Sunday June 29 2014

I dropped out of school to go abroad

Michael R. Ssekandi, proprietor of Mambo Entertains at one of the events he had organised.

Michael R. Ssekandi, proprietor of Mambo Entertains at one of the events he had organised. PHOTOS BY L. OGWAL. 

A simple man who likes challenges and loves where he comes from is how Micheal Raymond Ssekandi describes himself.

Born 36 years ago to John Lule and Margaret Nakayanja, he commonly refers to himself as Mambo, a name he shares with his international events company, Mambo Entertains. He has lived in Holland for 14 years but comes to Uganda once in a while. He shares how he started the events company and how it was like starting a life overseas.

While at Makerere University Business School doing a Bachelor’s Degree in International Business in my second year, I felt discontented with our education system- considering the fact that the number of job seekers was more than the opportunities available. I decided to drop out and join my elder brother who owned a cleaning company called KAD International Company. I became the operations manager.

After hustling for three years, I felt Uganda had the worst working conditions. I thought of going abroad. At the time, I didn’t have any particular country in mind that I wanted to go to.

Dream hatches
I applied for visas to different countries for close to one year. When I was about to give up, an opportunity presented itself in 2000 when I was granted the Netherlands visa. With some of my savings, I managed to pay for my travel necessities. No one was expecting me in Netherlands. I decided to get and start off in any way I could afford.

Getting to Netherlands
On arrival, I used my balance to book a hotel room for one week as I thought hard on what job I would do to survive. The week elapsed and I had no other place to go. I decided to call my brother in Uganda for help. Fortunately, he had an acquaintance whom he called and I was able to get a place to stay for a few days. He gave me an ultimatum of four days.

I got to learn of an asylum seekers’ centre, which i moved to but people were hostile as they refused to give me accommodation. Full of regret, I got stranded for two weeks. I contemplated returning to Uganda but did not have a penny. I fell sick due to the unfamiliar weather conditions.

With no option left for me, I resorted to doing illegal business -- which I prefer not to disclose -- for a period of four years. That is how I managed to make a decent living abroad.

Four years later
After four years in Amsterdam, the government ordered the arrest and deportation of non-citizens. Myself and a group of nationals from different countries were arrested and detained at the airport cells for two weeks. One of us chose to engage the immigration officials and I do not know what he told them but we were freed.

I swore never to do any illegal business and decided to take a short course in the Dutch language. This earned me a job at Orange Bikes Limited as the manager. After six years as manager, I was given shares, which increased my earnings. From then, I saw light at the end of the tunnel. I reconsidered starting my dream career. I had always wanted to own a company that handles different kinds of events.

Living the dream
In 2010, I teamed up with Steven Mbazira, a DJ who had lived in Holland for a very long time. He had a network of friends because he was working in a big night club in Amsterdam. I sold to him the idea of introducing entertainment to Ugandans living in the diaspora.

My maiden event was when I brought Bebe Cool to perform. I chose him because he was a childhood friend with whom I had studied at Kitante Hill Primary School. I explained to him my idea and he jumped at the opportunity. I spent €5,000 (about Shs17.7m). I anticipated 250 people but 650 people turned up. Entrance was free, plus the drinks and barbeque. He sang songs that the crowd could identify with. I was overwhelmed that the show happened. All I cared about was the event’s success not money.
From that event, we decided to hold a monthly theme night dubbed Kampala Night Club Amsterdam at Grand Café. We played strictly Ugandan music.

Life gets better
My network of friends grew and spread out to Germany. In 2011, I went solo and introduced the same idea through a friend in Germany. Again, I invited Bebe Cool for the second time. He performed both in the Netherlands and Germany.

I officially registered my company as Mambo Entertains in late 2011. It has become a big brand which organises events in the diaspora and is mostly recognised in Holland because that is where I’m based.

Some of the events I organise include annual Miss Uganda- Netherlands. I organise music and comedy shows. I plan to invite Uganda fashion designers as well to showcase their work. After the hustle, I have Netherlands citizenship, I also provide for my family back in Uganda and most of all I’m happy to be living my dream.