By Alex Balimwikungu
Monday was World Philanthropy Day. To the uninitiated, philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes. Several individuals who have acquired a considerable fortune have come out with those random acts of kindness and have been celebrated.
When you ask the average Ugandan to name at least three philanthropists they know, names like Bryan White (Brian Kirumira), Michael Ezra (Ezra Mulyowa) and Sipapa (Charles Olim) come to mind. Feed the same question to the search engines and names like Sudhir Ruparelia, Mayur Madhvani and Kalidhas Mehta come up. Tell this to the average Ugandan and they will tell you to go argue with your keyboard.
Giving and charity are deeply rooted in African culture. It is better understood through the concept of Harambee (Swahili for pooling resources) and Ubuntu (Zulu for caring for each other). These are very much alive in Uganda although we have not found an apt name.
Capturing the true size of giving in Uganda is difficult, as much of the giving is informal and at an individual or community level, but giving is growing. With the advent of social media, many philanthropists are giving with the cameras rolling. Every facet of their charitable acts is captured long before the recipients can benefit.
Making charitable donations or practising regular charitable giving — either through donating money, goods, or time — is undoubtedly a habit not lost on Uganda.
Brian Kirumira aka Bryan White
When Bryan Kirumira started his Bryan White Foundation in 2015, it was on a mountain of hype and swagger. He was thrust upon us as a motivational speaker who had started the non-profit organisation with the aim of creating breakthrough solutions spanning financial, agricultural, sports and health services. Boy did he give money!
He chose the cream of the crop. The likes of singers Jose Chameleone, Weasel, Big Eye, Zari, King Michael and Cindy. Comedians Alex Muhangi, Madrat and Chiko abandoned their vocations just to hang around Bryan White.
In 2018, thousands of Mbarara residents turned up at Kakyeka Stadium for the launch of the
organisation. Bryan White believed the hype. His ego swelled. The source of his money was as mysterious as his Italian roots. On his Facebook account, the young ‘tycoon’ said his Italian step-dad taught him (Bryan) business. Trust Ugandans to punch holes in his story.
For a CEO who allegedly inherited a multi-million company from his step-dad, many swore the Mityana-born Bryan White had never stepped on the tarmac of Entebbe Airport to fly to Italy.
Even though he is of slight build, Bryan White fell with a thud. In 2019, he was detained after getting mired in debt. For one who once had a police lead car and guards, he looked on helplessly as they were withdrawn.
A haunting picture of Bryan White helplessly lying on the floor with a ‘gas’ cylinder confirmed the ‘tycoon’ was down and almost out. Then, he was battling a sex scandal.
Members of Parliament on the Human Rights Committee had found Bryan White culpable of sexual-related offences that were said to have been committed with the aid of security agencies. His pleas to meet President Yoweri Museveni for permission to get specialised treatment abroad were met with deaf ears. The licence for his foundation was revoked.
Before Kirumira, another philanthropist with a questionable background was Mike Ezra. In the early 2000s, he was believed to be among the richest Ugandans with over 60 off-shore companies across the world. He had a net worth of over $1.5b (about sh5.3 trillion).
When he paraded $100,000 (sh350m then) at a press conference, he was treated as God’s gift to Uganda. He followed it by landing with a chopper in Namboole Stadium ahead of a Uganda Cranes’ game! This was quickly followed by news that he was going to purchase Leeds United FC for £60m (about sh286b).
Unlike Bryan White, beneficiaries of his money only told tales. We never saw Michael Ezra dole cash in public. He disappeared as fast as he came and the last we heard, he was battling fraud cases in Kenya for which he was later acquitted. He lives a quiet humble life.
Over the years we have had chaps like Sipapa hogging media space for their charitable causes. His intentions are, however, as mysterious as his source of wealth. He has done his fair share of rounds in city jails.
Musicians and charity causes
If you read Ugandan news, you might think we are blessed with the most generous artistes in the music industry. They have kept us entertained with their gift of music, but also reached into their pockets to pay back to the fans. Names freely reel of the tongue.
From Bebe Cool with the Amber Heart Foundation, Spice Diana, Jose Chameleone, Bobi Wine and Iryn Namubiru, the list is endless.
Bebe Cool is one known to speak his mind. When Bobi Wine held a charity concert under the auspices of Red Cross, he cast doubt that it was free. He claimed that certain artistes use the tactic to dodge taxes. True or not, it is a subject of investigation. The random acts of kindness are subject to debate.