How Ugandan investor of Sudanese origin milled his way to become Forbes second richest African under 40

Sunday January 31 2016

Mohammed Hamid

Mohammed Hamid 

By Joseph Kiggundu

Mohammed Hamid is one of Uganda’s most successful and prominent entrepreneurs. He is the Chairman and founder of Aya Group, conglomerate with interests in milling, food manufacturing, commodity trading, transportation and hospitality, with annual revenue of $200 (approximately Shs680,000,000,000).
Hamid, 39, originally from North Sudan, traveled to Uganda as a teenager in 1987 to briefly visit his elder brother who owned a successful trading business in the country.

Hamid who was in February 2015 listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest Africa fell in love with Uganda and decided to stay on. He has since become a citizen. In the last 28 years, he has built one of Uganda’s largest privately-held conglomerates. He is currently concluding construction on a 5-star Hotel in Kampala, which will be managed by Hilton.
At 39, Hamid is easily the second richest African under 40, after Tanzanian multi-millionaire, Mohammed Dewji, according to Forbes.

His story
I was born in Sudan, but I have been in Uganda for many years, so I consider myself Ugandan. I came to Uganda for the first time in 1987 to visit my elder brother, Mohammed El Hamid, who runs Pan Afric Impex, a commodity trading house. I had just completed High School and I was preparing to go to the United States to pursue my studies, but I decided to come here to visit my brother first of all. But I fell in love with this country and I saw a lot of opportunities here. So I asked myself, “Why am I going to the States to study, when there are many good Universities here in Uganda?” Eventually, I decided to stay in Makerere University where I pursued studies.

His decision to stay in Uganda
My elder brother was already a successful businessman in Uganda, and I saw that this country was a virgin land with many opportunities. I’ve always had a knack for business and an eye for opportunity, so I decided this country was the perfect place to start and build a business.

How he started in Uganda
After working with Pan Afric Impex for some time, I decided to start my first company, Pan Afric Commodities, in the early 1990s. We dealt in general merchandise; both import and export. I imported all sorts of items like vehicle tyres, juices and wheat flour. I influenced the popularity of chapatti as a meal of choice among Ugandans.

How he moved into milling and other businesses
After realising there was a big demand for wheat locally, I bought a milling machine from Premiere Mills, a firm owned by businessman Sudhir Ruparelia in industrial area, Kampala. We then moved the machinery to Kawempe, where I had acquired a 15-acre piece of land in 1997.

How he accumulated enough capital to go into manufacturing
I made a lot of profit trading in general merchandise and by the time I decided to move into manufacturing, I had accumulated enough capital. I spent about $1.5m (about sh3.5b now) to set up the industry. The machinery alone cost $1.3m.

How diversified his manufacturing empire
As the milling business grew, we realised we would make a lot of money if we added value to the wheat flour. There was a lot of market for baked products and confectioneries.

In 2000, with the help of a loan from the Export Import Bank and my savings, I bought more mills and expanded into the bakery and biscuits-making sections. We set up one mill at a time until they became three.