Kapsandui: Kapchorwa’s former smuggler who has built a flourishing transport empire
Posted Saturday, January 18 2014 at 02:00
From dodging the law smuggling fuel, his Time Keeper taxis are growing in numbers and solving night transport problems for people in Kapchorwa.
In Sebei where he has dominated the transport business for more than a decade, many know him as calm, hardworking and a successful strict man. But Mr Andrew Kapsandui, a.k.a. Kaps, has travelled a long rough journey to get to where he is today. The about five-feet dark and strong-built man, who also loves politics, has a history quite larger than his size.
The comfort he is enjoying dates back to the early 1990s when he cut his teeth in the business world. In 1995, Kaps who had been selling fuel in a single room in the then dusty and rocky Kapchorwa Town, decided to diversify to where his fuel had been going – vehicles. He had been smuggling fuel across the border from Kenya, whilst lacing it with fuel bought from the Ugandan market. But the businessman has a story to tell when it comes to his first venture. Not even the strict Ugandan laws would deter Kaps from importing fuel from the Kenyan market through Suam, in present-day Bukwo District.
“I used to buy fuel from Kenya at a lower price and then sell it in Uganda at a higher price. I would smuggle the fuel because the laws did not allow us to import the fuel; yet fuel on the Ugandan side was expensive and could not give me an edge,” he says.
To evade custom officials at the border, the businessman with a group of colleagues, would pass through the jungles of Suam and wade through River Suam with the commodity. A pick-up truck parked on the Ugandan side would then be loaded to take the fuel to Kapchorwa.
Because he was smuggling fuel, security personnel attached to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) soon had a bone to crack with him. URA decided to crack down on the smugglers in the region.
But Kaps grew his business despite the unfavourable conditions. With a fuel-laden pick-up truck, Kaps would maneuver through the rough terrain of the hilly Kapchorwa as the revenue officials engaged him in a chasing spree. Most of the time, the URA officials would not catch the smart smuggler who had a clever way of maneuvering through the rural places. “I engaged in smuggling until a time when Kenya hiked their exchange rates. So fuel became more expensive there and it would make no economic sense,” he says.
So what did Kaps do when his ambitions seemed to have been headed to a nosedive? He decided to trade the Ugandan fuel. But “some people would take fuel on credit and delay to pay. Business was also low because the profit margin was so minimal.” Depending on fuel business alone seemed to Kaps that he was sitting on a poverty time bomb. So he spread his wings to transportation in early 1995.
First taxi in Kapchorwa
Business is a risk, and Kaps took the risk; little did he know that that is the field where most of his bread would come from in the coming years. With his savings from the fuel business, he bought the first-ever taxi (Kamunye) in Kapchorwa in 1995.
Before then, tractors, trucks and buses had been doing the business on the extremely poor Mbale-Kapchorwa road. It would take more than three hours to travel from Kapchorwa to Mbale during the dry season and about half a day in a rainy season. On a bad day, one would spend the whole day on the road. So Kaps could not have enjoyed his maiden days as a transporter as well. It was all a gamble.
But a bad beginning sometimes makes a good ending; so they say. And Kaps started badly. Just about three years after he started the business, a driver he had asked to help him was involved in a terrible accident which crashed the taxi to almost beyond repair. The driver who was driving through the busy Mbale Town rammed into a building. The Omni bus was later repaired – but it would not last long. Kaps soon acquired a second taxi.
All this time, he kept the fuel business running as well. But with the re-establishment of pump stations such as Shell, his business nose-dived and he decided to call it quits. He had also sold the taxis to beef up the fuel business. It was a new journey all together for the budding businessman. During this time, he acquired a plot in upscale Senior Quarters in Kapchorwa Town and built rentals to boost his income – the foundation for his fortune had been built.
In 2001, Kaps took a Shs2 million loan from Centenary Bank. From this, he settled for a smaller car. He bought a five-seater Toyota Camry. This was also the first ever small car to engage in commuter transportation. This would carry fewer people, but would make more trips to Mbale. Kaps chased his dream on to become successful; to be able to put food on the table and a roof over his head and also provide a decent life for his family.
By the early 2000s, the tarmacking of the Mbale-Kapchorwa road had been completed and business was better for him. He would make more than five trips to and from Mbale in a day. Then in 2002, the transporter sat and foresaw the future. Perhaps the trips to Mbale had become very short or monotonous that he needed to try new heights or he saw opportunities, but Kaps had his dreams alive. “In 2002, I realised that I could make more money if I went to Kampala and back. So I got a loan from Centenary Bank and topped it up with what I had to buy a taxi,” Kaps says. Under the tag line Time Keeper, Kaps ventured in the Kapchorwa-Kampala business – the first ever in Sebei.
The big question hovered over people’s heads; where was he going to find passengers every day? But where there is a will there is always a way, the saying goes. Kaps has hardly lacked passengers close to 10 years in the business. The business kicked off. As people dreamt in the comfort of their beds, Kaps kept his dreams awake when every mid-night, he kicked away the blanket to go and brave the cold in search of bread. Every hoot that he made to wake up passengers counted for every step in his success ladder. The taxis, now three of them, leave Kapchorwa at 1am and arrive in Nakawa, Kampala at dawn.
It is through this business that Kaps then got another name – Time Keeper. He started with one taxi, then two and later three, which are as frequently changed as one would change clothing.
Building a home
The money was coming in and Kaps was able to put up a decent house in Kapchorwa Town for his family in 2007. Through the business, he has educated his children, two of whom are at university. His wife Florence Nafuna has also been able to upgrade from a Grade Three teacher to a graduate of Guidance and Counselling. He has also been able to add a 30-seater costa to his collection of vehicles. He hopes to upgrade to a bus.