- Ambitious. Hajara Namulindwa Akankwasa has overcome incredible hurdles to become a businesswoman of great substance. Having earned a wealth of wisdom from her entrepreneurial life, Akankwasa now mentors women along their own journeys, writes Misairi Thembo Kahungu.
Sitting down with Hajara Namulindwa Akankwasa one cannot help but admire the tremendous effort this 33-year-old businesswoman has put in to turn her life around. Abandoned at the age of one, Akankwasa grew up under the care of t an old woman whom she remembers as Jajja Nakibule in Kabira village, Kyotera District (formerly Masaka District).
“When I was 10 years old, the old woman sat me down and explained to me that my father, who was an NRA soldier, had abandoned me to her care and that my mother had died when I was around one year old. She did not explain the cause of my mother’s death or if I had any relatives in the world,” Akankwasa relates painfully.
Our interview keeps getting interrupted by numerous customers who want her to attend to them personally. After handling their demands she suggests we shift the venue to room 536, Equatorial Mall where she has an office.
Her father Shafiq Karamaji returned after the war reclaimed and reunited her with the family in Kashari, Mbarara District. By this time, Karamagi had left the army and established himself as a businessman. His success planted a seed that came to maturity in 2011.
The single mother of five needed more money than she was earning as a guidance and counsellor at Kawala Health Centre in Wakiso District.
“The pay was not good for me and my growing five children. I wanted them to have all the good things I had not been able to have as a child but with my salary this seemed like a dream. I decided to quit the job and use the little money I had saved to start a small business selling women’s clothes. I was hungry for financial freedom I was determined to become successful one day in life,” she narrates.
At the start, Akankwasa had a capital of Shs2m and used it to board a bus to Dar-es-Salaam to shop for women’s Islamic garments to sell around mosques in Kampala. The business was not profitable enough for the mother of five who needed to pay rent, schools fees and meet a multitude of other needs for her family.
Maiden China trip
She needed to find a business that offered more returns but needed little capital. In 2014, she was advised by businessman, Sulaiman Kalema to go to China and import goods. In November of the same year, she borrowed $3,000 (about Shs11.1m at current exchange rate) from friends and $1,000 (Shs3.7m) from Hajji Kalema for her maiden trip to china. She spent $850 (Shs3.1m) on processing her visa and air ticket.
“It was my first time on the plane. The trip would have been very difficult had I not I travelled with Kalema to Beijing. On arrival, he handed me over to another Ugandan businessman in China called Meddie who guided me to buy 400 pieces of dresses. I sold all the pieces in one week and earned Shs25m,” narrates Akankwasa.
By January 2015, she needed a bigger space and she decided to rent space for a shop at Qualicel Building around the old bus park leaving the shop at Lion Shopping Center, along Namirembe road. The new shop dealt in both men and women’s wear. She then returned to China that month with $10,000 (about Shs37m) and since that trip her business reached a take-off stage.
Akankwasa, who says she had never taken a bank loan other than borrowing from friends, now operates two shops and with a net capital of about Shs800m, and travels monthly to China, Turkey and Thailand to buy stock. However, it was not all smooth running; Akankwasa faced difficulties ranging from repaying her friends and lacking enough money to clear her goods from the authorities.
Tired of these financial setbacks in early 2016, Akankwasa mobilised four other women to start daily savings of Shs5,000. But within few months, the number had increased to 40 members each saving Shs20,000 daily. In the same year, Akankwasa who was the treasurer for the informal association influenced the members to start an association that would have a bank account since their savings were increasing. They then formed and registered Kampala Women Traders Development Association (KAWOTDA).
Through the association, which Akankwasa chairs, about 58 other women trader associations have been formed within Kampala and other parts of the country. The groups have 40 members each which makes the total number of KAWODTA linked women at about 2320.
“The members of KAWODTA and I have been traversing different parts of the country to train women in other groups on how to manage their businesses through savings and revolving funds so as to avoid the burden of loans,” Akankwasa narrates.
Some of the groups in Kampala are for small scale women traders in Kiseka market, Nabugabo, St Balikudembe market (Owino), Kafumbe Mukasa, Luwum Street, William Street, Kikubo and Kisenyi. Two months ago, she organised a trip to Turkey and led more than 30 women to Istanbul, Turkey to see how women there go about business.
During visits to the groups, business experts are taken along to give skills to the women on how to do self-sustaining businesses.
Hand on farming
For the last two years, Akankwasa, who employs 10 people in her two shops, has ventured into farming as an alternative source of income. She spent about Shs50m to purchase at least 45 acres of land at Kalagala village in Lyantonde District where she has established a mixed farm of both livestock and crops. At the farm which employs seven people, she rears cattle and goats, has 18 acres of banana plantation that has hit the productive stage and about three acres of passion fruit.
Despite facing difficult early years, Akankwasa who has out of her successful business built a home and a rental apartment, is thinking of venturing into real estate business but is yet to identify where and how much to invest.
Akankwasa is relactunt to discuss her relationships from which she bore the five children.
“I do not want to discuss matters to do with my past, especially the relationship and how I got the children. All I can say is that I am living a happy life as a single mother and whatever I am doing is towards giving my children a better future,” says Akankwasa.
At the movement, she is also not thinking about settling down with any other man in marriage because her fear is that unscrupulous men target successful women with an intent to prey on their wealth but with no mutual love.
Despite having busy schedules on a daily basis that include attending to her shops, the farm and going on business trips abroad, Akankwasa wants to return to school sometime next year. She wants to pursue a bachelor degree in Business Administration. This, she says, will help her manage her businesses better and also attain professional skills for the mentorship programmes of her association.
Employing relatives in a business has been the biggest challenge that Akankwasa has faced during her seven-year journey.
“Some of the relatives I have employed have not been trustworthy. Sometimes they steal money or clothes from the shop to sell elsewhere. There are also customers who after getting used to you start taking goods on credit and the next time you see them in other corridors shopping,” adds Akankwasa.
Her advice to women is not to depend on their husbands but rather convince them to top up whatever they have to venture into business.
In early 2016, Akankwasa mobilised four other women to start daily savings of Shs5,000. But within few months, the number had increased to 40 members each saving Shs20,000 daily. About 58 other associations have been formed. The groups have 40 members each which makes the total number of KAWODTA linked women at about 2320.