Bitature story has brought integrity into sharp focus

Author: Musaazi Namiti. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • ‘‘If Vantage Capital’s story is credible, it has sprung surprises”

This week, our corporate landscape was awash with news of the financial woes of businessman Patrick Bitature’s business empire. A South African fund manager called Vantage Capital is threatening to attach and auction his investments over a bad loan.
Mr Bitature, 62, is among the richest Ugandans. The story that is often told about him is that he has amassed his wealth through hard work, grit and determination. That may be true to a certain extent, but events that have unfolded over the past few days may create doubts and confusion.
Many Ugandans view Mr Bitature as a role model. He is a motivational speaker who has given and continues to give hope to people beginning the hard way that they can succeed.

Until claims that he allegedly used legal technicalities to disengage himself from his financial obligations with Vantage Capital went viral, nearly all his accomplishments and performance on the corporate landscape seemed creditable.
They probably had to be. If you have listened to fabulously rich people, such as Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, narrating how fiendishly difficult it is to start a company and make it a success, you know Mr Bitature has been exceptional.
“Starting a business,” Mr Musk once said, “is not for everyone.”

“Generally, starting a business, I would say: ‘No. 1 is have a high-pain threshold.’ There is a friend of mine who has got a good saying, which is that: ‘Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss.’”
If you succeed — “and in most cases you will not succeed”, Mr Musk added — you will get back to happiness after a long time.
Mr Bitature knows this well, which is why his story has been inspiring. 

But if Vantage Capital’s story about money it says it lent him is credible, it has sprung surprises.
The story goes that the entrepreneur borrowed $10m (Shs36b) in 2014 from Vantage Capital to finance his businesses but has never repaid a cent because, according to his lawyers, the fund manager is a “ghost”. He now owes $34m, it is claimed.
That anyone can take a loan of $10m and choose not to pay back is astounding. Consider this. If you go to Protea, one of Mr Bitature’s hotels, and order a meal for $30 (Shs100,000) and fail to pay, security will be called in and you will be handed over to the police.

The best-paid Ugandan manager at our ritzy hotels would be lucky to make $1,400 (Shs5m) a month. With $10,000 you can pay the salaries of dozens of waitresses and waiters working at top hotels — and you will still be left with a fairly large amount to spend. This suggests a fund manager cannot lend $10m and forget about it. 

This story has brought into sharp focus the issue of integrity among Ugandans. From the humblest peasant to top political leaders, many people cannot be trusted, especially where money and political power are concerned.
We need to work on our moral fabric. It is in tatters. If we borrow money, we must repay. Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, repaid his first loan that made him a billionaire in six months, according to the BBC.

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk
[email protected]    @kazbuk