Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Vero Water Discovery

When we think of entrepreneurs, the usual names spring to mind – Wava, Ruparelia, Hirji, Kabonero and Kirumira for example. However, out there, there are many more entrepreneurs that we never hear of and whose investments are almost on the same grand scale as the people I have just mentioned.

Enter Emmanuel Katongole. I know Katongole but only on a hello basis. In addition, in the little that I know of him, I learned that he is a wealthy man who has done good with the dime he has minted.

A few weeks ago, an invitation card lands on my desk, which, read something along the lines of: “The chairman of Vero Foods Ltd, cordially invites you to the launch of Vero Water at Namanve Industrial Park.” Usually such invites and without hesitation, I toss in the bin for when it comes to launches of the liquid kind, any sane person will tell you it has to be a Tusker Malt launch – Period!
However, seeing that the invite was followed up by relentless phone calls from Robert Semakula, who I gathered was the General Manager and Paul Lukwago the Marketing Manager, I grudgingly attended.

It turns out that the launch was worth my while. In the presence of President Museveni, Katongole not only assured, but was forthright and to the point. One of the things he harped on about was the slow pace the government is taking over developing Namanve Industrial Park. “Mr. President, ten years and nothing has been done. We can’t afford this slow pace.” he said.

Katongole then went on to introduce one of his investors, a young man who at 19 years old, had attained a Masters degree and in his working life, had worked for the investment bankers, Meryll Lynch and also has a fat bank account that, runs into the billions of American dollars.

When Investor spoke, he was eloquent with a full axe-so (which means ‘accent’ for the benefit of the people who do not know bling lingo (language). And yes, with every word that he spewed out, there were traces of the Masters degree that he attained.

And when he spoke, everybody listened to what he had to say – right down from President Museveni, the host Katongole, Richard Byarugaba, the MD of NSSF, the former and current Mayor of Kampala, Ssebbana Kizito and Nasser Ssebagala, the staff from Serena Hotel who did the catering to the drivers, security personnel and the odd villager from Bajjo where, Katongole has his country house – (Eh, what a crib!)
So where am I going with this Cowardly Tale? I think I have been rambling but lucky for me Sidney, my editor that is, is on leave so I can afford to ramble.

By the way, did I tell you that the young Masters degree holder is called Zain and because of his name, it was the beginning of my problems? This is how it went. I am behind the buses and cars were the drivers, security guards and the casuals are holed up and puffing on a Sportsman cigarette instead of Dunhill because the people at BAT don’t feel me anymore when I hear the kaboozi. Because Investor is called Zain, they think he used to own Zain, the telecommunications company until he sold to Airtel.

In Luganda a man is saying, “Have you seen the young the young man who used to own Zain? When he sold the company to Airtel, he made millions! The guy is loaded. Wherever he goes, he carries airtime of one million American dollars. Do you think that Katongole worries about his bill? Look at him making all those endless calls. I even heard that when he leaves the function he is going to give us free phones and airtime.” He went to add that: “When he flew in, he came in a private jet. At that, Security Guards, Casuals, Bus and Car Drivers went wild. Zain, was their man - their charlie, gangsta, nigga and muloodi’.

But really, what a story! I had to seek out Story Teller and correct him. It was my duty, part of my social responsibility – not so?

So I put it to him straight in front of all his listeners and rather than thanking me for correcting him, he goes livid! “Just because you are wearing a tie you think you know more than I do? Do you know that I went to school? I grew up with Katongole and I know all his friends. That man Zain, used to own Zain the telecommunications company then he sold it to the Arabs for $40 billion. The next day he ordered two jets that have a sauna and steam in them. You go to Entebbe Airport, you will see them parked side by side.” With that, his listeners went wild once again.

Suddenly I was being accused of being everything from an imposter, to a gatecrasher and a fake who didn’t go to school. They followed up their accusations chants of: “Show us your invitation card, show us your invitation card!”

Okay so I didn’t have an invitation card – it was a verbal one. I tried to explain myself but they were not having anything of it. As I looked round for help in the marquee, I could see Katongole but it would have been rude to interrupt him seeing he was talking to Nasser Ssebagala and Ssebbana Kizito.

So I went in for plan B. “Everybody here will get a free carton of Vero Water” I said. And just like that, the impending hurricane of the kibookos that they were about to unleash on me went into a simmer then settled. Had I become an icon and found a cure to avoid being roughed and beaten up in Vero Water? Let me go call and tell Kizza Besigye.


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