Nuwagaba, the Scrap king of Western Uganda
By Eriah Lule
In a convention of mayors across the Kampala Metropolitan Area in 2021, Hon. Erias Lukwago, the Lord Mayor ofKampala, revealed that about 28,000 tons of waste are collected and delivered to a landfill every month.
Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) records show that this represents approximately 56% of the waste generated in the city. The remaining uncollected waste is normally dumped at unauthorized sites. This is just a simple study that represents the country at large.
This wasn’t news to Nuwagaba Blair, a student of civil and environmental engineering at Uganda Christian University (UCU) at the time who had fallen in love with his waste management classes.
To him, “every factory needed something to be supplied, or it would supply something.”
On one Friday evening in 2014, as Nuwagaba gently trekked from the city, he passed by Nakawa Division and landed at Plastic Recycling Industries (PRE), a Coca-Cola and Rwenzori-owned factory that was recycling plastics.
To his surprise, the company was recycling plastic. He asked the manager if he could also collect plastics and bring them, to which the manager agreed.
“My financial situation at the time was worrying. “So, I took this as an opportunity to add a coin to my pocket,” he said. “I started with collecting all plastics that were on the university premises for 3 weeks; they filled a Fuso-Canter truck and weighed 600 kg.”
Blair earned Ugx shs 300,000. But was this enough? No, it wasn’t. He changed locations to another industrial park in Mbalala, Mukono District. He found a new company that had just started making I-plastics. “I talked directly to the owner, Ji Zholongo, a Chinese investor who gave me the go-ahead,” he said.
He could no longer collect plastics from the university at this point. He went out into the community and began collecting more.
On delivery of all his plastics, Zholongo picked a plastic seat’s leg out of all that he had delivered and asked him if he could be delivering that kind. He was paid
Nuwagaba’s aim was to now find the broken seats. He came to UCU and searched for event management companies, which is how he discovered Fotogenix Ltd. He was asked to meet the manager at the time, who gave him a Fuso truck full of 600 broken chairs. He took them to Zholongo, who paid him Ugx Shs. 2,800,000.
He called his friends, who had helped him with money to deliver his first parcel, Bagambe Pius and Katureeba Michael, to engage in the business.
“Business was just run on trust and God’s grace,” he said. “I couldn’t let my friends behind but call them on board.”
In 2015, Zholongo couldn’t hold on, but he called Nuwagaba and asked if he would give him a crushing machine in order to provide the materials that had been crushed. The machine was worth Ugx shs15 million, and its payment would just be deducted from the materials supplied.
He set up some structure in Bugujju, a trading center around the university, but by this time he was battling a lot of setbacks but was determined for his business to thrive.
They registered the company, and before he could even finish the price of the first machine, Ji offered to give him the second machine, a washing machine worth 8 million, and later he gave them a drying machine, but all of this was on the same payment mode.
“Of course my parents were not in agreement; they asked me to either continue studying or I am on my own,” he said. “But, I showed them I was obedient, and when I returned, it was business as usual.”
In 2017, the team of three had a misunderstanding, and Blair decided to let go, not knowing God’s plan.
Safari Christopher, the chairman of the Uganda Scrap Metal Dealers and Innovators Association, had long heard of
Blair’s hard work and dedication.
“He called me and told me he wanted us to work together, but he wanted me to go in Western Uganda,” he said. “He gave me Ugx shs 15 million to set up a metal scrap store in the region, but we didn’t get anywhere. We were just moved by a word of trust.”
Katto Paul, the Alumni Eastern Representative, noted that Blair is a clear representation of humble beginnings from which most graduates should take a leaf.
“Persistence and resilience have been Blair strengths right from our days in school; if we all humbled ourselves from our beginnings, we would achieve big things in life,” he said.
Currently, he deals in general scrap, like metals and car batteries, with several stores across the region.
According to Nuwagaba, most graduates think of starting with megaprojects rather than humble beginnings.
Born to Turyahikayo Bagarukayo Fred and Akakinsimira Peace in Itugamo District, Nuwagaba is the second of the couple’s eight children.
He doesn’t only deal in scrap; he is into construction with his company, Zhenghzhi Establishment, which subcontracts stone pitching on highways.
He also supplies coffee husks to Pearl Diaries and cacti and aloe to Kaziire Factory in Western Uganda.