Big spenders. Uganda has in the recent past witnessed the rise of a group of young people who make a name for themselves by living lavish lifestyles and throwing around money. They usually disappear from the limelight as fast as they came, but what effect do they leave behind?
Many Ugandans have witnessed the rise of “free spenders”. Despite not knowing the source of that whooping wealth, the Ugandans seem to care about what the socialites use their money for. But others, especially on the ethical and religious points of view, wonder what culture these young men and women are planting in an economically struggling nation.
According to the Oxford dictionary, a socialite is a person who goes to a lot of fashionable parties and is often written about in the newspapers. On the other hand, Wikipedia defines a socialite as a person (usually from a privileged, wealthy, or aristocratic background) who has a wide reputation and a high position in society.
It adds that a socialite spends a significant amount of time attending various fashionable social gatherings.
In Uganda, the socialites have cut a unique dress code; driving posh cars, partying and dishing out money.
Michael Ezra Kalyoowa
First to emerge at the start of the 21st Century was Michael Ezra Mulyoowa. He appeared on the social scene, splashing lots of money from around 2002. Ezra made his fame when he almost single-handedly sponsored the Uganda Cranes in 2006 to travel to Niamey, Niger, to play in the African Cap of Nations qualifying match. He reportedly spent about Shs60m.
In 2004, he stunned the sporting world by making a £60 million bid to buy then English Premiership club Leeds United. In the same year, he also reportedly tested the government’s resolve by inquiring about buying the Mandela National Stadium, Namboole in a $30 million offer.
After years of free spending on different sports activities and other social events, Ezra’s fame as a Kampala socialite started fading and he has since disappeared from the “free spenders” scene after being acquitted of charges of issuing bounced cheques.
Bad Black, Meddie Ssentongo
Then came Shanita Namuyimbwa, aka Bad Black. This was a free-spending young woman who reportedly spent millions of shillings whenever she spent a night out with friends. Bad Black later hooked up with another socialite, Meddie Ssentongo. They had an intimate relationship until they landed into financially related trouble.
In 2012, Black and Ssentongo were thrown into Luzira prison after court convicted them of defrauding Black’s ex-fiancé David Greenhalgh of Shs11b. Black was handed a four-year prison sentence while Ssentongo was jailed for 18 months.
Black, who was released in 2016, had during her defence, told court that she was right to withdraw the money as a co-director of Mr Greenhalgh’s Deveshen Company.
She also said the money was used to maintain Mr Greenhalgh’s son with whom they had left Europe to live in Uganda after their relationship was no more.
After their release from prison on separate dates, the two have never lived the same big-spending life again.
As the country was mourning one of the Rich Gang members, Ivan Ssemwanga, who made his fortune in South Africa last year, there emerged another young socialite, Brian Kirumira aka Bryan White.
Bryan White’s name and money may be new in the country, but his fame seems to have rapidly climbed to the apex of the rating of socialites in Kampala. Despite claims that Mr White inherited a fortune from his late mother who married a real estate tycoon in Italy, many are still wondering about the source of his money.
Though Christmas is known as the real lavish time for such socialites, the festive season of 2017 casts unpleasant memories for Bryan White who celebrated the birth of Jesus inside the coolers of Luzira prison as he was on remand over charges of attempted murder. Though out on bail, White is yet to learn his fate since he has not yet been put on trial.
Despite the prison and court trauma, Mr White has started from where he had stopped by giving out money for fun. He has been seen giving out money to boda boda riders and other people who chant his name as they see his motorcade. He also contributed to the medical bill of singer Mowzey Radio before he lost the battle at Case Hospital on Thursday morning.
Are socialites planting a begging culture?
The big question in the public domain is the message the socialites are sending to Ugandans.
During the requiem mass for fallen artiste Mowzey Radio, Rubaga Cathedral priest Rev Fr Deogratius Kateregga Kiibi cautioned socialites to handle their fame and money well.
“You [celebrities] have people who are following you, people who look up to you. Celebrities normally have silent people who are following them and it is important that you touch those people’s lives in a positive way,” he said.
It has been known that most socialites – Michael Ezra, Bad Black, Meddie Ssentongo, Jack Bemba and Ivan Ssemwanga – have had to answer to the financial cries of those chanced to have come closer to them.
But State minister for Ethics and Integrity Simon Lokodo says this is planting “a bad aspect in the moral fibre in the country”.
Fr Lokodo says it is immoral for one to “extravagantly” dish out money on social events when the government is struggling to make Uganda a better place for the needy and many others who go without food.
“Extravagant spending of money by socialites is a bad education to the youth because they will not plan for hard-earned money as they also spend it freely to make a name,” Fr Lokodo says, adding that government will fight to save the young generation from “destruction”.
But Bryan White seems to have a new approach to splashing money. According to a recent interview in The Observer, instead of throwing parties, he plans to transform Ugandan youth, by giving them – not loaning – a percentage of their budgets if they have well-thought-out project proposals.