Hajji Isaac Mulindwa is a great risk taker. One of the first black Ugandan to start up a car import business, Mulindwa’s enterprising nature has led him to various endeavours over the years; from politics to farming and to food-processing.
As a politician, he was a founder member of Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM) in 1955 with Augustine Kamya, Mary Nkata and Godfrey Lukongwa Binaisa as the party adviser.
UFM was very instrumental in mobilising Ugandans, especially Africans to boycott buying of goods from Asian shops, boarding buses and drinking of beer in Kampala, which brought the Indians’ businesses to their knees.
“We were protesting the treatment the Indians and the whites were meting out on Africans, who were considered third-class citizens after the whites and Indians respectively. It was very effective but many of our people were arrested as a result,” Mulindwa says.
However, this was a turning point as the Africans opened up businesses, which changed the business landscape. After successfully forcing the Indians into sharing business with Africans, Mulindwa opened up a hides and skins shed at Kabwohe trading centre, a produce store dealing in beans, millet and maize He also traded in coffee.
Ever the businessman, in 1960 during the upheaval of Congo, Mulindwa came into contact with some Belgians, who had been exiled in Uganda. From them, he got some business ideas.
“I stayed with a Belgian couple who told me there were opportunities in Congo and this prompted me to go to Stanleyville, where I established business with Congolese businessmen and made some money.
I even bought business premises the short time I went there. I spent two years in Congo. I found out that the people were music lovers and this prompted me to request them to come and try their talents in Uganda, which they did,” recalls Mulindwa
The first batch of musicians came to Uganda in 1961 and had their maiden show at the then Top Life bar owned by Kabazi Lwaya. For bringing the band, Mulindwa was paid Shs4,000. This was a lot of money by then. By the time he left Congo in 1962, he had brought in five bands and was being paid Shs6,000 commission on each.
Starting a family
The same year Mulindwa returned from Congo, he married Safina Nnaku with whom they have six children, all still alive and living in various parts of the world.
Later, he opened up a coffee factory in Lukuli Makindye in 1963. The factory is still operational up to now. He also opened up Makinawa Motors Ltd in 1964, whose first headquarters were on Kampala Road, next to Shell petrol station below Central Police Station. Currently, the office is located on plot 42-44 on Prince Charles Drive Kololo.
Working with government, he started loaning cars to civil servants. By 1971, he was competing favourably with the Indians and had also won a franchise of Renault vehicles from France. At the time of the 1971 coup, he had ordered z100 cars, which arrived at the time of the expulsion of the Asians in 1972.
“With a lot of difficulty, I sold off these cars but as time went on, I got in trouble with the head of the notorious Sate Research Bureau (SRB), one Marire, who grabbed a whole consignment of 60 cars, accusing me of conniving with the Indians by being their agent and sending them money after the car sales. Many Ugandans were losing their cars to soldiers and SRB officers, who were killing at will in order to steal cars.
They came to pick me on several occasions but I was only saved by my size because they assumed Makinawa was a giant of a man. I am a small, simple and humble man. If you are not careful, you may not recognise me,” Mulindwa explains.
“Marire almost killed me but I was saved by his deputy, who carried out investigations and found me innocent. However, I lost about 20 cars to him. The company went under with the coming of Obote II government. I was accused of being an SRB agent because I was a Muslim but I was proved innocent,” he reminisces.
However, life became hard and Mulindwa had to run into exile to Nairobi in 1980.