From porter, vendor to fashion entrepreneur

Rogers Murungi 

What you need to know:

  • Reaching for his star. Rogers Murungi once went down a pit latrine hole to empty it for Shs500. His dream, however, was far beyond that. He chased his aspirations and now lives his dream of importing and selling clothes, writes Edgar R. Batte.

He is 32 years old. He is a businessman who lives in Ntinda. That is not a life Rogers Murungi envisioned when as a boy he went down a pit latrine hole to empty it for more than three days only to earn a paltry Shs500.

“I was looking for money. That’s how determined I was,” he recalls.

Murungi’s is a typical grass-to-grace story, one corroborated by those who have either been part of or witnessed it.

“My aunt Stella Nkoba, could not stand the smell. The news had quickly travelled home through my sisters and cousins. My aunt was so angry because I had brought shame to the home of a man who had served as a minister in the Amin regime,” he recounts.

Providing menial digging labour on people’s gardens or shambas, anchored Murungi’s hard working spirit.

He had not studied much, so hustling seemed the stepping stone to a future in Uganda where even the educated are not assured of a job or decent source of livelihood.

One of the farms on which he cleared shambas was Susan Bidandi’s in Fort Portal.

He would clear land, prepare it for planting. He saved part of his earnings with a dream of starting to trade in coffee on a small scale.

He would ride his bicycle around Kabarole District to, buy and sell coffee for a little profit. Every  penny counted and he saved it. Later on, he used part of his savings to hire land on which he  planted coffee.

His bigger dream was to accumulate some capital and move from Fort Portal to the capital city and chase his dream. He yearned for better standards of living.

With his peers, they always talked about opportunities such as owning and running a stall in St Balikuddembe Market popularly known as Owino.

He would later on join many traders in that part of the city whose stories point to unfulfilled dreams given their indigent backgrounds.

Murungi, born to a teenage mother mother,  was raised by her sister - his aunt.

He was adopted and from an early age,  Murungi became aware that he would secure his future through perseverance and hard work. And from his recollection, Murungi only met his father when he clocked 18 years.

A year before making 18, he had travelled with his aunt  to Nakasajja in Mukono. He sought to move further to the city and did so, when he met a stranger that took him in. The two resided in Katanga, a slum in Makerere.

Job hunt

In search of a job, he walked into Tianshi, a Chinese supplement’s marketing company where he picked interest in joining its network marketing component. There, the more members he recruited, the more points and boost in his earning.

“I started by recruiting 120 people from my village in a space of three months.

For each person I recruited, I was paid commission. I was glad to (finally) have a work address,” he narrates.

He worked with the company for two years during which he honed his marketing skills. Murungi felt he could achieve more so he explored the possibility of going to Owino Market where he started selling secondhand clothes.

The motivation for the move  part inspired by Murungi’s love for fashion. From a tender age, he wanted to look smart. He also wanted to deal in clothes but with focus of selling to people and earn money while doing so.

He used a seed capital of Shs250,000 seed capital which he had saved as commission as a marketer with Tianshi.  While they woke up at the cockcrow  to go and pursue a degree at Makerere University, he prepared to make his way to Owino Market to ensure he was in time to find the wholesale traders.

“I would buy shirts at Shs3,000 and sell them at between Shs7,000 and Shs10,000. I started saving part of the profit with the then Nile Bank. Business was slow in Owino , so I opted to start vending the clothes in different corporate offices,” he recounts.

Back then. A young Rogers Murungi back in the day. PHOTOS | EDGAR R BATTE.

In order not to be turned away by security personnel manning the entrances to the offices, he dressed impressively, bought a presentable bag and A-3 envelopes in which he put washed and pressed clothes.

That is how he was able to make his way into Workers’ House, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), Ministry of Internal Affairs, Stanbic Bank and in offices located along Nasser and Nkrumah roads.

When Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) patrol personnel stopped vendors from operating on streets and different city parts, he kept operating.

Among his many customers, he met Pastor David Happy Ngabo who admired his work ethic and sought to find out more about him. He got to know that he stayed in Katanga and was out to fend for himself and his relatives.

Better life

Murungi’s story touched the pastor who asked to take him in and become his mentor.

 “In me, he saw a young man who was very hardworking, ambitious and God loving. He asked me where I stayed and replied, ‘in Katanga’. He asked to pick me up to stay at his home in Ntinda. It was a big step from a house of Shs50,000 to one of about  Shs2.8m. It was almost unbelievable,” Murungi narrates.

He adds, “This man did not only accommodate me but taught me how men live. He instilled in me many life values and, most of the things I know I have adopted because the pastor is educated, professional, exposed and God-fearing.

He lived with Pastor Ngabo for six months.

“It’s my prayer that King Roger Murungi will carry on with what he has learnt and also empower others in a similar manner. Remember the fountain of good water can concurrebtly bring  bad water.  Likewise my Son King Roger Murungi should carry on with the good work,” says Pastor Ngabo.

In light of Murungi’s transformation, Ngabo argues that real change is mental transformation to the entire human belief system, and emphasises using Apostle Paul who equates the Church in Rome to mental transformation.

In Ngabo, Murungi found a father-figure too who strengthened his spirituality and character.

 “At one of  the church fellowships, he taught about billionaires and their lifestyles. He said poverty is a choice. I was shocked! I neither  grew up with my mother or father, how was this my choice? He said that what I had on my bank account was a result of what was in my mind. I was in Owino but set my mind and aspirations on flying to import goods from China, and I do so today with two outlet shops in Kampala,” Murungi explains.

Spirituality matters

I ask him how spiritual life has moulded him into the person he has become. He says that as a born-again Christian, he learnt how to tithe; giving 10 percent of his profit to God.

As he further adds, the practice has anchored his financial and overall business etiquette. To that end, he says with respect of God and tithing, it has become easy for him to meet his obligation of duly paying taxes.

He adds, “I have never missed paying my taxes just like I do with tithing in church for every money I earn. The principles are the same. Even government require some amount on the money I earn. By paying my taxes to government, it has helped me a lot to deal with banks and bid with big companies. All that has enabled me be organised,” says the proprietor of The Kings Fashions’ shops, two physical ones and another he online.

His clientelle

His businesses caters to corporate clients including pastors who he provides a place to relax, have tea or coffee and even refresh with a shower as their suits and other clothing are prepared for take-away.

There, a client can change clothing without having to head back home. When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, it limited human movement. Murungi became more intentional about pushing his business online.

Through the online shop he has connected with clients mostly from the diaspora. He adds that the online sales are encouraging.

 During the Covid19-induced lockdown, he also diversified his business ventures to include making of handsanitisers.

Looking back at his journey, the 32-year-old observes that God has been at the centre of it all because he never knew he would meet the people he has met through the clothing business who have been a turning point in his life and business journey.

Future plan

In future, he would not like to own much but enough to share with those who do not have much, just like he was growing up. He supports 17 children to get educated and same number of elderly women to live an ideal life.

 “I would like to own a school that can accommodate more than 2,000 children who cannot afford their school fees because I believe there are many who are going through the same life I went through,” he explains.

Murungi uses what he has achieved to lift others up. And like American clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher said, pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow.