In Summary
  • James Kanyije has never looked back since selling his shares at Ice Mark Africa Limited.
  • With Shs300m in his pockets, Kanyije in his late-20s begun a long journey of multi-billionaires’ league.

With a self-claimed net worth of Shs18bn, businessman James Kanyije claims to be one of Uganda’s richest person. Without sitting on his laurels, he is aggressively trying to expand his business empire into real estate, farming and exporting of fruits and vegetables through his KK Foods Company that he started in 2011.
His company, started in 2011 with just Shs300m, contributes 69 per cent of the horticulture exports in European countries such as Germany, England, Italy and France. Kanyije values his company at Shs20bn at the moment.

“I tell people who ask me where I derive success that I’m a social person, I keep my head straight, I have commitment and trust, and above all believe in God,” he adds.
In the business, government and media circles, the name Kanyije is familiar with penchant diversity and unrelenting spirit to try out any money minting venture.
His tear jerking from-rags-to-riches story has graced the media before and was packed in a three-minute ‘Gyenvudde waala’ song by gospel singer cum MP Judith Babirye.

Yet there remains vital bits of his trials and tribulations journey from a village boy, to an indigenous investor now close to attaining his Shs100bn dream that we tap into this edition.
In an interview with Sunday Monitor this week, businessman James Kanyije spoke widely on how today’s jobless youths can emulate his story to become recognised members of society.
“Before you ask for what government has done for you, ask yourself what little you have done to transform your country to deserve its attention,” he says.

Modest beginnings
Born in 1969 to the late Karyarugokwe and Jacinta Mayonde in Rwampara, Ngugo Sub County, Bugamba County, Mbarara District, the fifth born of 11 children lost his father in 1991 when he was in Senior Four.
He had to work double to help his siblings by grazing cattle, squeezing juice from bananas, milking the cows and digging to raise funds.
At eleven years, it dawned on him that he had to start Primary one at Ngugi Primary School in 1980 and soon he would fend off rebellion activities (by NRM) of the time to progress with studies.

Almost becoming a priest
His father envisaged Kanyije in priest attires and rode him to Mushanga Seminary in Bushenyi District to continue in Primary Six in 1986, enroute to becoming a priest. That was not his calling, and he soon turned down a chance to join Kitabi Seminary for secondary education to trek 35 kilometres to Lukoni Secondary School in Ntungamo District. He sat his Senior Four exams at Ruhanga Adventist Secondary School in Ntungamo District the same year he lost his dad which inevitably drove him into brewing local gins during the school holiday to make ends meet. He was beginning an entrepreneurial journey that is almost reaching its destination today.

“My parents sowed seeds of hard work in us. I will not forget my mum’s advice when I reached my teens; do not ever drink a beer until you have the capacity to buy it on your own,” he remembers. Kanyije says he lives by her guiding caution because it has helped him realise that you must be somebody to do something.
The proceeds from waragi and beer sale propelled his studies at Mbarara School of High Education for his advanced level 1992-1994 although the 10 points from History, Economics, Geography and Divinity were not enough to earn him a slot at university.

He joined Nakawa College of Business Studies (Makerere University Business School now) and got a diploma in business studies. He never stopped looking for working opportunities and soon he was booked at Uganda Fish Packers, as an accounting clerk.
He spent five years ((1995 to 2000) with them and along the way married Edwin Karungi, then a nurse but now a director in their multi-million dollar fruits and vegetables exporting company KK Foods Limited.

Growing business wings
Kanyije’s business acumen started coming to the fore in 2000 when he teamed up with a pal from Iceland to start Ice Mark Africa Limited in September 2000 enjoying only 10 per cent share.
His main assignment here was to deliver the fish to the aircraft, make sure that the aircraft is loaded in time and everything in Entebbe is paid before seeing it off and being in charge of handling the flights directly. Seven years on and with a wide net of contacts in Europe, Kanyije was habouring bigger dreams and ready to go solo. He veered off the Ice mark route and with a few friends created FFP Uganda Limited, which was charged with buying vegetables and fruits from farmers. The company was worth about Shs32.5b in a few years of operation as they sought out the produce from farmers and loaded it on planes for export.

“I left them to serve my country because they wanted to invest in their country yet I wanted to invest in our local farmers,” he reminiscences as he leans back in his roving chair during the interview at his Naalya offices. Kanyije, discloses that incorporating family members in business has been a vital cog in his success story although he has now made his KFF Foods Company open to public investment. Together with Karungi, they have three children Edgar Atwire, Edson Atujukire and Patience Kanyije.

According to Kanyije, the biggest obstacle he faces is the high fees charged by transporters. He says that government must establish flights with subsidised export costs. Because the export market is strict on the minimum residue level. Kanyije says he spends a lot of time and money in supervising the vegetables from the farmer to the final day of exporting. “Standards need to be enforced to ensure quality is adhered to from the farm,” he says.

Empire. The reward for all the struggle was first recognised when Kanyije won the President’s Exporters Gold Award for best exporter of fresh fruits and vegetables from 2005 to 2010 from Uganda Exports Promotions Board (UEPB).
Apart from countless rental pads around the country, Kanyije now has a multi-million farm in Busiika, 35-bed hospital in Luweero among his investments. Looking back, Kanyije cannot fault his parents for opening him to the ‘harsh’ world of hard work at three, because he now lives and breathes agribusiness.