Uganda’s female entrepreneur Moghe takes capital to new heights

Amina Hersi Moghe is one of Kampala’s leading entrepreneurs. Her role in developing the city’s urban lifestyle has made her The New Economy’s African Businesswoman of the Year

  • Monday, July 14th, 2014

Moghe (third from right) tours Uganda’s first 24-hour supermarket Oasis Shopping Mall with President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (fourth from right)

After decades of civil strife and uncertainty, the East African region is emerging as a hot spot for business and investment. Uganda endured a challenging past that saw most of its economic infrastructure completely destroyed: but now the country is rebuilding with new confidence inspired by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who was instrumental in bringing peace and stability to a scarred nation.

And contrary to the norm, leading the new drive to economic recovery is a woman: Amina Hersi Moghe (MBS). She has turned around several multimillion-dollar projects that have dramatically changed the face of Kampala. What is even more surprising is that Moghe was able to do this during a particularly hard time for the global economy following the financial crisis.

[Mogue] has turned around several multimillion-dollar projects that have dramatically changed the face of Kampala

After completing a 40,000sq ft shopping mall and 164 luxury apartments in the heart of Kampala, Moghe is now working to kick-start a sugar-milling project that seeks to improve the welfare of over 600 rural women in Pacilo Parish, approximately 300km from Kampala. The sugar project aims to employ over 1,500 people directly with over 5,000 out growers. On this project, Moghe is working in partnership with the Gulu Women Entrepreneurs Association, whose aim is to develop the districts of Amuru, Atiak, Kamdin and Noya Districts in Northern Uganda.

The entrepreneur
Moghe started her journey in business at an early age and began sharpening her skills by running errands for her parents across the Kenya-Uganda border. Later, she decided to relocate and set up business in Kampala, where she opened a hardware shop. Today, Kingstone Hardware Store is one of the largest distributors of construction materials in the city.

After capturing the construction materials sector, Moghe diversified her business to real estate and began the construction of one of the biggest and most eye-catching malls in Kampala: the Oasis Shopping Mall, which houses Nakumatt (the leading supermarket in East Africa), banks, restaurants and retail shops.

Moghe’s investments in property have been getting bolder over the years. At the same time she was building the Oasis Shopping Mall, Moghe was constructing Laburnam Courts on Nakasero Road in Kampala: a top-end, luxury and fully serviced accommodation facility consisting of over 120 three, two and one bedroom apartments. These are now complete and fully occupied. Through the projects, Moghe has provided employment directly and indirectly to over 6,000 people – mostly women. In all her investments, Moghe ensures women are given equal opportunities and that they play an integral role in management.

Recognition for Moghe
Because of her industry and zeal to promote women in entrepreneurship, Moghe has won recognition and praise from local and regional business leaders. In 2008, she was named the Best Woman Investor by the Uganda Investment Authority for concurrently developing two landmark projects in Kampala: the Laburnum Apartments and the Oasis Mall. In 2012, she was awarded the Best Woman Entrepreneur by the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Limited (UWEAL). In 2013, Moghe was awarded the Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS) by Kenya’s former President Mwai Kibaki for her zeal and determination in fostering regional business, which is the key driver of regional integration.

Moghe’s determination and unique ability to make things happen has endeared her to several African heads of state, who have personally visited her projects to witness first-hand the transformation and impact they have had on the city and its people. These include: His Excellency (HE) Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda; HE Mwai Kibaki, former President of the Republic of Kenya; HE Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi; HE Rupiah Banda, former President of Zambia; HE Kalonzo Musyoka, former Vice President of the Republic of Kenya; and many dignitaries from the East African region and beyond.

These achievements are in spite of the fact Moghe had only a basic education; her family preferred introducing her to business at an early age and the community was not keen to advocate further education for a girl. Moghe acknowledges the importance of formal education and is involved in social responsibility work in girls’ schools in and around Kampala.

Changing Uganda’s urban lifestyle
Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, has seen massive transformations in the past few years. The most notable has been in the real estate sector, especially in the development of shopping malls. The transformation has not been in just the physical structures of the city, but also in the lifestyles of the fast expanding, upwardly mobile middle class. As the continent rapidly urbanises, malls are increasingly becoming central to the urban African lifestyle.

Just over five years ago, the Oasis Mall opened its doors to the public in Kampala and began the mall trend in Uganda. Though other malls have been sprouting up ever since, none have been able to match Oasis’s stature. Centrally located, just as you drive out of the busy central business district, the mall is a booming centre of activity for shoppers, business meetings, social lunches, people doing some banking and many other things, as the heavy city traffic eases away nearby.

With 13,200sq m of rented space, the Oasis Mall sits on four acres of land, making it one of the biggest shopping malls in the city. The mall ushered a new age in Ugandans’ shopping experience. It was not just about convenience – though shoppers could find everything from food to pharmaceuticals, clothes to electronics, banks to telecom providers, furniture to big screen movies under one roof – it became the place to be seen anytime of the day, and the place to try on new identities with a line up of multinational and regional brands housed there.

The most prominent store in the Oasis Shopping Mall is Nakumatt, which is East Africa’s biggest retail chain. It was the first to open a 24-hour supermarket in the country – a trend that is now catching on, with other retail stores specifically targeting the young urban dwellers who are otherwise occupied during the day. The mall is the social heart of the city, where the young and trendy – as well as the increasing number of expatriates working for multinationals and tourists – want to be spotted. The Hub offers just the place to be.

The Hub is an entertainment area in the mall that takes up two floors above Nakumatt. It is the only entertainment space in Uganda that fuses a cinema, a lounge, a bar and a library into one, giving everyone of every age group and hobby preferences something to indulge in.

The other centre of attraction is the food court, occupying a whole floor, where you will find families and food lovers indulging in their favourite cuisine. There are also several other restaurants open in different parts of the mall, while coffee lovers will find Café Javas on the terrace. The latter has become one of the city’s most popular coffee shops, being not only an important place for business meetings, but also the place to be for those who want to have a quick bite in a trendy environment.

Several local and international banks take up the rest of the terrace, along with telecom services providers, pharmacies and many other services. The banks found on the terrace include Equity Bank, KCB Uganda, Tropical Bank, Bank of Africa and Diamond Trust Bank.

Back inside the mall, there are different fashion shops, including Mr Price, Giovani, Indulgence, Bata, Arapapa, Kiddiez Closet and Peri Styles, offering shoppers a range of clothing from both internationally recognised designers and local African ones. There is also a range of renowned jewellers, opticians and cosmetic shops to choose from.

Background: Ugandan economic forecast

There has been a positive mood around Uganda since the announcement the country may join the league of oil producing countries following the discovery of oil deposits in the Albertine Graben. Though it may still be some time before any commercial oil activities start, there are good indications the economy is headed for better times.

The planned 60,000-barrels-per-day refinery will require an investment of $4bn and will be developed through a public-private partnership. This is driving investments throughout the economy. As a result, infrastructure projects in the transport and energy sectors are being implemented faster than expected, boosting domestic demand.

Analysts say there is still a lot of unexploited potential in the Ugandan economy and the activities surrounding the oil discoveries are seen as key to unlocking this potential in every sector. “Growth in real economic activity for the fiscal year 2014/15 is forecast to remain relatively strong, in the range of 6.0-6.5 percent, supported by public investment in infrastructure, domestic demand and the recovery in global economic activity,” says Deputy Central Bank Governor Louis Kasekende.

This is almost in line the World Bank prediction of six percent GDP growth. Besides improved agricultural output, the World Bank sees public investment and a more favourable manufacturing environment as key economic drivers.

In December, Kasekende announced the Bank of Uganda’s decision to retain the base lending rate at 11.50 percent in its continued effort to keep inflation at a moderate level. The Bank of Uganda has aggressively been trying to control inflation at a moderate level for the last few years. Headline year-on-year inflation slipped to 6.7 percent in the year to April, from 7.1 percent in the year to March. It has lingered steadily around seven percent since late last year.

Uganda has set itself the target of reaching middle-income status by 2020. Though there are still a significant number of Ugandans living in poverty, the country’s leadership still see this goal as achievable. The World Bank has already reported that the number of people in the country living in poverty declined to 24.5 percent in 2009/10. A 2011/12 Uganda National Household Survey (released in November 2013) indicated the poverty headcount ratio further declined to 22.0 percent; that means Uganda has already surpassed the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of halving the 56 percent poverty rate recorded in 1992/93.

Uganda’s population was estimated to be 35.4 million in mid-2013, with more than half of those people being under 30 years old. That young population has been the basis for massive investment interest from global giants such as Google and Samsung, who have recently found new and expanding markets in East Africa. The young population is expected to form the cornerstone of the economy in the not so distant future.