Growing up in the slums of Katwe, Livingstone Mukasa promised himself to live a different life from that of his father. His father came from Masaka to Kampala to make ends meet. He settled in Katwe only to be joined by his son Livingstone who was joining secondary school in 1992 at St Joseph’s Nsambya.
As a teenager in a slum environment, Livingstone promised himself to complete his education so he could transform his life and that of his loved ones. This came to pass when he was admitted to study marketing at the then Nakawa College of Business Studies (NCBS) before it became Makerere University Business School in 1997.
“The slum shaped me. It made know who I am,” he tells me in earnest. “I learnt how to do business, to survive but most importantly, to work with people.”
Katwe is famous for its artisan works where a lot of the country’s fabrication is done. However, there are so many street smart young people who survive on nothing but running other people’s errands. Livingstone was one of them.
“I found it hard to do proper business. I didn’t have the capital. I survived on deals. I’d sell whatever was available until one day when I was presented with a street light to sell off. I knew I was hitting a dead end. I stopped this trade,” he narrates laughing at himself shyly. “That’s not the kind of person I wanted to be,” he adds faced down shaking his head, “I had learnt of Christ and I didn’t want to do unchristian business.”
He began paying attention to other works outside the slum until he left NCBS. Later on, his life was to be shaped by the intention to lift himself and others from the biting poverty his family had suffered both in the rural and the urban. “This kind of life was not only unique to my family, many of the people around me lived a similar way of lived. In 2002, I left Katwe.”
Together with friends, they established the Living Business Education going out to teach people in communities how to run proper businesses. This meant having to deal with a number of things, one of which was self-education on finance but most importantly having hands-on experience with how businesses are run.
There is no way this could be done without running Clean Consult Limited (CLC), a company he founded in 2004. Upon his graduation in 2001, he had landed a sales and marketing job with Apex Dry cleaning services and he had been hooked. He loved the job and two years later, he was acting as the general manger when the opportunity presented itself. He decided to step out into the waters and see what it meant running a business with well-established structures that is how CLC was born.
“I was itching to join the wagon of the ‘self-employed’. The company lives to date much as I no longer run it directly,” he is quick to inform me. “The skills I learnt here, I shared with those we trained in the communities.”
He was asked to put these ideas in writing which resulted into the publication of his book, Investing for the Future. The book reached out to many and it helped him to help people in a number of ways than he had thought. One of the readers challenged him.
“He came to me with a UGX 2000 note asking me to save it for him. “I became restless. I needed to keep this money safely but also track it.”
He reached out to two colleagues, a financial adviser and a lawyer, with whom he sought their views. The result of their meeting was the birth of Mazima Retirement Plan (MRP).
“My research had led me to the individual retirement plan that is conducted in the USA, and I realized we didn’t have something like that here (Uganda). So MRP started on those grounds.”
We had to sell the idea to the public but before we could do that, we had to seek permission from the Uganda National Retirement Benefits whom we came to learn were stuck with a similar challenge. They needed to get people into voluntary saving but they were stuck.
“In Uganda, we have a feeling that our businesses shall sustain us. And that we understand our money. This is a challenge because we all rush to establish businesses which do not necessarily have a continuity when we are not actively involved.
Uganda’s saving culture is still very poor and there is need to address it. There is need for more players to come on board. Mazima alone cannot solve the problem. The concept of social security should be made easy for the layman to understand.”
Many people thought MRP was a scam to steal people’s money and run away. Today, the program has grown having given back UGX 200M in interest to the 1700 savers that make up its membership. One by one they bought into the idea. Mr Mukasa is not number one on the list, his is number 16, before he could buy into the scheme, other people did.
He reminds people not to fear going into the unknown by referring to Jesus who only left 11 disciples yet Christianity has a billion followers today. Closer home, he refers to President Museveni’s bush war story of the 27 guns only to return with a full army. When it came to MRP, 300 people first bought the idea of Mazima yet today a thousand more have come along.
Mazima Retirement Plan wants to better the life of its members by offering them affordable health insurance, affordable education, affordable real estate solutions and savings for its members.
“In Uganda, if at 45, you have not made a million shillings chances are, you won’t make one. The curve tends to fall downwards yet in the USA, there are more chances of making a million dollars after 45 because of planned savings which start earlier in life.
Today at 42, Livingstone is more hopeful than before that many Ugandans will gladly look forward to their retirement without worry of how they will have to survive because they saved.
He refers to the words written on his book at the table, “I don’t expect my children to be my retirement insurance policy.”
He advises that investments should be done in one’s youthful and energetic years by considering the small, and boring stuff. That’s what will make your retirement enjoyable.
“No one wakes up retired, it’s a journey we all walk and should prepare for—if not for anything—to enjoy it. You’ve got to be true to yourself. You know the truth about your finances. Deal with it the right way. Plan for your retirement,”