While studying for a Bachelors degree in Statistics at Makerere University, Newton Buteraba juggled his studies with operating different businesses.
Mostly, he was lending money, buying and selling phones as well as helping other students to sell off their unwanted merchandise and thereafter earning commission. And after graduating in 2007, Buteraba focused more on the business of lending money. Business blossomed to the extent that he included his father and uncle as partners.
“People would borrow and pay back on time,” he says.
Then, something started going wrong in 2010. Most borrowers stopped paying back the loans on time while others stubbornly refused to refund the money. They played tricks on Buteraba left, right, and centre by avoiding and dodging him at all times. When the business man ran to the courts of law seeking help, he got even more stressed.
“Sometimes the accusers would not show up for the hearings. Then, there were days police would claim to have forgotten to carry the files of the accused persons to court. And also, at times, court would postpone dates for hearing the different cases,” he shares.
The situation started getting out of hand for Buteraba when some of the borrowers even started threatening to kill him.
“I was getting very frustrated, and, that was when I thought of getting away from the country for a little while to get rid of the stress,” he says.
Buteraba came up with a plan to go away and study abroad.
The study programme
He went online digging information on different universities across the world before eventually settling for University of London in the United Kingdom (UK). And within that same year of 2010, he applied for a Master’s programme in Information Security at the university.
“I was accepted into the university on a self-sponsorship scheme,” he says.
He needed about £20,000 pounds (about Shs98.1m) for the one-year tuition as well as £12,000 (about Shs59m) for upkeep.
“I got every amount of money I had and added it onto what my father gave me as top-up,” he says.
The son and father somewhat miraculously came up with both the tuition and upkeep money. Buteraba’s father proceeded to write to the university stating that he was his son’s main funder.
Incidentally, that money was not enough. Buteraba needed about Shs70m more to cater for his ticket and rent arrears in London. He approached two respective banks and acquired the money as a loan using one of his client’s land titles as security. Eventually, Buteraba was able to fly out to start his academic journey.
Life in London
School time started around September 2011 and Buteraba found it tough adjusting to his new life. Things were not easy, at all. For instance, the weather was too cold during this time of the year and unfortunately at the apartment he chose to stay in, there was no central heating system to warm it up during the winter season.
“Meaning that the apartment (which he shared with other international students) was always cold,” he says, adding “I lost my entire body heating system because of the excruciating coldness in that house. No matter how many layers of clothes I wore, I remained cold.”
Staying at the apartment cost £80 pounds (about 392,000) per week.
“And imagine, it was the cheapest accommodation near school,” he says.
As time passed, Buteraba started running out of upkeep money. Meanwhile, the banks back home started calling him up saying he was defaulting on his loans. In addition, he owed both the university and landlord some money, and, each party demanded their respective share.
Buteraba found studies also quite difficult as books were becoming too technical for him. And one time, he found everything overwhelming and broke down.
“I could not take it anymore and one night burst into tears. Life was very hard. I even thought of the possibility of returning back home but I quickly brushed off the idea because that would be giving up too easily,” he says.
Buteraba therefore decided to persevere.
After trying on several attempts, Buteraba got himself work, which he juggled with his studies.
“My intention of working was to purposely save some of my earnings and then use the other remaining portion to pay off a few debts,” he says.
He first worked in a huge hardware store arranging shoes. Buteraba then left for another job at an international school where he worked as a cleaner. Later, he was hired to work in a hotel as a waiter.
“I got some decent earnings from my waiter job,” he says.
Despite the money coming in, Buteraba started realising that he needed to pay also much attention to his academics since it was the major reason that took him to London. He therefore starting reading very hard as well as consulting lecturers and other students more often.
In fact, Buteraba worked extremely hard that he scored a first class degree. The results were released on September 2012.
Upon their release, Buteraba immediately started applying to different organisations in London for jobs.
“Their entry interviews were always very tough. They would ask you questions which would throw you completely off balance. The questions were centred on mathematics, logical reasoning, and other areas. You would look at a question and seem dumb, as if you have never gone to school,” he says.
Fast forward around December 2012, he started passing some of the interviews. However, complications started arising when the interviewers started asking Buteraba his visa status.
“I always told them it was a student visa and because of this, I lost out on a number of opportunities as the interviewers would always promise to get back to me but in reality, no one ever did,” he says.
Then, in January 2013, Buteraba applied for the position of graduate information systems analyst at the largest energy company in the UK. He went through an extremely vigorous interview process, which involved different stages with the final assessment held on January 30, 2013. Part of this job interview process included orals, a presentation and group challenge. And on January 31, 2013, Buteraba returned home in Uganda because this was the same day his visa was expired.
Why he never got the job…
On February 5, 2013, Buteraba received a congratulatory message from the organisation for passing the interview. He was supposed to start working on July 2013 back in London. His happiness was however, short lived after the company wrote back to him again through email saying they had failed to secure him a work permit.
“I was very angry. Imagine, after passing a very complicated interview process and then, they write this, I was shattered,” he says.
Buteraba says it took him a while to get over the incident. But eventually, with the support of his loved ones, he was able to get back on his feet again.
Today, the 35-year-old is back to running his money lending business. But this time round, he is stricter than before after learning his severe lesson from loan defaulters. He is also a lecturer, entrepreneurship trainer as well as working as an information technology consultant. In addition to this, he is a motivational speaker and founder of House of Wealth, a company whose aim is to inspire, and give advice on the tricks of making money.
What happened to the student loans?
“I earned some decent money from my different jobs in London and was able to pay off the student loans together with the support of my father. He helped me clear off the bank loans,” Newton Buteraba says.