Sipapa: City socialite who defied childhood poverty

What you need to know:

  • The child version of today’s Sipapa was a member of the local and school choir and Scripture Union.

Described by family as “innovative and enterprising”, socialite Charles Olimi, popularly known by the alias Sipapa, thrust himself into the public face as a heavily-guarded larger-than-life high flier.

His rise was sudden. And his alleged link to the State, or key power brokers, gained traction when a photograph he took with President Museveni surfaced.

Rather than clarify uncertainties surrounding Sipapa’s identity, the tags raised more questions and public curiosity about who exactly Sipapa is.

We looked east, to the biblical direction of the wise men, for answers.

In the Wagunga hamlet in Soni Sub-county, Tororo District, is where life began for Sipapa.
Like other villagers, he lived in poverty, sometimes missing a meal, and studied at basic schools. 

The child version of today’s Sipapa was a member of the local and school choir and Scripture Union.
Nothing set him for distinction, let alone future celebrity status in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

Born Charles Olimi, the Tororo youngster started his formal education at Kirewa Primary School in present-day Soni Sub-county and took Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) there in 1993.

He moved to the city, enrolling to study at Kampala High School until 1997 when he dropped out and reportedly joined a ghetto group.
Nothing much is known about what he did, or how he transformed to catapult’s to the society’s apex social ladder.

Now 42, fans and friends call him Sipapa, a self-adopted moniker. 

He cruises some of the latest and pricey wheels and his brawny guards, some reportedly offered by the State, shove other motorists and passersby off the carriageway to clear the road for him.

Around last year’s presidential election campaigns, a fracas involving him and his coterie near the offices of the Opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) party in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, ended in police firing bullets to safeguard them.

Sipapa had grown by leaps and bounds, and law enforcers appeared to be at his beckon rather than superior.

Police threatened, but took no action, to rein in his alleged lawless motorcade.

He reportedly founded a company to sponsor musicians, and his largesse showed in help to friends and strangers in Kampala and beyond.

A free-wheeling spirit and gifting are traits that the celebrity was known for from childhood, said his uncle, Mr Joseph Kasolo, the Kirewa Sub-county chairperson.
Sipapa, he offered, is “innovative and enterprising”.

“He is one of the people who, we as his uncles, have never heard of getting involved in weird deals right from his childhood. He is only a generous person and whenever he comes back, we are happy,” he said.

That mirthfulness turned sour at the weekend when Sipapa, who returned to the village to do good, was declared in Kampala by police as a wanted man.

Speaking before his arrest yesterday to assist in investigations into an alleged robbery of $429,000 (Shs1.6b), phones and other electronic gadgets from South Sudan army officer named Jacob Nul, the city socialite blamed it all on malice.

“I don’t think it’s logical to have robbed money and continued to make the mistake of distributing money without being arrested,” he said of his last week charity activities in Tororo of giving money to less fortunate children, whom he encouraged to work hard for success, and the clan leaders, as well as boda bodas, who he wooed to support the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

READ ARTICLE: Who is above the law?

Among last week’s donation was Shs2.5m to facilitate the day-to-day running of the office of Mr Michael Ochieng, the chief of his Soni Lakwar clan, whose installation he attended. 

“Those tagging me to be a robber are individuals who are jealous of my wealth and my close attachment to the ruling NRM,” Sipapa said, adding that there was no thief who could be provided with personal security guards like for him.

That safeguard melted away when operatives from police’s Crime Intelligence Directorate picked Sipapa up in a sting operation.

He was moved into detention at Kabalagala Police Station in Kampala.
None of his relatives, including his father John Owino, alias Ongok, and uncle Kasolo, believes their own involves in mischief.

“I named him after my father, whom everybody in this village knows to have a respectable person without any tainted name; so, to say [that] my son is a thief is a total malice that I need government to establish,” Mr Owino told this newspaper last night.

He added: “The Olimi (Sipapa) I know grew up respecting people’s property and I don’t remember any day that anybody pinpointed him to have stolen his or her property in this village amid all the hard times we would go through. I’m surprised to hear that he was involved in aggravated robbery.”
The facts about the allegations are now a subject of police investigations. 

Those who know and love Sipapa are unwilling to speak about the source of his wealth. Not much is publicly known about his possible lucrative business.
But the uncle said he is hardworking and a strong NRM supporter.  

Boda boda riders he dished out cash to last week described him as generous, but one of his beneficiaries, Mr Obbo Oketch, said he knows no Sipapa business in Tororo Town.

Mr William Oketch, a boda boda rider in Nagongera Town Council, Tororo District, said Sipapa “is the first person to give us [such money] for free as boda boda riders at [our] stage”.


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