empty fuel pump in the area and I was told it was owned by re-known businessman Godfrey Kirumira. I decided to ask him for it so I can run it,” he says.
From that time to date, Kasanda has never run out of fuel. Being a new field he was venturing in, Sserunjogi was bound to make losses.
“In the first week, I made losses of sh. 600,000 but I was okay, because I knew it was a learning experience,” he says.
As he was to later learn, the fuel business is very risky. However, it pays once you learn how to mitigate the profit margin.
A few months later, Kirumira was constructing the fuel station at Katwe near the bridge. Sserunjogi still asked him for premises.
“As ot was with the Kasanda fuel station, we made an agreement and I took it over,” he says. It is at this Gelp Fuel Station that he coordinates his businesses.
He also has a fuel station in Kyegegwa, in Toro and is in the process of constructing a fuel station in Kiboga.
Two years ago when fuel scarcely was at its peak in Uganda, Sserunjogi never ran out of fuel at his stations. “I did not want to lose my customers. Sometimes I bought the fuel more expensively but sold it to my customers at a lower price,” he says.
Expanding to other areas
The 2008 Buddo Junior fire tragedy gave Sserunjogi an opportunity to venture into selling fire-fighting equipment in Uganda.
He could not figure out why many innocent children had to die because of someone else’s carelessness. His investigation showed him ignorance about how to handle fires contributed a great deal.
“In the UK, I had undergone training in fire safety. I also realised that in Europe, having fire warning systems in a house was a mandatory requirement. After the Budo tragedy, I decided to sensitise Ugandan about fire safety,” he says. “I am happy with the response from private schools. While government schools have enquired about our items, it is mainly private schools that have acquired them,” he says.
Sserunjogi is also happy that his venture has created a much wider business initiative. “Before I bought these things, no businessman thought they were useful,” he says. But now, there are several other businessmen doing it. His father, Magala, runs the family farm in Kikonge, Mityana, in which Sserunjogi has invested heavily.
“Sserunjogi is focused and that is what is propelling him to bigger heights,” Magala says of his son, as they take a tour of the vast farm.
Sserunjogi’s biggest challenge is poor payments from clients. Also, “some of them go to clients and claim to be coming from here, while others sell sub-standard equipment,” he says.
Sserunjogi is generally a satisfied businessman. One of his employees says he is a patient and focussed man.
“He is the fulcrum of this business. He moves it because he always sees further than many of us do,” he says.
“As I prepare to take my leave, Sserunjogi says, “I believe in perfection, diligence and trust in business. These are the tenets that have kept me running,” he concludes. He enjoys watching motor sports.
A TYPICAL DAILY SCHEDULE….
- As a Muslim it is prayer at 6:00 am.
- He has breakfast and drives from his home near Lutembe to office in Kitwe.
- He reviews the previous day’s work.
- He meets his managers and makes sure the service van which transports his field service workers has left.
- If there are goods to clear with customs, he goes to clear them. He sometimes visits the farm in Kikonge.
- Generally, he spends the day at office supervising the business.