The Madhvani legend, Sudhir myth and Museveni’s investment utopia

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East African Flagpost

When we were growing up, Madhvani was the richest man in Uganda. He was so rich that one didn’t have to know his other name; he was just Madhvani. Since we could not render the phonal sound captured by ‘dh’, we called him Madvan (as in Mad Van).
I remember the debbes (tins) which became the standard measure of weight and volume for produce commodities like beans, coffee, ground nuts etc. Yes, two tins of beans or three tins of water. Needless to say, those tins were called madvan because of the scrawl embossed branding with the word Madhvani. So, one could have two madvans of beans or three madvans of water.
And the word madvan just meant rich or riches or a rich man. To say that someone was a madvan meant he was rich. It was a Madvan country!
The Madvan Legend was immortalised to me in a childhood story I still remember to date: Madvan was so rich that only the Queen of England could count his money. And when the Queen counted the money, it was found that Madvan had more money than the Government of Uganda.
Since one could not have more money than the government, the Queen of England ordered Madvan to reduce his money. That is how (and why) Madvan’s money was only one shilling less than that of the Government of Uganda.
The Generation M also has its own Madvan in Sudhir Ruparelia. Sudhir is in the service industry (aids to trade) while our Madvan was in industry (trade). These two madvans (Muljbhai Madhvani and Sudhir Ruparelia) represent a shift of focus of the Ugandan economy: From industry to service (with its limited forward and backward linkages).
Madhvani was the biggest taxpayer in Uganda. And what did he trade in? His flagship portfolio was in agriculture and agro-processing, the vortex of which was Kakira Sugar.
And who is Generation M’s biggest taxpayer in Uganda? MTN Uganda Ltd, headquartered in a rented house on Hannington Road. What does MTN Uganda Ltd, trade in? It trades in Air waves.

Museveni believes in private investment as the driver of economic development. Because of this passion that borders on Sugar-candian utopia, Museveni will do anything in the name of investment.
He is even ready to alienate a whole community if only he can secure an investment. Needless to say, some people have taken advantage of him in the name of investment.
The Madhvani Group and Sudhir Ruparelia Group are currently in the news over their engagement with the Government of Uganda. By government, dear reader, we may as well just read Museveni.
Sudhir is in the middle of a fight to save his fledgling and flailing business empire while government is ‘fighting’ the people of Acholiland so that the Madhvani Group can invest in agriculture and agro-processing in their land.
On the face of it, one would be expected to support and appreciate Madhvani’s effort and bravery to invest in an area just recovering from the ravages of a war.
But I have been told that Sudhir has more public sympathy than Madhvani. Why? Because Sudhir has portrayed his case as that of an underling bullied by a behemoth called the State. And trust Sudhir, he knows how to play his cards.
Madhvani, the traditional investor, is portrayed as hiding behind the State to acquire (the word in Uganda is steal) people’s land in Acholiland. This engenders the thought that this might not even be the Madhvani of the Madvan Legend of my childhood.
Madhvani should engage in strategic PR and communication and avoid having the government as the face of the Acholiland land acquisition.
Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East African Flagpost.