Business and Finance
Sudhir Ruparelia, East Africa’s Richest and Uganda’s multi-talented property baron
Ruparelia owns close to 300 prime residential and commercial properties in some of Kampala’s swankiest neighbourhoods. He’s the largest individual property owner in Uganda, according to the Uganda Land Alliance.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has said that Ruparelia’s real estate concerns rake in as much money as the entire country earns from exporting tea and coffee –about $400 million a year.Some of his assets include the landmark Crane Towers located in Kampala’s central business district and the prestigious City House, home to the offices for 150 of Uganda’s Members of Parliament. His Ruparelia Group also owns some of the most prestigious hotels in Uganda, including the Kabira Country Club, Speke Hotel and the 5-star Speke Resort & Conference Center in Munyoyo, outside Kampala.
When Ruparelia was only 16 in 1972, President Idi Amin expelled all Asians and Ugandans of Asian descent living in the country. “After queuing for long hours at the British High Commission, we obtained the necessary permits and I went to the U.K,” Ruparelia reminisces. Young Ruparelia headed south, nearer to London. “I wanted to be my own man, free from parental control. I wanted to achieve my own things and live my own dreams,” Ruparelia says.
“I had two priorities: I wanted to feed myself and I wanted to complete my education. But the former was more important than the latter.”
By 1974, Sudhir had saved up enough money to buy a house. He was only 18. “I loved the UK, but my heart was in Uganda,” Ruparelia says. By 1985, he returned to Uganda with $25,000 he had saved. When he landed, he started scouting for opportunities. He discovered that basic commodities were relatively scarce in the country. Consequently, he started importing salt from neighbouring Kenya.
He also imported commodities like sugar and cigarettes from traders at the Mombasa ports.
There were no alcoholic beverage manufacturing plants in Uganda at the time. Ruparelia approached East African Breweries Limited of Kenya, struck a deal and cornered the sole distributorship rights in Uganda for some of Kenya’s premium beer brands, including White Cap, Tusker and Pilsner. He became the largest supplier of alcoholic beverages to Kampala. Ruparelia also focused on his foreign exchange business. He opened Uganda’s first forex bureau, Crane Forex Bureau, which is still in existence and forms an integral part of the Crane Financial Empire. By 1990, Ruparelia was raking in $10,000 in daily profits, and with the money, he started buying up at bargain prices chunks of undeveloped land and dilapidated residential and commercial structures in the largely undeveloped central business district of Kampala and in leafy suburbs .
The Ruparelia Group has extensive interests in property, insurance, banking and agriculture, but Ruparelia says the two entities he holds closest to his heart are the Kampala Parents School and the Kampala International School, which he runs along with his wife.
“That’ll be my legacy: education,” he says matter-of-factly. “I believe education is the bedrock of world-class aspirations. If I know that I have played my role in grooming the next generation of leaders in Uganda, I’ll be content.”
Read the full original article at www.forbes.com