How teen drug smuggler became a thriving carpenter

Wednesday November 27 2019

Mr Yusuf Kalidi displays some of his procuc

Mr Yusuf Kalidi displays some of his procucts. Photo by Polycap Kalokwera 


GULU- At 25, Mr Yusuf Kalidi is employing 13 youth and 3 trainees at his carpentry workshop. It is a business he started with an initial capital of Shs36, 000 after numerous investment downfalls

Mr Kalidi’s dream was to become a soldier to protect and defend people from insecurity along Busia, Uganda- Kenya border in the 90’s.

“I will be the happiest father if one of my children becomes a soldier one day. He/she would have achieved my dream for me,” Mr Kalidi says.

Narrating his heart-breaking journey Mr Kalidi, a primary four dropout from Ibanda Primary School, Iganga District was lured into drug smuggling by a renowned businessman in Busia town, something he says was very ill-fated for a young boy like him at that time

“In 2003, I was just 9 years when I fell prey of this businessman; he promised to take me back to school and provide me with basic needs, Mr Kalidi says. “Little did I know that he wanted to use me to smuggle drugs like marijuana, cocaine and heroin across the border.”

No border patrol police officers at that time would imagine a boy, at his age, smuggling drugs across the border.


“More so, I wore a school uniform and carried a backpack every time I smuggled the drugs,” Mr Kalidi says.

Mr Kalidi said he would sometime disguise as a person with disabilities and use a wheelchair to move across the border with over 10kgs of drugs.

“One day, my luck run out and I was arrested by police officers. Luckily, on that day, I was carrying cigarettes. I didn’t know what I was carrying because I was always on orders not to open parcels while delivering them unless told to do so,” he said. “I had started using drugs myself to fit among the crew. Our boss used not to pay us but would take us to posh clubs to drink, eat and dance preparing for another business assignment the following day.”

Life was very hard and the eight months of drug smuggling had started ringing a bell in my heart,” Mr Kalidi says.

He said he decided to quit when he paid a visit to his mother.

Mr Kalidi sprays a door at his workshop.  Photo
Mr Kalidi sprays a door at his workshop. Photo by Polycap Kalokwera

His mother was shocked by the groceries and others items he took home.

 “I vividly remember the painful statement of my mother who wondered what I had become at a tender age.

“She was shocked because I gave her kilogrammes of sugar, breads, a bicycle and Shs7,500, Mr Kalidi says.  “Those were items that could be afforded by economically stable people. And when I told her the whole story, she cried and asked me to quit the business.”

Mr Kalidi says that he lived with his uncle from 2004 to 2009.

The uncle trained him on how to make clay products which skills helped him to raise some money to support the family.

 “My uncle’s business collapsed in 2009 and it was again a setback. I moved to Kampala where I stayed with my elder brother who was a carpenter,” he says.


Turning point

Mr Kalidi says that the carpentry skills he got from his brother in Kampala set for him a stable economic path.

“The achievements I have now date back to the struggle I went through and the skills my brother taught me. He would pay me Shs1, 500 to Shs3, 000 depending on the number of beds I  made,” he says

He says that after saving about Shs60, 000, he teamed up with his two colleagues and established a carpentry workshop valued at Shs180, 000 in Kyebando, near Kampala in 2015.

“We were friends who believed in hard work and we had gone through hell together,” he says.

 Mr Kalidi, however, says the dishonesty of his friends forced him to start his own workshop to meet the demand of his the rising number of clients.

Mr Kalidi said the new workshop he established in late 2016 was demolished in 2017 following an order of by then Kampala Capital City Authority’s Executive Director, Ms Jennifer Musisi, to clean up Kyebando.

“I got a business of making 100 school desks worth Shs2.6 million, besides other small contracts to make doors, windows and others. I used that money to relocate and settle in Gulu Town,” he said

He says life again became hard because he didn’t know anybody in Gulu town yet he was married and had one child to take care of.

He said that he got employed at a carpentry workshop but later quit because he was under paid.

Mr Kalidi said he used Shs36,000 to buy soft wood, nails and glue to make one bed which he sold immediately at Shs55,000.

He used the money to buy more raw materials.

“I would use part of my rented house without the knowledge of my landlord as workshop before I rented an open place where I established an outdoor workshop named ‘Victory belongs to Jesus’,” he said.

Some of the youth employed by Mr Kalidi. Photo
Some of the youth employed by Mr Kalidi. Photo by Polycap Kalokwera

He says business of any sort requires determination, resilience and enthusiasm for growth with financial discipline that calls for spending only on priorities and postponing leisure.


Mr Kalidi said he has constructed a two-bedroom permanent house for his mother back in the village in Iganga besides buying a piece of land early this year

On top of that, he has bought several carpentry machines to improve quality and efficiency.

He says that he is employing 13 youth and 3 trainees in two branches.

“This to me is one of the greatest achievement besides being able to pay school fees for my two children and support family members in the village,” he says

Mr Kalidi said he is able to save a minimum of Shs300,000 monthly from the sales of bed, wooden doors, windows and other items.


 Mr Kalidi said he is a positive minded person who treats challenges as opportunities.

 "I don't know any entrepreneur who hasn't failed at something. The problems I encountered only provided the momentum for crafting solutions. They were necessary because they paved the way to my future success," he says.

 He says few youth believe in gradual growth in business and they end up stealing to get rich quickly.

The future

Mr Kalidi said he plans to establish a show room in a permanent house where clients can access it easily.

“Beside that big dream, I was trained by someone and I feel I owe the world a lot and I must establish a vocational training centre in my village to train as many vulnerable yet determined youth as possible. This centre will also have a metal fabrication workshop,” he said.

Born in 1994 to Mr Bumali Mugweli and Ms Sarah Mugweli, Kalidi boasts of his ancestral roots in  Nabitende banada village Iganga District.