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Kitaka, the brain behind Africa’s first ARVs factory

By Vision Reporter

Added 31st October 2007 03:00 AM

There are three most important things that reveal the character and personality of a person: What people say about the person, his track record, and his achievements.

By Elvis Basudde and Robert Kasozi

There are three most important things that reveal the character and personality of a person: What people say about the person, his track record, and his achievements.

The fact that Francis Xavier Kitaka is a first Ugandan to run a privately owned veterinary pharmaceutical business in Uganda, and is the first biochemist in East Africa is not the only thing that lends colour to his personality.

Kitaka is also the brain behind Africa’s first anti-retroviral and anti-malaria manufacturing plant.

The Luzira-based $36m factory is a joint venture between Quality Chemicals Industries Ltd, for which Kitaka is the chairman, and Cipla Ltd of India.

The factory, when completed, will produce two million tablets a day, improving not only the availability but also the affordability of the drugs. It will also employ 500 skilled and 2,000 unskilled labour.

In his office at Nasser Road, Kitaka talks with dignity about this achievement. His love for style is evident in his neat office setting. Seven photos of his children in their graduation attire hang on the wall. Where you would have expected to see the tag: “Chairman/Chief Executive” on the table is “Our God is Good”, a true reflection of Kitaka’s faith in God.

But, most striking is his appearance. You cannot believe this gentleman, with his smooth and unblemished skin, is 72 years old.

His eyes sparkle as he talk: “We were born six to Monica and Celestino Mayambala Musoke. I was born 72 years ago. In 1943, my family moved to Bunnamwaya, and the following year, I was admitted to Rubaga Primary School.”

In 1948 Kitaka was admitted to Bukalasa Minor Seminary, but after two years, he was expelled while in Junior Two because he went to church wearing bathroom sandals.

The following year, Kitaka was admitted to Rubaga Boys’ Secondary School where he did his Junior Leaving Examinations in 1952. He wanted to join St Mary’s College Kisubi but was refused admission by Brother John Leonard, the headmaster, because of his bad report.

“Come back here with your results. If you have done well, we shall accept you. If you excel in your exams, we shall admit you,” the headmaster told him.

“I went back nine times on a bicycle, to show him I was determined. I was stubborn and very argumentative,” he recalls.

Like the biblical persistent gentile woman who pleaded to Jesus a number of times until Jesus had mercy on her, Brother Leonard was touched and eventually Kitaka got got a place at Kisubi from 1952 to 1954, before he did his Cambridge exams.

Surprisingly, when the results came out, Kitaka had performed excellently, which earned him scholarships from both the Buganda and the Central governments, each giving him a bursary of sh250 and sh200, respectively, though he only needed sh400 for his tuition at Kisubi.

In 1955, Kitaka was admitted to Makerere University Faculty of Science for the intermediate course for two years. This was equivalent to advanced level. In 1957, he joined the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Makerere University for a general diploma.

He worked with the Animal Health Research Centre in Entebbe in 1961, and shortly after the government gave him a scholarship to do biochemistry at Aberdeen University, Scotland. After graduation, Kitaka became the first African biochemist in East Africa.

He worked with Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen for eight years, before coming back to Uganda in 1968 to join the Tick Control Department, of the Ministry of Agriculture as an entomologist.

“My first assignment was to start dip tanks. I wrote a paper proving that the tick was resistant to chlorinated hydrocarbons. This earned me a job in a private company. I joined Welcome Uganda Limited, a British company, in 1972 as a sales manager.”

Kitaka took charge of the company after Bernard Bazibu, who was the managing director, joined the guerrilla struggle in 1972. That same year, Asians were expelled and some Europeans left the country. This resulted in the closure of many companies. Kitaka became one of the many innocent Ugandans who came face to face with Amin’s murderous soldiers.

“My bosses requested me to close since the British were going. I told them I was not closing because I was not a politician. The situation became worse, especially at the beginning 1976 and I ended up in prison, following a local newspaper story that Welcome was selling medicine to spies,” he recalls.”

“September 1976 is still very vivid in my mind. I was picked up from Metropole House by Amin’s men and taken to Makindye Military Barracks. They accused me of spying for the British,” he recalls.

After two days, Kitaka was transferred to Naguru State Research Centre where he was supposed to be killed. They started beating me as soon as I was put in, and Friday was the days he was supposed to die.

Amin’s notorious state research men, who included Kassimu Obura and Ssebi, took out prisoners chained in pairs for execution. Kitaka was in the second set.

“I saw gunmen emptying their magazine on the first prisoner, causing terror in the other prisoners to an extent that some of them started pissing and passing stool in their trousers. The sight and smell disgusted the gunman and he ordered us back to the cells. That is how we survived.” he narrates.

Kitaka was last thrown behind bars in 1985 during the Uganda National Liberation Force and the National Resistance Army peace talks. He had gone to Nairobi to order for drugs, and while there, his friend called and warned him not to return to Uganda. But since he had done nothing, he ignored the advice.

Six National Security Agency (NASA) men stormed his office and took him to Nile Mansions for interrogation. They let him go after finding him innocent.

In November 1995 as he was driving to his brother’s home in Kansanga when robbers waylaid him. They shot at him but he never stopped. He started feeling weak as he had lost a lot of blood and he was taken to Nsambya Hospital.

On hearing about his misfortune, the president offered to fly him to the UK for treatment where he stayed for two months. A good turn deserves another. Kitaka was treated the president’s cattle.

In 1989, Kitaka teamed up with Welcome East Africa, which had two divisions; human and veterinary medicine. The same year, they wanted to sell it to Americans who were reluctant to invest in Uganda fearing political unrest. Kitaka, with two colleagues, Edward Martin and Randall Tierney, bought it, and renamed it Cooper Uganda Limited. In 1994, the three bought the building and named it MTK Holdings Limited (after their names).

Two more investors, George Baguma and Fred Kitaka Mutebi, joined the trio. Kitaka was pressurised to set up another company to bring generic drugs. This saw Emmanuel Katongole join them. In 1998 they bought Prince Jjuuko House at Katwe, which is now Quality Chemicals House.

In 2003 while at the Embassy of Ireland, Kitaka and his colleagues met the Indian commissioner who told them that an Indian pharmaceutical firm was looking for a serious partner to work with in Uganda. They went to India and met Cipla representatives. From then, they started importing the drugs to Uganda.

They convinced the Cipla to build a factory to manufacture ARVs. They bought a piece of land in 2004 and on September 3, 2005, President Yoweri Museveni did a ground breaking. The factory is to be run by Quality Chemical Industries, which owns 50% and Cipla with 50%. Quality “Everything is possible with God. But the bottom line is you must be trustworthy. We have been getting all the drugs on credit. With devotion and determination, things are possible. This project is a product of the president’s vision of building local capacity and creating self-reliance in the provision of these key remedies,” Kitaka says.

Francis Kitaka has a good sense of humour is dynamism. As we wind up the interview, he leads us to his executive Mercedes Benz, parked outside and demonstrates how he can open it and start it without a key. “It only has to sense my body. Look,” he says as he stretches his hand towards the vehicle to command it to open, and, indeed, it opens.

He enters and opens for us to see: “You see, I can start it without a key.” It starts and we are left speechless.

Kitaka, the brain behind Africa’s first ARVs factory

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