By Our Reporter
No matter how ambitious your plan, you have to roll up your sleeves and start yesterday instead of tomorrow. That was how Mr. Christopher Sembuya managed to come out of nowhere to become the number one Brand in East Africa.
Last Friday, one of uganda’s most Industrious local investors scooped a Pan-African Pyramid Global Award for steering Uganda into an Industrious country for decades. However, while recieving the Award at Fairway Hotel,his son Steven Sembuya who has accompanied him,said the family wasn’t happy with the current Gov’t who completely forgot his dad’s contribution to the development of this country. “My dad was the first to produce locally made metallic materials, assemble radio etc but he has not been paid in the same currency back,this bothers us so much as a family,” he said.
There are many explanations for the Sembule Steel Mills’ phenomenal growth, but one technique was thinking big, yet taking small steps. Many of Sembuya’s classical mates at the time thought he had become crazy when he put in his resignation at the Ministry of finance where he was serving as senior finance officer- Budget Department. He was the officer who helped the Uganda Government move away from the traditional “one line item” budgeting to the now adopted ‘Programme Budgeting and Performance’. He left his highly paying job in favor of untested waters.
But Sembuya is now, in fact, Uganda’s very own Rockefeller; the embodiment of the steel, electronics, and construction aristocracy of yesteryears.
From humble beginnings in Idi Amin’s Uganda of 1971, two brothers; Christopher Columbus Sembuya and Henry Buwule founded a company; Sembule Steel Mills Ltd, formerly located in Nalukongo, a Kampala suburb. It later grew into The Sembule Group after it expanded and diversified into banking, electronics, construction, and trade in the 1980s.
Some of the older generation of Ugandans can find a quick link between Uganda Railways Corporation, Uganda Cooperative transport Union, DVD Engineering, and Bansel Engineering. These were some of their business partners.
Sembule Steel Mills started as a small hardware shop in Ndeeba, Rubaga registered on 11th February 1961. The shop had earlier been owned by his mother who let him put his franchise that included, Cement, Hoes, Slashers, and nails purchased from Indians that had been making them from Industrial Area.
In 1969, the young Christopher Sembuya born 6th March 1936, asked his brother Wilberforce to join him and the two kicked off what would later become the most successful and enviable brand for three decades in the region. At the time they produced 1200 metric tonnes per year.
The first registered business name was Ndeeba Hardware, then later Sembule Industries registered on 19th February 1971 then Sembule steel mills Ltd in 1974 curved out of their surnames SEMBUYA and BUWULE—Sembule.
They bought a small piece of land measuring about half an acre for their residential houses but quickly turned it into a nail making factory starting with 1 nail machine that they nicknamed ‘NALONGO’ because it helped them earn a lot of money thus becoming a fully-fledged steel business.
Sembule steel mills went on to be the first company to manufacture steel products like Chainlink, barbed wire in 1974, Metal Lathe, welding electrodes among others in Uganda. The company enjoyed more than 80% of the market share.
On July 21st 1989, the two brothers, their executive at the time Steven Musoke, Emmanuel Katongole (now MD Quality Chemicals Luzira) and David Serebe gathered for a meeting where a crucial decision to enter the electronics business was made. ‘Sembule Electronics’ was registered in 1990 and mid the same year started operation by establishing its own production and the very first in Uganda, and accumulated technology. It pushed to produce and assemble telephone exchange, coloured TVs, Antennas, portable Radios, cassette Radio, Video Decks, among others. To make it simpler for you, Sembule was the first ever and only Ugandan to assemble Radios, TVs, Antennas, etc. Sembule’s color TV made quite an Impact.
The first time color came to the TV screens for Ugandans from Sembule it seemed like the whole world had changed because everyone wanted to have a piece of it. This was a technology where an additional ‘Kaveera or plastic’ film would be added on the front of the TV screen and it would change from Black and White to color. It’s Sembule who introduced that tech to Ugandans.
In addition, the remote controlled TV sets seemed incredibly preposterous to Ugandans as family viewing was seen in a whole new light. Sembule introduced screen covers broadcasting 3 monochrome images, red, green, blue(RGB). The TV brands included Matendo, Spectra Angel, Pearl Special, Pearl Deluxe and Supra.
AM to FM Radios
Today radio is one of the most popular methods of communication; a radio uses waves to catch and transmit signals which enable the listeners to hear what is airing. AM broadcasting amplified the signal received by radio receiver. To increase clarity in message, Sembule introduced FM radio sets which increased clarity of audio messages being received. Its radio brand was Sembule Makula.
Sembule also introduced street lighting in Kampala and Uganda at large. This helped curb high rates of accidents at night and crime. They also set up the first bulb plant factory and after extensive investment and expansion of production lines they became the regions’ largest consumer electronics company from phones to computers.
It’s no wonder that President Yoweri Museveni prided in Sembule so much that he took all his visiting Presidents during the 90s to see the eye-catching automated technology at Nalukolongo. He used Sembule before his visitors as a measure of how far the country’s economy had grown in terms of Industrialization.
Sembule’s Cables at International Television (CTV) started broadcasting in December 1992, becoming the first ever private broadcasting station to be allowed by government to go on Air. It was received with great enthusiasm and went into agreement with CNN to down-Link CNN’s signal and rebroadcast it locally. They had other relationships with Deusche Wella, MCM, among others.
On 30th January 1998, CTV merged with WBS TV and it was agreed that it was to surrender to WBS channel 9, Channel 25 with its Frequencies and 2 Satellite dishes.
SEMBULE INVESTMENT BANK, undoubtedly became the biggest success story for a local Ugandan owned bank growing to become one of the most recognized, trusted Banks in Uganda.
Sembule groomed many leaders like Hon.John Ken Lukyamuzi, the former Lubaga South Member of Parliament grew up at the Sembule premises and his first job was a night watchman at the factory, having been recruited on Monday, 24th November, 1980 and earning Shs800 per month. He went on to serve as Party President for CP and MP for 2 terms.
Years before he was called to serve as the Katikiro of Buganda, Owek. Mulwanyamuli Semwogerere had played a vital role as the Managing Director at Sembule Investment Bank.
Mr. Gordon Sentiba, an Insurance guru now, led the group’s Insurance Company to become number one at the time in Uganda. He even saw it go into the Tanzanian market. Today he remains one of the top brains in the Industry.
Former Chairman of Multi-choice Uganda, Steven Musoke, was one of the founding members of Sembule, having been recruited from Golf course in the early 80s
Mr.Deo Kayemba started out as a young man at Sembule playing a vital role as Executive Manager at Sembule Shelter, Pwico as a director and CTV as a director. Today he is the owner of East African ROOFINGS systems.
Mr. Emmauel Katongole was recruited straight from University and was the executive director of the Electronics section and made it the best in the country. Today, he is the proprietor of Cipla Quality Chemicals in Luzira.
Hon. James Kakooza worked with the group’s bank for some time before becoming a Minister and NRM Member of Parliament.
Mr.Leo Kibirango, the former Governor Bank of Uganda worked with the group’s Bank and Insurance Company.
Justice Godfrey Kiryabwire, Mr. Geoffrey Kihuguru, Mr. Edmond B.Katiti among others all started part of carries at the Sembule Group.