To rise from rags to riches is not a matter of luck; it is a journey of hard work, dedication, passion, belief and confidence.
Wajib Katongole Kigongo spent his entire childhood and part of his adulthood in abject poverty, but he never gave up on life and right now he is a household name in the world of brand advertising.
Born on October 23, 1984 in Biharwe, Mbarara district, Wajib is the second last born out of the 14 children of the late Hajj Badru Kigongo and Hajjat Hasifah Nakiyemba.
His father was a wealthy businessman and their family was christened ‘The Kigongo Family’ due to its prominence in Mbarara. During this time, Wajib and siblings lived their lives to the fullest like any other rich man’s child.
Unfortunately, when he clocked five years old, things turned upside down, the well-to-do family was no more; his father had gone to meet his Maker.
“When my father passed on, life was never the same, relatives abandoned us, they divided my father’s property amongst themselves and that was the beginning of uttermost poverty at our home,” recalls Wajib.
“Our relatives took everything to the extent of taking our beds, mattresses and tea spoons from our house but our mother told us to stay calm and let the perpetrators do anything they wish. We decided to move on.”
At this time, everything was a mess. School fees was a tag of war, Wajib and siblings were always sent home to clear the balance, which they never had.
“I was at Biharwe Muslim Primary School but I was always sent back home for fees. Fortunately, I made friends with teachers, and sometimes I would lie that school fees was on its way and they let me study. That’s how I hustled my way to finish Primary School.”
More trouble came when he went to Secondary School. Wajib and his mother tried everything they could to raise his Senior One school fees but it was like sailing on troubled waters.
“There was a new Secondary School called Kashari SS. I am not sure whether it still exists. I went there and confidently I asked for circulars. It was quite cheap, they were charging Shs60,000 as school fees per term. I told my mother that if we can raise that amount of money, me I was ready to walk the long distance from home to school every day. Unfortunately, we failed to get the money so I did not study the whole first term.”
“In second term, we managed to raise Shs30,000 out of the Shs60,000 and that is what I started with. I was so excited because I met some friends whom I had studied with in Primary. They helped me feel at home. However, since I had not cleared the fees, I was not given lunch but outside the school, there lived a family friend who used to operate a small shop so every lunch she could give me some water so that I don’t study on an empty stomach.”
Though, Wajib had not completed his fees, the school was very lenient that it allowed him sit for his end of term exams.
During his holiday, he decided to seek help from his step brother [Hakim] who by then was working for a roads construction company known as Strabag.
“By then the company was constructing a road in Mbarara. So I met my step brother, told him about my school fees ordeal. He told me he did not have money but he promised that he will be getting me a five litre jerrycan of paraffin every after two weeks which I could be selling and get some money for fees.”
“I did not stop at selling paraffin; I also sold polythene bags [buveeras] and local ghee on the Mbarara Highway so that I could raise school fees. I did all this behind my mother’s back because she never wanted me to be a hawker at such a young age saying that I was shaming her.”
On joining senior two, Wajib again failed to raise fees; luckily he was never short of ideas that would enable him push his education further.
What he did was to go to his elder brother [Juma] who owned a big Hardware in Mbarara. Juma promised to give him Shs200,000 each term as well as getting him a new school.
“I felt relieved, and he indeed kept his promise. He got me a school called Mbarara Modern School just behind Ntare School. The school was nice and here I settled in very well though I used to commute a very long distance.”
One may ask wonder why Wajib did not quit studying inspite of the difficulty he was going through.
“All my life, I wanted the best for my life. I never wanted to find myself doing odd jobs and I used to admire well-to-do people so that is why I was always persisting to study so that I can also be someone in life.”
Tired of being a long distance commuter, Wajib thought of acquiring a bicycle but still he never had money to buy it. His mind ran to another elder brother [Iddi] who also lived in Mbarara town.
“When I approached him, he declined my request but he told me that he could give me a room so that I starting moving from his home to school; though the distance was still long, the idea helped me to reduce on the miles I used to walk. The room did not come at a free cost since he gave me some strict rules to follow including doing house chores and helping him at his several building sites since he was a civil engineer.”
When Wajib completed his Senior Four, one of his brother [Iddi]’s wives who was a teacher secured him a part-time job as a biology teacher at one of the schools in Mbarara.
“My sister-in-law was not comfortable with me working on building sites with her husband so she got me a part time job as a teacher where I was paid Shs40,000 a month until the end of the vacation.”
Joining A’ level:
After completing his Senior Four, Wajib was not about to give up; he went back to Juma whom he requested for another push for his A’ level education, a request Juma was not about to take on.
“When I went to Juma, he told me he had a lot of problems at that time and that my other siblings should continue from where he stopped.”
Wajib had another brother Muhammad, who used to stay in Kulambiro, a Kampala City suburb who he thought would be of help as far as his education quest was concerned.
He looked for transport and one early morning, he was already on a bus to Kampala; he did not even tell his mother that he was leaving for the city.
“Muhammad was a very tough and mean man but I had nothing to do apart from approaching him. When I asked him to help me pay my A’ level fees, he uttered all sort of insults but by the end of the day, he agreed but on condition. I was to spend my holidays at his home to help him with his poultry farm and some house chores.”
“I went back to the village and proceeded with my education at the same school [Mbarara Modern School] but A’ level was challenging so I wanted to join the boarding section so that I can concentrate on my books given the fact that I was undertaking a science combination [PCB/Art].”
Wajib had to lie to his tough brother that the school administration had asked all A’level students to join the boarding section. Muhammad accepted to pay the extra fees.
“In second term, I had to join the boarding section but I did not have even a single school requirement. I had no mattress, bed sheets or suitcase. I had nothing totally. However, at home we had a dirty torn mattress and my mother also had some old bed sheets. I packed them in a polythene bag and very early in the morning I sneaked into the school; I did not pass through the administrative office because I did not want anyone to see my old stuff in my kaveera suitcase.”
In his entire boarding school life, Wajib survived on posho and beans. He was never visited by any relative.
“On reporting days, whenever I used to tell my mother that I was going back to school, she could just cry because she never had anything to give but I managed to survive since I made friends who in one way or the other who used to share with me some eats and other day to day requirements.”
In his Senior Six vacation, Wajib had to continue with his holiday routine of helping his brother on his poultry farm and doing some house chores.
“At my brother’s home in Kulambiro, I had to look after 800 hens, all his children were at school. Their maid of five years had just left so it was me all alone literally left to do almost everything at home.”
“His wife who was working at CMC motors had a tender of cleaning all the dirty overalls for the company’s employees and it was the maid who used to wash them. Since she had left, it was me to also clean them.”
Wajib says he used to do all this not because he wanted but he was targeting university tuition from his brother.
“When I had just spent a few weeks at his home, my brother ordered me out of his main house. He had another unfinished house which had no windows or doors; it is where he told me to stay.”
I properly executed my work and on several occasions he would send me to Kisenyi to buy feeds with less transport. By that time, the taxis were only stopping at Ntinda stage so what I used to do was to carry the maize bran bag on my back and walked the remaining distance to his home. After mixing the feeds, I had to fetch more than 18 jerry cans of water from the well to feed the chickens.”
Wajib reveals that the way he was being mistreated by his brother, many people were always hesitant to believe that he was his real brother.
“For any slight mistake such as the death of one his hens, it would be a total disaster. He could parade me in the compound and insult me for the entire village to listen.”
Joining the University:
Wajib performed very well in his Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE). Following his hard work at home, his brother accepted to continue paying fees for him. He enrolled for a bachelors degree in Information Technology at Makerere University.
“My brother had refused me to buy anything not even a single cloth. He said in case I did, it meant that I was stealing from his poultry farm. So at campus I was always shabby with torn clothes. He used to give me Shs1,000 transport to and from campus.”
During his stay at campus, Wajib made friends with one of his course mates, Lutalo Paul and he used to stay in the neigbouring village Kisaasi.
“My brother had refused me to make friends saying that they are a bad influence and on top of that he never entertained any outsider at his home. So one day, it was a Sunday, my brother was having a conversation with his wife in the outside kitchen. And guess what? John came to visit me with his girlfriend; I knew that I was finished.”
“I introduced Lutalo Paul to him [brother], they greeted each other but the moment he left, there’s no single word he did not abuse me. His wife tried to cool him down but in vain.”
Since Makerere University was offering more theory than hands on, Wajib got an idea to join Datamine Technical Business School in that he gets the practical beat in his course.
During his last year at campus, he lied to his brother that the institution has suggested that study for another extra year so that they get practical skills.
“When he paid the tuition for the extra year I had told him about, I decided to join Datamine for a diploma in IT.”
However, two weeks to completing his course, bad luck haunted Wajib down.
“One of my brother’s sons had some thieving habits. At home we had a new housemaid; she had spent there like one week and during holiday, this nephew of mine stole the maid’s phone. The maid started complaining on how her phone was missing so as a responsible uncle I seated all the kids at home but they all denied.”
“When my brother came back late in night, he learnt about the incident. He did not listen; he started right away to accuse me of stealing the phone. I remember it was around 1am in the morning when he told me if I did not bring it back I should vacate his home. I had nothing to do apart from leaving because I did not have it. I spent over a week sleeping in the nearby bush, surviving on water. The good thing he had completed paying all the tuition so I was able to finish school.”
After one week, Wajib’s mother learnt about the incident and this prompted her to come to Kampala so that they can sort out the issue.
“My mother came with my sister who stays in Kitebi. I was informed by my sister-in-law who used to bring for me water in the bush. She told me that they needed me at my brother’s place so that we talk over the issue. In the evening I went there. Unfortunately, when he landed his eyes on me, he shouted on top of voice saying that I should not step a foot in his house since I was a thief.”
“They failed to resolve any issue since Muhammad was just shouting and abusing me. My sister lost cool and said enough was enough. She decided to take me along with her to her home.”
The sister gave him one of her rentals behind her main house to sleep in.
“But before, the rental which I was supposed to occupy, had a tenant so I had to sleep in my sister’s garage for two months until he vacated. My brother-in-law had a car so for all that period I used to share the garage with it.”
Landing his first job:
Wajib says his sister took good care of him and very often, she used to give him upkeep that he could use to move around town looking for jobs.
“One time, I landed on my brother Juma who paid for my O’ level school fees. He was a well-connected man so I asked him to at least get for me a job since I was through with studies. That was 2007. He told me one thing, that since I was done with school, I should work as a man and look for a job by myself.”
“That’s when I realized that I was on my own. Sometimes my sister would buy for me newspapers to look for jobs. In 2008, one of my friends told me about a certain job recruitment agency in Kibuli which used to connect people to different job opportunities. It is this agency that connected me to an internet café job in Kabalagala. The café was owned by Ethiopians and they used to pay me Shs70,000 monthly.”
“When Wajib got his first job, he was extremely overwhelmed and out of his little remuneration, each month, he used to send some money to his mother in Mbarara so that she could also enjoy her son’s sweat.
During that time, Wajib managed to save some money and an idea to rent his own home crossed his mind.
“I realized that the more I time I spend at my sister’s house, eating free food, I will not develop myself. So I wanted to start renting my own house. And more interesting I wanted to rent in high end places like Munyonyo, Kololo or Buziga yet I was still poor but it’s what I wanted. One day, I got a client who took me to Munyonyo to help him set up an internet café, as I went about the set up; I saw an abandoned old house near my client’s premises.”
“I was able to connect with the owner, who rented me one room that went for Shs50,000 per month. That’s how I left my sister’s home though she never wanted me to leave because she never wanted me to suffer again.”
Pursuing a master’s degree in UK:
While working at the internet café, Wajib managed to make some money which helped him sustain his life.
As luck would have it, the Information Technology graduate had an uncle who used to study at the University of Bremen in Germany. His name was Musafiri Ssebi. On several occasions they would exchange emails.
As they kept in touch, Wajib requested his uncle to help him secure a masters degree scholarship abroad.
“He sent me application forms for the University of Liverpool. I filled them sent them back. I was so good in art and I had a dream of becoming a graphics and advertising expert, every time I would feel that I should e in that field. Months later, I was admitted to the University and I was to pursue a master’s degree in advertisement and conceptual development. I went to UK studied for two years then came back to Uganda.”
When, Wajib came back to Uganda, he had to again embark on job search. Despite of having a masters degree, the 35 year old failed to get a job within his new area of expertise.
He had to rejoin the internet café business.
“I got another job in an internet café in Bunga, they used to pay me Shs500,000 per month. There was a client called Andrew Lubega who used to come to the café. Lubega used to run an advertising agency. One time he told me to download for him a branding software. After downloading it, I opted to try it for two days. As I practiced, I realized that it was very simple to use.”
“When Lubega came to pick the software I told him that I knew how to use it. He gave me an assignment which I executed. In return he paid me Shs150,000.”
Things were moving on well, until one day, one of my internet café clients a one Dr Kihura Nkuba [owner of TV Africa] offered a radio installation job in Mubende.
“I resigned from my job and went with Dr Kihura Nkuba to Mubende where he wanted to set up a radio station. Sadly, when we reached there, there was nothing like a building that would house the station. He was just going to start building from scratch. Dr Kihura Nkuba had abandoned me and I spent three months in Mubende without pay. It was one of the builders who transported me back to Kampala.”
And again, Wajib was back to square zero with no job.
However, since he had made friends with Lubega, he requested to work with him at his advertising agency-Omnicom Ltd. Lubega took him in.
“During my stay, we got a good number of deals and the company grew at a high speed. I worked there for one year and within that year, a lot of things changed for the best simply because I was very determined since I loved what I do.”
Along the way, Wajib got a burning idea- he wanted to set up his own agency.
Since Lubega was his friend, Wajib reveals that he had to find a genuine excuse on why he was leaving the job.
What he did was to ask for a salary increment.
“I told Lubega that I was working a lot so I wanted a salary increment. He talked to his partner who in return declined the request. I left the company.”
“But before leaving, I told Lubega that I’m going but if one month elapses without him calling me, he should never call me again for the job. I spoke like that when I did not even own a pen to start my company but I had the determination.”
Birth of Butterfly agencies:
“When I went back home, I got a pen and a notebook. I started to brainstorm about the name of my-would be company. Days later, I bumped into a friend whom I asked for an opinion on a suitable name for my company. She told me to call it my name but me I wanted a unique name that stands on its own. When I looked at my life, and what I have been through, I decided to name my company ‘Butterfly Agencies’. I realized that a butterfly’s life passes through phases- there’s a stage where no one wants to come near it, and also there’s a stage where people adore it,- that exactly described my life.
The next step was to register the company. Wajib consulted one of his friends who helped him in the registration process.
“I borrowed Shs300,000 from another friend which I used to register Butterfly agencies. That was in March 2012. ”
Meanwhile, when Omnicom competitors released that Wajib had thrown in the towel, they started giving him offers to work for him since by then he was already an expert in the branding and advertising discipline but he turned them down.
“At that time, all I wanted was a company that could partner with Butterfly but not becoming an employee of anyone.”
Despite the company being in place, Wajib had no single penny to move it forward. No client was willing to work with him.
But he had a friend David Musoke who used to run a metal fabrication workshop in Kibuli. Musoke had an old computer in his workshop which Wajib used to write his proposals.
“Among the proposals I wrote and delivered was that of Unilever Uganda Limited. I had proposed to supply them with merchandise hangers that would improve their products display in shops. They liked the idea and asked me for the sample. What I did was to show Musoke how I wanted the hangers to look like and he was able to do fabricate a sample.”
“Unilever liked the sample. They gave me a deal to supply them with 8,000 hangers worth Shs64 million.”
#Unilever are the producers of products such geisha soap, Omo detergents, and close-up toothpaste among others.
Although, Wajib had managed to land the deal, he had no single coin to fabricate the merchandise hangers. The process needed over Shs30 million.”
“The only alternative I had was Musoke. We made an agreement and he started fabricating the hangers. After some good weeks, I had already delivered the consignment to Unilever. They asked for my bank details which I never had so I had to open up a bank account at #PostBank.”
“Interestingly, I wanted a corporate bank account but still I had no money to open it. I reached an agreement with the management that they open it for me (and) when the money is wired, they deduct their balance which was accepted. Within two weeks, the money was already on my account.”
After receiving the money, he ran as fast as he could to pay Musoke his Shs30 million.
With the balance, “I bought a laptop and a car.” Since then, he has never looked back.
Wajib’s Butterfly agencies has grown overtime and currently, it is one of the most reputable advertising and branding companies in Uganda.
“ Butterfly is trusted by clients and most time they give us businesses without first asking for samples. We have a slogan that goes ‘Big or small – Same passion’ that is why we always offer the best to our customers.”
“We have worked for a number of clients like Davis & Shirtliff, Next Media, Umeme, Fenon events, DVI among others.”
Wajib a family man:
The #Butterfly agencies founder and CEO is a happily married and has two children.
He walked down the aisle in 2015.
Love for cars:
Wajib currently drives a Mercedes Benz C200 compressor model 2006, sport version.
“I have always loved cars. Before his death, my father had many cars and I think loving cars is within the blood. He even had a scrap yard that whenever his cars got accidents, he used to park them there just to be looking at them.”
“I am a fanatic of cars and business. Most times I bore people because I talk too much about those two things.”
Wajib also belongs to the Mercedes Benz owners Association of Uganda and is their branding minister.
Wajib wants to grow Butterfly agencies to a group of companies.
“In the near future I’m going to invest in tour and travel, real estate and farming. So far I have started on farming;- I have cows and goats and also on the real estate part I have already bought some pieces of land.”
Advice to the youth:
“I want the youth to believe in themselves, be confident and have the passion for what they do. I believe everything is possible, if someone can, you too can do it even better as long as you put in the required efforts.”
“Many people used to despise me, even when I left Omnicom, Lubega told me that I will not make it in life. I was a failure but God proved them otherwise. You too can surely make it.”