Andrew ‘Zzimwe’ Kasagga, who died at his home in Muyenga yesterday, aged 63, was one of an increasingly rare breed of self-made Ugandan millionaires.
Family sources said Zzimwe has spent several months battling the pancreatic cancer that finally took his life. It was a battle that had taken him to hospitals in South Africa and India but which he finally lost on home soil.
Despite the long battle, the end was sudden, family members said. A football fanatic, and long-term financier of local club SC Villa, Zzimwe spent Sunday evening watching his Manchester United play Sunderland in the English Premier League before watching Real Madrid play Osasuna in the Spanish La Liga.
“He was fine the previous day and we don’t know what really happened,” Edward Kasagga, one of his sons, said yesterday.
A caretaker at the home, who asked not to be named, said Zzimwe had earlier collapsed while undergoing some therapeutic exercises. “He usually goes through a series of sessions with a doctor who comes here but after he finished the first one, his breathing rhythm changed and immediately I informed the doctor,” the caretaker said. “When the doctor came, he tried his best to give him first aid but it never helped as he had apparently died moments earlier.” Friends and business partners yesterday described Zzimwe as a kind man who was generous with his wealth.
“The most memorable thing I remember about him,” recalled Richard Nalima, a businessman and family friend, “is that one day, we were fundraising for a friend’s wedding and he called us at his home and he made a cash pledge of Shs45 million towards the function.”
Businessman Godfrey Kirumira, who funded the rival Express Football Club when Zzimwe was active in SC Villa, said the deceased businessman was a key member of Kwagalana Group, which brings together wealthy businesspeople in Kampala.
“I spoke to him (on Sunday) and he was fine but only got a call this morning from one of his sons saying he was dead,” Mr Kirumira said. “He has been a key member of the group thanks to his advice and good heart for the people.”
Rags to riches
Born to the late Peter Kalema and Najjemba, Zzimwe was a self-made man. A man of very limited formal education, he tried his hand at several businesses before starting Zzimwe Enterprises, a hardware shop, around 1987 near Nakasero Market in Kampala.
He first ventured in coffee trade and later into timber, banana, fish and subsequently hardware trade. It was on the advice of his elder brother that he came to Kampala in the 60s.
With the post-war construction boom underway, Zzimwe carved out a niche as a purveyor of quality hardware materials and soon had a flourishing enterprise.
In 1990, he expanded his hardware business to include a construction company and quickly won a tender to construct Mbuya Military Barracks Hospital.
The big tenders continued coming through including, between 1991 and 1993, a deal to carry out several construction projects at State House Entebbe and Nakasero, as well as Kololo Airstrip. Critics and rivals claimed that the contracts were not always won fairly – and they pointed to a wedding present of a house that Zzimwe gave one of the power brokers close to the President as evidence – but they continued to come in and the firm diversified into roads construction.
The company’s record here was a bit mixed; despite winning several tenders, there were concerns about the quality of its work and the delays in executing projects.
According to Kampala mayor Hajj Nasser Sebaggala, Zzimwe was doing about 60 per cent of the city roads.
Despite the growth, the businessman remained remarkably humble, staying true to ‘Zzimwe”, the village in Masaka where he had been born, and whose name had become his moniker.
“I decided to call [myself] that because I’m very proud of my background and my people,” he told Daily Monitor in an interview in 2007.
Zzimwe enjoyed his social life and was a regular at Afrigo where he would often be spotted dancing and singing along to some of the band’s classic hits like Akagoma (his favourite), Prossy and Afrigo Batuuse.
He was also a regular at Kampala Casino where he was often to be found spending some of his fortune playing, well, the wheel of fortune.
In 2003, Zzimwe was involved in one of the darker episodes of his business career and it was not surprising that this get-rich-quick scheme was plotted and planned in the casino.
The businessman and several other casino regulars were accused of stealing more than a million dollars from a Kenyan bank. The money was wired from Nairobi to several bank accounts, including accounts belonging to Zzimwe.
The businessman claimed the money was payment for construction equipment he had sold to some Congolese businessmen but investigators described it as an elaborate bank scam.
Zzimwe took a low profile after the well-publicised incident during which time, unconfirmed reports show, he battled to pay back the money – and stave off the vultures that wanted to have him prosecuted.
There were also reports that the businessman had had to sell off many assets to pay off prominent city financiers to whom he was indebted. The rags-to-riches story was almost turning back to rags.
Despite the challenges, people close to Zzimwe say by the time of his death he had put his business world in order and his company was back winning contracts, especially road construction tenders.
Even his generosity was back. Joseph Ssentongo, a family friend, says he had called Zzimwe on Sunday reminding him of his pledge for a church in Namasuba, a Kampala suburb. The businessman had promised to call back with his pledge yesterday.
The body of the man who would have made that call was, by yesterday lying at International Hospital Kampala where it was awaiting transportation to Mulago Hospital for postmortem.
A requiem mass is scheduled for 10am this morning at Rubaga Cathedral before Zzimwe is laid to rest on Thursday at his country home in Seeta, Mukono.
Survived by at least 23 children and a wife, Josephine, Zzimwe will be fondly missed by many, not least of all his family.
“He was the best dad ever and he was a hard worker,” his 18-year-old daughter Joanna Zalwango, a Senior Six student at Makerere College School, said yesterday.
“It is a pity that he has not lived to enjoy the fruits of his efforts.”