By Sebidde Kiryowa
Ugandan businessman Sudhir Ruparelia is the richest man in East Africa and comes in at a prestigious number 18 in the whole of Africa according to the second ‘Africa’s 40 Richest’ list released by Forbes magazine on Tuesday.
“I’m shocked, but definitely very pleased,” said Ruparelia, the first Ugandan ever to scale these heights.
“Ugandan businessmen have come a very long way. Everybody has the same opportunities to make it here.
The oil is here and we have not even got started on that yet so, certainly, the best is yet to come,” he said on Friday.
Forbes is an American business magazine well known for its lists of the richest Americans (the Forbes 400), highest-paid stars under 30, and its list of billionaires.
Forbes’ list tracks the wealth of African citizens who reside on the continent, thus excluding Sudanese-born billionaire Mo Ibrahim, who is a U.K. citizen and billionaire London resident Mohamed Al-Fayed, an Egyptian citizen.
They calculated net worths using stock prices and exchange rates from the close of business on Friday, November 9, 2012. To value privately-held businesses, they coupled estimates of revenues or profits with prevailing price-to-sales or price-toearnings ratios for similar public companies.
Ruparelia, 56, whose net worth the magazine estimates at a staggering $900m (sh2.34 trillion), is among 10 newcomers who have joined the ranks, including, for the first time, two women.true
Aliko Dangote of Nigeria tops the list for the second year running, with a net worth of $12b, up from $10.1b in November 2011. Most of his net worth lies in publicly traded Dangote Cement, which operates in 14 African countries.
Nicky Oppenheimer of South Africa comes in once again as the second richest, with a $6.4b fortune – down $100m from a year ago. South Africa, the continent’s economic giant, is home to 12 of Africa’s 40 richest, followed by Nigeria with 11. Egypt comes next with 8 members, and Morocco with 5.
Ruparelia has made his money through Uganda’s largest privately held conglomerate – Ruparelia Group of Companies which is into banking, insurance, hospitality, conventions & leisure centres, education, property development, property management and floriculture among others.
He is the single largest private property owner in Uganda. Forbes, which quotes the Uganda Land Alliance, says he owns close to 300 prime residential and commercial properties in some of Kampala’s swankiest neighbourhoods alone.
In fact, Forbes quotes President Yoweri Museveni as saying Ruparelia’s real estate concerns rake in as much money as the entire country earns from exporting tea and coffee – about $400m a year.
Some of these assets include Crane Chambers, the headquarters of his empire on Kampala Road and City House, home to the offices for 150 of Uganda’s MPs.
He is currently undertaking three massive construction projects around the city along Kampala road opposite Post Office, on Luwum Street facing the park and a modern state-of-the-art hospital in the place where the former Chief of Military Intelligence was headquartered on Kitante Road.
He recently acquired a huge chunk of land where Ssese Gateway was located on Entebbe Road where it is rumoured he plans to build a university. Sudhir also owns many commercial and residential properties in Rwanda, Southern Sudan, UAE and the UK.
Most of these properties are managed by Crane Management Services Limited, his own property management company.
His Crane Bank is Uganda’s second largest commercial bank, turning in an annual profit of over $40m. Affiliated to this is Crane Forex Bureau. Sudhir owns Speke Resort & Conference Centre Ltd (valued at over $150m); Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort Ltd, Speke Hotel, Kabira Country Club, Tourist Hotel; Speke apartments; Equator Rafts & Speke Resort, Bujagali and Sanyu FM.
His Rosebud Ltd is the country’s largest exporter of roses, commanding around 35% of Uganda’s rose export market.
He owns Kampala Parents School, a premium local primary school and Kampala International School of Uganda (KISU), a sprawling state-of-the-art international school.
The magnificent Kabira Country Club that sits in Bukoto is one of Sudhir's many highly valued possessions.
However, it was not always smooth sailing for Ruparelia. He was born in 1956 in Kabatoro, Kasese, a small town in western Uganda.
His parents owned three successful retail outlets in Kabatoro and Ruparelia honed his first business skills working with his parents.
In August 1972, when Ruparelia was only 16, then- President Idi Amin expelled all Asians and Ugandans of Asian descent living in the country.
It was an ethnic cleansing of sorts, with the Ugandan government claiming that the Indians were “hoarding wealth and goods to the detriment of indigenous Africans and “sabotaging” the Ugandan economy.”
“It was a frantic atmosphere, so my parents, who had British passports, decided to relocate to the UK. We were supposed to join them. After queuing for long hours at the
British High Commission, we obtained the necessary permits and I went to the U.K,” Ruparelia told Forbes. But he did not live with his parents in the UK. They had gone to the north but the young Ruparelia headed south, nearer to London.
“I wanted to be my own man, free from parental control. I wanted to achieve my own things and live my own dreams,” Ruparelia says.
“I had two priorities: I wanted to feed myself and I wanted to complete my education. But the former was more important than the latter.”
Ruparelia took a job in a factory making test tubes which were used for experiments in chemistry laboratories. With the money he earned, he was able to pay rent for his room and buy food. He also enrolled to do his O’level and subsequently went on to do his A’level in accountancy-related subjects.
His initial plan was to become an accountant, but Ruparelia realised he enjoyed the thrill of making money even more. That marked the end of his formal education. “At that time, while I was studying, I was holding two or three jobs at the same time,” he told Forbes. “I remember I worked night shifts in a supermarket shelving cans and boxes. I also drove taxis during the weekend.”
As Sudhir recounted his taxi-driving days, his eyes light up gleefully: “The beautiful thing is that the government of Lady Thatcher had deregulated the taxi sector and so private individuals were allowed to run their own taxis in the suburbs and over long distances.
A central called in taxis over radio-phone. It was fun because there was an aspect of adventure to it. You never knew who you were picking up. I ferried everyone from drug lords to fashionable girls who were going on their dates. Sometimes they would give me a big tip.”
By 1974, Sudhir had saved up enough money to buy a house. He was only 18. The next few years were the most definitive in his life. In 1977, he got married to Jyostna, a banker.
They lived in the U.K. and he kept doing odd jobs and saving religiously, but the young, restless businessman was itching to return to his homeland. “I loved the UK, but my heart was in Uganda,” Ruparelia is quoted as saying by Forbes.
Speke Resort Munyonyo is another of the businessman's wealth.
He was keeping tabs on developments in Uganda from his base in the UK. Whenever some prominent Ugandan businessman came to London to procure items for the Government or the army, Ruparelia heard about it.
There were legions of opportunities in Uganda and Ruparelia could not stand the fact that he was missing out on a lot of them.
By 1985, he had had enough. He returned to Uganda with $25,000 he had saved. When he landed, he started scouting for opportunities. He discovered that basic commodities were relatively scarce in the country.
Consequently, he started importing salt from neighbouring Kenya. He also imported commodities like sugar and cigarettes from traders at the Mombasa ports.
There were no alcoholic beverage manufacturing plants in Uganda at the time and Uganda was largely dependent on beer imports.
Ruparelia approached East African Breweries Limited of Kenya, struck a deal and cornered the sole distributorship rights in Uganda for some of Kenya’s premium beer brands, including White Cap, Tusker and Pilsner. He became the largest supplier of alcoholic beverages to Kampala.
Many of Ruparelia’s customers were foreigners who preferred to pay in foreign currency. Spotting yet another opportunity, he soon started a small foreign exchange business, which brought in a substantial amount of money.
In 1989, President Yoweri Museveni liberalized the beer industry,and indigenous players crept forward. The government then banned the importation of beer.
Ruparelia chose instead to focus on his foreign exchange business. He opened Uganda’s first forex bureau, Crane Forex Bureau, which is still in existence and forms an integral part of the Crane Financial Empire.
By 1990, Ruparelia was raking in $10,000 in daily profits, and with the money he started buying up chunks of undeveloped land and dilapidated residential and commercial structures in the largely undeveloped Central Business District of Kampala and in leafy suburbs at bargain prices.
“There are properties I acquired between 1984 and 1991 for $50,000. They are worth $12m today,” says Ruparelia, adding that he often earned back the purchase price after just four years of renting out properties. With the rental income and his thriving forex business, Ruparelia continued to acquire more properties at low prices.