When you meet James Alemi at Kampala Range Rover Garage in Najjera, he runs from one car to another, checking whether they have been serviced.
Alemi’s mechanical journey started in 2010 after seeking independent employment from his father, George Nigo, who had run a Land Rover and Range Rover garage in Ntinda, Kampala, for years.
Alemi left his father to join three of his former classmates with whom he had completed school at Nakawa Vocational Training Institute with where he graduated with a Certificate in Automotive and Power Engineering in 2009.
“After A-Level, I wanted to study economics at university. However, in 2005, my father asked me to join his car service business. Therefore, I trained to repair cars during the day from 8am to 4:30pm and attended classes from 5pm to 9pm,” Alemi recalls.
Starting car service
After completing school in 2009, Alemi worked at his father’s garage and after watching his father’s success, he was convinced that if he mastered car service, it would take him places. He started reading online articles about Land Rover and Range Rover cars.
After working with his classmates for approximately three years, armed with Shs3m as capital, Alemi went solo.
He started Kampala Range Rover Garage in Najjera with the core side of the business at 90 per cent Land Rover and Range Rover and 10 per cent other car brands.
“Mechanical problems for Land Rover cars are unique and complex. Most of them are computerised. In the newer versions, if you do not have a diagnostic tool, it becomes hard to identify the mechanical problem,” Alemi notes.
Mechanics gap in Kampala
According to Alemi, few mechanics in Kampala understand principles of how a car works and are in the business to make money, much as there are those who are good at what they do.
“I have been called to different rescue situations where I find dismantled Land Rover engines. Disassembling an engine is easy to most mechanics but putting it back together is challenging,” he explains
Bridging mechanics gaps
Besides car service, Alemi founded the National Automotive Training Institute, which shares premises with the garage. He says it is aimed at producing the next generation of qualified and skilled mechanics and has a target of training a minimum of 100 mechanics every year.
He is, however, limited by resources, as he awaits the pledge that was made to him by President Museveni for expansion. At the moment, he says, those he trains are semi-skilled.
Alemi prides in working in all East African countries. These include South Sudan, DR Congo, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. In Uganda, it is the middle and upper class people and politicians, diplomats, Indians, British High Commission and others who form his client base.
“When I am contacted by a client about a mechanical problem in any of these countries, I travel as and when required. Sometimes I delegate some of the employees I trained depending on their capabilities,” he adds.
Alemi says his biggest achievement so far is having a wider network of friends whose car mechanical problems he works on and is also recommended to other people. It is because of this that he boosts of approximately Shs350m in fixed assets.
At the moment, he says, Kampala Range Rovers Garage does not have modern structures and equipment. Clients drive there out of faith and trust but the place is not befitting of the services offered.
Also, sometimes mechanics make mistakes and forget small things such as tightening tyres and when it causes the car owner problems, they drive back to Alemi complaining.
During test drives, sometimes there are accidents but this has been solved by hiring an experienced driver. Most of the spare parts have to be imported from the US and Dubai and this becomes considerably expensive.
By the end of 2019, Alemi hopes to have got a 20-year lease on the land he currently rents at Shs600,000 a month to set up permanent structures to expand the training institute.
The plan is to have a 20-bay shop where 20 cars can be serviced at once. The new structure will also have offices, a store and waiting area.
Alemi advises motorists to stick to one workshop.
“When you repair your car with me, I will have your records in my system but when you take it to another mechanic, I lose track of your car service schedule. Any service less than Shs450,000 is half baked and before you know it, you will be back to the garage. For Range Rovers, proper service is not less than Shs1.5m. Genuine parts are more costly. The higher its price, the longer the mileage it will give you.”
Alemi was born in Koboko District on November 20, 1985. He attended Nyarilo Primary School before moving to Shimoni Demonstration School from Primary Three to Primary Six and at Kireka Grammar Junior School for Primary Seven. For secondary education, he attended Kings College Buddo for O-Level and later moved to St Lawrence Citizen’s High School where he studied Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and economics (PCM/E) for A-Level.