In 2013, Kenneth Mugayehwenkyi came to be known as the walking man, making news as someone who’s walked 400 kilometres from Kabale to Mukono to raise awareness about elderly issues. Mugayehwenkyi is the founder of Reach One, Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) through which he’s impacted the lives of over 1000 Grandmothers.
He has organized the first ever Grandmothers Gathering in Uganda that attracted over 500 grannies. ROTOM today has two hospitals, probably the cleanest hospitals in the country and has grown from being a Ugandan NGO to an international one with bases in Ethiopia, USA, Canada, UK and Germany.
Ian Ortega and Lilian Nyangoma of Great Ugandans Project caught up with Kenneth over a cup of coffee where he shared some life lessons, principles and his passion of caring for 1000 vulnerable older persons.
Ian: So how did you find yourself in this whole cause of Grand Mothers? What at the core motivated you?
Kenneth: Of course at the core, it is my faith. But what happened is that I sponsored two girls. After studying in Canada in 2001, I went to work in USA. And while I was working in USA, I sponsored two girls who lived with their elderly grandmother in Seeta, Uganda. (Their grandmother just died not too long ago). The family had no house. And with the support from an American friend, my family built them a house. In the course of building for them a house we discovered that the children were needy because they had a very poor grandmother. And the grandmother was poor and suffering because she had lost the rest of her family.
Many Ugandans, like me normally take care of their parents. I am assuming most who have parents, in old age, are able to take care of them. And that’s the natural and most common thing in our culture. But for her she didn’t have children. She had a brother and his children who always took care of her. Sadly though, her brother and his 3 children (a son and two daughters) died leaving her with two orphans to look after. Helpless, living in a house which originally belonged to her parents. (By the time I met her she was about 70 years of age). I have a picture of this house in my office. Nobody could live in it. But they were living in like one side of it. So I built for them a house, a brick house. When I was building for her a brick house, that’s when she told me this story. I realized that really this woman was suffering and there were very many like her.
Part of the money I used to build for them a house had been given to me by my friend Gwen and on my return to America, I shared pictures of the newly built house with her. Looking at the pictures on her computer at her kitchen table, my friend said;; “Kenneth your heart is is not here, it belongs to those pictures, why are you living in America? Why don’t you be helping your own people?” So it kind of triggered a thought in my mind. And as she talked it was like I had a voice say; “you know what, that’s God calling you.” Later in the year, returned to Uganda and started helping Elizabeth, the grandmother of the two girls.
Before I knew it, Elizabeth told me of her friend. They became two. Before I knew it, they were three. Then 8. And they were telling me similar stories like; “My kids died. Now I have no one to take care of me. My grandkids call me a night-dancer. I slept hungry. I have no water.” Soon I was fetching water for some of them including Clementine.
Later I learned that one of the grandmothers was living on the street and eating from a market garbage in Seeta. She would bring banana peelings, give them to Elizabeth, for her pigs. So they had become friends. Then, I realized I was now digging into serious problems. Another one of them had fled from her home because her brother’s children wanted her to give them land, something she rejected. So they set her house ablaze. She was scared they were going to kill her. So she ran away. They were deep issues.
I was able, similar to what you are doing, turn this knowledge that I was getting, into write-ups and share it with my friends. So many Ugandans told me, you know, this is serious work. They asked; “What are you going to do?” I said; “I will see my way. But meantime, I am visiting them, I am praying for them.” When they became 8 then 16 and they were telling similar stories. Stories of suffering and pain but I did not know what to do with them. I thought coming together, sharing these stories and praying over them might help. I said to these Grandmothers, “now let’s meet once a week. These stories you are telling me, let them become shared among you. And we pray over them.”
They accepted and they started coming to the weekly meeting at Butebe village. They would come talk to each other. These meetings always had a healing process. Talking to each other in itself was healing. They loved it. They would come at 9AM and stay till late afternoon, we talk, sing and pray. This happened every week and we called it a weekly fellowship. And then Kenneth K, an old time friend said we needed to give them lunch since they were staying long at the weekly fellowship. “How can they spend a whole day talking and have nothing to eat?” he asked. he was working for Compassion and he said; “for me I will pay for their food. I will get them food every time they meet for fellowship. I will get it to them every week.” And that’s how Reach One, Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) was born.
Quickly we started receiving donations from people and in order to manage that properly we needed to register as a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). we applied and in April 2004, ROTOM became a registered NGO. In 2004, I went t back to visit friends in America where I had been. My friend who had given me most of the money to build a house and I had been sharing with her and other friends updates of what was happening on the ground. She started finding some sponsors. To receive money from from people in America, we needed to form an NGO in USA to. And that’s how ROTOM became an NGO in America. That was almost a year after I had returned to Uganda.
Because I had been to school in Canada. I was friends with my former pastor. I reached out to him, and he introduced me to Bill & Marlene Wyatt; former World Vision staff. He organized a meeting for me with them and after hearing my story; they said “this is wonderful, let us see what I can do.” That was in the fall of 2005 and in 2006, ROTOM Canada was born.
Lilian: So it is in the USA, in Canada?
Kenneth: And now also in Ethiopia and in the UK. In the UK because a great Canadian friend; Linda Hallett introduced me to her childhood friend, Adrienne Shaw who started ROTOM in the UK. In Ethiopia also through introduction by a longtime friend, Jay Hartwell.
It was coming to 10 years, at some point I had in my prayer asked when ROTOM can get its own facilities and offices. We are focusing on healthcare, we want our own offices. If we can get this in 10 years, we will have achieved all I want. “Help 50 old people, have our small office and this is it.”
By the time we came to 7 or 8 years of ROTOM, we had our own office in Mukono, our own office in Muhanga, where I am born. A health center there. A health center in Mukono was coming to completion, we had 25 staff and 700 or so old people were being helped. It was way beyond what I had ever imagined. At that point I said; “God, now what do I do, you have done so much for me and I need to give back. But I can’t give you money, God you own all the money. All silver and gold is yours. Even if I was to give you, how much can I give you? I can’t even carry a million dollars to the Church. I need to give you something.”
So I started thinking of fasting, but being borderline diabetic I could not fast for so long. And it occurred to me that ROTOM is going to come to 10 years and we need to do something serious. Around that time I was coming from Kabale, I saw people walking to Namugongo for Uganda martyrs day. I said to myself, if these people can walk to Namugongo, really I too can walk. I said, I am going to walk. I wanted to keep it to myself. Then I realized I had to tell the Board because I was going to take several days away from work.
The Board then said; “this is no longer your thing, we are walking together.” When I told my friends in America many also said; “No no Kenneth, you cannot do that alone. We are all walking.” Some walked in Canada. Norine, a woman friend from Canada walked over 1000 kilometers in Canada at the same time I was walking. My wife was walking daily in Mukono as I was walking from Kabale. Others came and walked from the Equator, from Kampala, to Mukono. I was actually in the news, if you search the walking man. The New Vision chronicled it for several days. Nigel Nasser was the journalist then. (THE WALKING MAN:The climax of the 400km walk-How it ended, New Vision, October 2013).
To cut the long story short, I ended up walking to celebrate 10 years of ROTOM. But personally it was really to give back.
Ian: You said you walked 400 kilometres?
Kenneth: Yes, I walked 400kms, from a place called Muhanga in current Rukiga district, (then Kabale) to Mukono. For 18 days, I never stepped in a car. I slept in tents. I slept in churches. I hardly paid any place to sleep. I walked with an old woman 71 years old. She walked all the way. She was one of the beneficiaries.
I walked with two girls who were grandchildren that we sponsor. Because we support over 1000 old people and 300 grandchildren. 40 of them are in University and tertiary education, they are all granddaughters of these old people we help.
So when I said I am walking, they said; “Ohh muzukulu, we are the ones who have benefited the most from you, we will walk too”. And then we went to Muhanga to launch the walk and on the day of the walk, there were over 500 old people in the village wanting to walk with me. Of course they walked the first day, 7 and 10 kilometres and they were tired. So I then had to get them back by buses and vans. And some stayed for the second day, 48 kilometres, then dropped off. Then we stayed 14 until the equator.
When we got to the equator, then others joined from Mukono.
Ian: I assume you had a simple childhood, a lucky childhood. How do you get to study abroad? How was your childhood like?
Kenneth: I was born in Muhanga. I am going to be 50 years old in a few days. (On 18th March 2018).
Ian and Lilian: Goodness, you look much younger…
Kenneth: I started ROTOM when I was around 35. I saw my small pictures recently when I was in bare feet. We didn’t have shoes. My father was a Primary 3 graduate, a farmer. We were born in a grass-thatched house. Luckily he was a Christian man who knew the value of education. So he made every effort to send us to school.
Ian: How many were you in the family?
Kenneth: We were 8. I was the fifth. By then we were six, sleeping in a grass thatched house whose total size was 3 rooms. One sitting room, one bedroom for parents and one for children. But my parents worked hard and built a bigger house soon after my birth. I went to primary school in Muhanga. Those days we were counting marks out of three hundreds and I got 215 out of 300 and went to Bukinda Secondary school, Kigezi high School, Caltec Academy then to Makerere University.
I went to Caltec because I was following my girlfriend. She left Kigezi high School and came to Kampala. So I had to come to Kampala.
Ian: Hahaha, did you eventually marry her?
Kenneth: Now that’s the hard part of the story. When I followed her and then we got to Senior 6, she got a boyfriend from University. And she dumped me. She really broke my heart.
Ian: At University, what did you pursue?
Kenneth: Sociology and Social Administration. I was a bit in Rotaract Club. It was then that I became seriously committed to being a Christian. I was always in Church. So at University I was involved in Christian activities. I tried a bit of politics, trying to be a speaker of Nkurumah Hall but I went to ‘Taiwan.’ There was an unholy alliance. We were lining up then, for speaker position we didn’t do secret ballot. Nkurumah Hall dining is where we were doing the elections. And the line was very long.. And then they said, we can’t count the people properly. So let’s go outside. We were around 3 to 4 candidates. From inside to outside, the suggested place, all the other three candidates joined against me (the unholy aliance). It was enough time for them to strike a deal. I don’t even know how they made a deal. Because I went out with confidence to show them only for me to get a shocker for life.
From University I went to work as a Social worker with Namirembe Diocese Child Sponsorship Program and then Mission For All (MIFA). And while there, I got a scholarship to study in Canada.
Ian: How much was your salary then?
Kenneth: By the time I left MIFA (2001) I was earning UGX 390,000. I have never had much money, even now. I have learned to be content. And to be happy. I derive my joy from solving problems of the poor mostly.
So that’s how I ended up in Canada. And when I was in Canada, there was a newspaper advert looking for Social workers from Canada, UK and Jamaica to work in USA. And I chose to apply. They wanted Canadians, UK and Jamaicans to go and work in the US on an exchange program. I applied, I was called for an interview. I did the interviews and passed them. And when I had passed them, they asked for my passport and saw I was a Ugandan. They wondered; “now what do we do?” I said; “I don’t know.”
Lilian: What did they think you were?
Kenneth: They thought either I was a Canadian or a Jamaican. They didn’t care until at that point when I needed paperwork to go and work. When they said they didn’t know, I suggested that I can come to US, I had a Visitor’s VISA. And when I was getting into US, at the Border, they asked; “what are you going to do?” I said; “I am going to work.” They replied; “you’ve come to work and you have a visitor’s visa. You work on a work permit. So your employer must work that out first.”
So I go back to Canada and stay for two months with friends in Canada. I worked in factories, the hardest job I have ever done.
Ian: What were you doing exactly?
Kenneth: We were packing cosmetics. We were packing onions. The hardest was working in a Bakery. It was actually the Big Bakery and packing cosmetics. You see these cosmetics tubes are not filled from the top. They are filled from the bottom and then pressed. You get the tubes from a box, put them on a conveyor, the conveyor runs as they are being filled. You must run efficiently as the conveyor does. Now when you are tired, and you are kind of sloppy, you just lose attention for a second and then your Hispanic supervisor will bark at you and almost beat you. it was hard manual work.
Ian: Didn’t you regret these moments?
Kenneth: The good thing I knew I was waiting for a Visa to go to the US and have a normal job. So I was kind of like, I can weather this for sometime. I was getting about 300 dollars a week which was good money by Ugandan standards.
Then I worked in a bakery. The bakery was the worst. Because somebody’s dough cannot drop. You have to get these pallets and put them in a mould where they fit and it will push them up into the oven. And you have a small mould, it’s a tight fit. So if you make a mistake and your hand goes in, you are injured. But I did it. I did that job for 2 months, then went to the US and worked with rehabilitation of youths. We call them “at-risk youths.” It was a “Kampiringisa” kind of place. Now kids of US who have been locked up are another story altogether. First of all, a normal kid in US is already “rebellious” in the eyes of an African parent. They call it their rights but I think it is rebellion.
The one who has been adjudicated by court that he was selling drugs or shooting on the block, that one is harder than a rebel in Uganda. So I worked there and that turned out to be harder than the factory. Because I broke my wrist. Because they fight all the time. You have to break up the fights. These kids have been on the block in Philadelphia, selling drugs, been in different gangs and here they are locked up? When they meet others in the facility who were from rival gangs on the street, hell breaks loose. they remember that was my enemy. That’s where it starts and it becomes like world war. But they taught me a few lessons.
That’s when I developed a saying; “with or without anybody else, I will persist till I succeed.” I was alone, I didn’t have my family. But I did well, in the first 6 months I was given a full time job instead of being an exchange worker. And I was promoted 3 times in two years. By the time I quit to come back to Uganda, nobody wanted me to come back. They were like; “what’s wrong with you? Are you stupid? Kony is cutting lips and ears of your people and you want to go there.” Somebody brought a news magazine and showed it to me; “don’t you see this, this is what is happening in Uganda.” I said; “I know it. But I am called to go and help old people in Uganda. So if my lips will be cut, then so be it. But I know they won’t be cut because I am going to be in Mukono.” And I remember telling my boss; “if you like me very much, keep my job. When I come back, give it back to me.” But I think he’s now already left because I never had to go back.
Ian: What did you dream of while growing up? What were your motivations like? I would assume a normal person would say; I want to grow rich, make a lot of money…
Kenneth: You know as children dreams change. Your dreams change from wanting to be a doctor, to be a lawyer, and ultimately settle for a social worker when you know that you are not even able to do mathematics and literature.
By the time I got to University, my mind was a bit very critical of politics. I even got into youth Local Council elections in Nakasero. I lived there a bit with my uncle. At one point I thought I should be a politician and change things. I have never ever wanted to become rich. I have never dreamed that I should have so much money.
The only time I planned of something close to that was when I went to Canada, got a job in USA. Since the politics of Uganda was not shifting and I wasn’t going to solve any problems as a politician. So then I just had a desire and thought of taking my family to the US, to live a normal ordinary American life. Not to be wealthy in America but just live the American dream. The kids go to proper schools, have a good house, attend a good church, come home once a year when you can. That was my desire. That was the only desire I had that was seriously close to being wealthy and was ever altered. Because when I was coming back, my family was like; “now so what? We don’t come to America now or what?” Fortunately my wife is a woman of peace and contentment. So my wife was like; “if that’s what God is calling you to do, that’s okay.”
For the first 8 years of ROTOM I had no salary. My wife worked for Compassion. And she was able to do everything, pay for food etc. I had little donations from friends that were made to me so I would pay school fees for the children.
When I came back from US, I had saved up about 20,000 dollars. I started building a house and I stopped until later when I resumed. So that’s kind of my childhood dreams. I liked to tend to cows. That’s what I loved to do when I was young. I actually got out of school for a term just to look after cows.
Ian: Let me bring up a scenario. What advice would you give to a young smart driven University student or graduate entering real life with all these dreams and a desire to follow something they love but also the risk that following what they love could lead them to being broke. How would you advise them to lead their lives?
Kenneth: The things we need are not very many. And if somebody has a dream or a desire to meet a dream, what they should do after University or even throughout their lives is to build Trust. Spend all your time, building one thing, Trust. Being trusted. Be honest, be trusted. If you can do that, your dream will come.
Because in every sector trust is needed. I was talking to a young Reverend and I told him at a certain age they will need Bishops. By the time they need Bishops, there will be a young reverend who had a scandal, there will be one who didn’t get enough education, and they will be eliminated to almost like two. You must be one among the very two. So if your dream is to become the best engineer, the best businessman, just first of all build trust. At some point you are going to be among the very few who can be trusted with some responsibility.
I don’t know how old you are Ian. But there is an age where they say; “ahh this one is still young. He is very sharp, he is very hard-working but he is too young to be trusted.” Now during that time, it’s normally after University, now during that time, even if you are so hard-working, I can’t give you top managerial position unless you are a relative and I just want to help you. During that time, build trust.
When you finish University, when people are struggling, cheating and doing this and that, if somebody gives you the smallest assignment, do it the best and with trust. At the same time if you have a chance to earn a bit more education, earn it. So that by the age 31, 35, which I call the age of trust, you have skill and trust.
But what happens to our young people in that time, they get frustrated, they make mistakes. They get the first job, they make a mistake on it. Uncle gives them a chance to supervise a project of building a house, they cheat him. They are given opportunity to apply for something, they put false document. Everyone is now trying to cut a corner to get to their dream very fast. And now that makes it even farther. The dream kind of moves ahead.
Uganda has every opportunity. I could leave ROTOM now, go be a trader and make money.
Ian: It could come easy for you. But where should young people find it in the age where everything is fast, where they feel they are running out of time.
Kenneth: The unfortunate part is that young people in Uganda don’t have that chance to have something to try on. That’s the reality that I don’t know how to solve. The adults in the system should allow young people a chance to try even if it is not paid for.
And this Youth Fund from government I hear about should be scrapped. I think what should be done is to give ROTOM, give New Vision, give everything that is already existing, money to employ young people for a stipend for two years. So that this person has a chance to put their hands on an opportunity towards their dream. So they should give all these NGOs, all this money they are giving to the youths for investment, all that money should be given to already established organisations, businesses, government departments at sub-county level, anything that is existent and has a structure so that Ian and however can get a chance to try.
Because unlike the Western world, in Uganda you don’t have a chance for paid employment or any formal employment when you are growing up except if you are working in family your gardens in the village. These don’t give you a chance to learn a work ethic needed out there. So you don’t learn to work, you don’t learn how to keep time, don’t learn how to correct something when you make a mistake because your father is the boss, doesn’t correct very much, you don’t get to learn anything when you are growing up. After University is a chance for most young people to learn how to for example arrive on time, most people don’t arrive on time, even when they arrive late, they are not sorry. They give an excuse but they don’t think they have made you wait.
Manage time, complete an assignment, excellence, do it very well. Even when people are writing a story, somebody writes wrong English and they don’t even make an effort to make it better. They leave it to whom it may concern. They think somebody will correct it. The editor will correct it. But our young people can’t get this opportunity unless they work. So that is the structural level, I don’t know what young people can do about that.
But as individuals, me and others, we should have so many people in our lives that we give an opportunity in terms of mentoring. At any one time I have 3 to 5 people who are associated with me in some form, either working for free or for pay. I just give them a chance and through that chance, at least I know 3 that have established organisations to help others. Two were my students at UCU, I used to teach them. Now they have set up at NGO that looks after children. It’s even building its own academy. Another has a well performing school in western Uganda. But the chance they got is they came and worked under me and I gave a hand. Young people need that.
Young people in Uganda are not stupid, they are not dumb, they just don’t have a chance. Because our economy is too small, the politicians are so naive, they just keep throwing money at everything. The youth employment fund for example is for wasting time
Lilian: Didn’t you have pressure from family, the time you spent not working, or earning money?
Kenneth: Up to now I still have pressures from people and family. One of the pressures I have is employment. People want jobs. Yet, I never cut a corner. I don’t give you a job no matter how related we are unless it is a family business. You will have to go through the system. Everybody who works for me has had to go through the system. So I have learned how to deal with pressure.
First, my wife I guess doesn’t care much about what we have or don’t have. So she didn’t put me under pressure for material things. And since my wife didn’t put me under pressure, nobody can ever put me under pressure. ROTOM has a health Centre, my mother goes there, my father goes there. And they both pay. If they don’t pay, I pay for them. So I have even told the health centre, if my mother comes there and starts complaining that; “this my son’s thing..” Just treat her and make sure I get my bill at the end of the month. Now if my mother knows I pay, how can she put me under pressure to help somebody for free?
So it’s the same thing I used when I came back. Some relatives would come and say this or the other including my mother to distract me, but I told all of them, “this is what I am called to, this is what I want to do,” and they left me alone.
So a bit of lowering your expectations. There are unnecessary things we want that we don’t need. So many! I don’t have a house in my village. I don’t think something is wrong with me. I don’t need it there. I don’t live in my village. So why should I have a house there? A house to be in on Christmas?
Ian: Because I am wondering, if I am to compare to most of your peers, today it is a trendy thing that you must have this big family home in the village where you hardly spend time.
Kenneth: I don’t have that and I don’t need it. My personal house is the most basic of houses. It is in Seeta. I built it from my savings in the US and a little bit of money I have made over time. It is a three bedroomed normal house, it has running water but it doesn’t have a wall fence. And I don’t need it.
I learned from my father some values. My father was an honest man. During time of magendo (smuggling), he didn’t allow anyone to do magendo. My first boss was a German trained Ugandan to whom time management and honesty were the bottom line. When I got saved I lived with my uncle who was just a simple electrical engineer who just lived a normal life. Those had an impact on my life. Maybe young people should find people like that.
As Ugandans we need to start telling the difference between what we need from what we don’t need. If you are wealthy, extremely wealthy, it’s okay, spend your money the way you want to. But you cannot be borrowing money to build a house in the village. A house in the village, what does it do for you? What does it do for the community? What does it do for Uganda? Other than cement and employment during the building phase? Other than that, what does it do for everyone? So those are the things.
I am content, I live a simple life, I live a disciplined life. I don’t spend money I don’t have. I don’t allow people to put me under pressure, whether relatives or my friends. I derive a lot of joy from seeing people being helped. Hundreds of old people are healthy, they are dancing. We have built over a hundred latrines for old people. 1000 old people get healthcare, get food, get training in other things, hygiene, spiritual support, they come together every 2 weeks just to talk about the Bible. Now I don’t think somebody who has a 3 billion village house has the same joy that I have. I doubt.
Ian: Which people have had the biggest influence on you and how?
Kenneth: My father, he was an honest man. He gave me time. When we went to look after cows, I went with my father, went to the Banana Plantations, I was with my father. I liked him, he liked me. Unknowingly, I liked the things he did. My father kept with his family, I have always had my family together. I also learned honesty and hard work.
The next one I would say is a simple man called Zack Kalega. He used to be my boss when I was working for the church. Honesty and time management. He even taught me one thing; “my office looks into the gate.” His office used to look into the gate. Why? To see who comes late. What would happen, if somebody came late, he would walk to them, say; “you’ve come late three times, now go back home, when you are ready to come on time, you will start working again.” So that kind of discipline.
Then my Uncle in whose house I lived when I gave my life to Christ. When I gave my life to Christ, I was not in a crusade, I was not in a Church. I was just at home at night, we prayed and after a prayer, I said, I have become born again. Why? Because I have seen this man and his wife live normal honest lives. There was no lie.
My wife. When we got married, she gave away half of the gifts they gave us at the wedding. That was the first lesson that she doesn’t care about things. Went to honeymoon, came back and started opening all boxes. We almost gave out everything. And over time I have learned that she is is content and not materialistic.
Ian: When you think of success, what names come to your mind? I would give my example. I have a man called Naval Ravikant. He made money out of necessity at the start then when he reached a certain point, he thought, this is enough, I think it’s now time to go Angel investing. And just live my simple life. To me he is one man I seriously follow. He’s tried to have a balanced life, family, everything. So what names come to your mind and how would you define success?
Kenneth: I don’t know much about Mother Theresa but I think Theresa was a wonderful woman. She helped poor people, lived a simple life. I read biographies, but I can’t remember most of the people I have read about and many things. But there are two Ugandan people that I really like and to me I would define them as successful.
One is Col. Robert Sekidde whom we all know as Seroma. I think he has built business that is generous, that is honest and it gives to all kinds of causes. So he comes to me as a successful man. He has his family together. His business is growing, employing so many people and he is generous in giving.
There’s Malaysia Furnishing, the owner of that business also is very generous. And his business is also growing. So those are the people that, plus the late Rt Rev Dr Livingston Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo, those are the people that are a success to me.
Success to me is to deal with the issues that are at hand from the position you are in. Right now for example Uganda faces poverty. The one thing you need urgently is employment. And these people have given employment to a number of people. And at the same time, from what they earn, they are generously giving it away.
Ian: Do you believe there’s a predetermined purpose in life for everyone? Or purpose is something we kind of makeup?
Kenneth: I certainly think there’s a purpose for everyone. I think this purpose is God made and our number one responsibility is to find that purpose. I think I have found my purpose. My purpose is to provide leadership in solving or alleviating suffering for the poor. I would probably be very unhappy if I was trying to build a very successful business. So I think everybody has a purpose in life. Now the challenge is to find that purpose. And to find that purpose is not a miraculous thing that happens to you in a dream overnight. I think it is to watch your strengths in terms of skill, your education, and the opportunities that come unto your way and see if there is a trend. And see where when you put your effort and you succeed. And when you are a prayerful person and you have counsel, you will find it.
And when you find your purpose, just hit it so hard continuously forever until you know that this is it.
Ian: What are the most common mistakes you see people make over and over again?
Kenneth: Short-term-ism. ROTOM has not been built in three years. It is 15 years now. From zero money to 50 million budget to 100 million, then 300 million and now billions budget. People think that if I want to get whatever I want to get whether it is a house or money, if I wish it now, it should happen. The mistake that many people in this country makes is being in a hurry. This world is not going anywhere. Doing things the right way is better than trying to be fast and not do anything. And it has now become a cultural mistake. The whole country is in a rush. I don’t know where we are going. In a rush to do things, wrong.
Ian: Someone once told me that Hard work is overrated and judgement is underrated. Do you have those moments where you think your judgement failed you?
Kenneth: I don’t have a coherent mind that keeps remembering things. When it happens in actual time, I remember it then. What I can say is that there is a season where I figured out that working smarter is sometimes helpful than working just hard. Working hard in this country is misunderstood to mean ‘kill yourself’ which I do sometimes and I am wrong on that. My sons tell me that I work too hard and never have personal time.
Working hard means you don’t sit on your butt all day. It means you say from this time to that time I am working. I am applying myself to something productive. So many people don’t do that. And then they are thinking they are going to be on this phone for one second and get something. That’s why everybody is betting.
I think one can’t replace the other. Smartness or let me say, wisdom or judgement is good but then you have to use it to apply it to some productive activity. There are so many smart people that I meet and I wish I can have that brain. But they don’t work. They just think. But all their thinking is useless in my opinion. They don’t apply that thinking to a productive activity. So Judgement is necessary and so is hard work. Overworking yourself is not necessary and it is not right and that’s what we’ve called hard work in this country.
Somebody leaves their home at 5am, comes back at 10pm and all that time they have been working, that’s not right. There’s no personal time, no family time, no time for anything else in life and such people will crash.
Ian: Do you have any regrets in life?
Kenneth: Nothing! My life is beyond and above what I expected it to be. I am going to celebrate 50 years of life soon. And I was looking back at my life. At every stage of my life, I wished for certain things. They have all fallen in place. Now what do I regret? And if they are there, I forget them very quickly. They are too small for me to remember. There is nothing that is threatening myself over which I will say, that’s something over which I made a wrong decision. That’s why my health is like that. So it is probably weird but no, I don’t have any regrets.
Ian: Do you have a strong opinion on something that you think most people would disagree with you on?
Kenneth: As a Christian, I struggled for so long. Because I could not like actively pray or religiously read the Bible. And at one point I was like; “what’s wrong with me? Am I really a Christian?” Then I discovered, really, I am actually one. I am just not able to read the Bible actively as other people do. And sometimes I get the feeling from Christian teachers that have created almost a setup for people to collapse from their faith. That if you are not like this, in terms of say, speaking in tongues, reading the Bible, praying these many times a day, attending these many fellowships, you really are not Christian. And I am saying no; “No.” I am a Christian. I believe in God. I believe in Jesus Christ as the son of God who died for my salvation. He is my Lord and Savior. And I make every effort to follow him. My effort does not have to be a standard of someone else’s.
Ian: If you had this one moment of the whole world listening to you, what are those things you would tell the world?
Kenneth: I would ask the world especially the leaders to be fair, to be just, and to be ruthlessly honest from the heart. Because unfairness, dishonesty, injustice are major fundamental causes of the problems we deal with. Bottom line of every conflict of every political problem is selfishness, greed that is now packaged in all kinds of ways. If one was confronting their self-interests and personal greed, not of course denying themselves what they need, if we were all facing this greed and selfishness, the world would be a better place. And not just leaders, but the families, religious leaders and even individuals.
Ian: Do you have those core rules by which you live your life in health, wealth, relationships, and happiness?
Kenneth: Yes, generosity is one of my core values. And honesty is another. In terms of wealth, we need to be generous with our wealth. And as a principle, I give religiously the tithe. And to the tithe I add something. Even ROTOM as an NGO tithes. We receive money and we have to give a tithe on the administration costs that we charge on project funds. And that is almost abnormal. But we’ve defined what our own income is. When we work with donors, they will say, this is for old people, this percentage is for administration. Whatever is for administration, we call it our own income. We tithe, we give over 20 million a year in terms of tithe to Churches.
I have created a business which my son runs. One of our values is generosity. We actually have a generosity fund. And every payment we receive, we assume we are going to take 10 percent profit. So 10% of that 10 percent gets given away as tithe immediately it crosses our account. It is the number one check I want to sign when they bring checks to me to sign. So that’s how I relate to wealth.
In terms of happiness, everybody should do what makes them happy, whether it is sleeping or waking up or playing as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. I like dogs. I like farms. I love nature. I spend most of my life trying to be there with nature. My wife loves going for holidays, I I try do it with her to make her happy but it is a struggle. It is not core to me.
I don’t think happiness comes from wealth or big things. It comes from the simplest of things.
For relationships, what breaks them most is lack trust and not giving them time. I don’t give time to my relationships. So I struggle. I have no major issues with my life. But I feel that I struggle in giving relationships time.
Ian: So you struggle in this area?
Kenneth: I struggle to give enough time. The only thing that keeps my relationships going is honesty and trust. I don’t give enough time to my children. And also the obsession with what I am committed to. The obsession with ROTOM. When I am obsessed with a cause, that’s it. But what I have learned over time is that if you build trust in relationships, you will be fine. It is not about so many gifts, it all trickles down to the simple thing; “can I trust you? Are you honest with me?”
Ian: What habit are you most trying to change right now?
Kenneth: The habit I am trying to change is workholism. I have struggled up to now. I used to work from 6am to 9pm.
Ian: Last time I saw you send me a message at midnight.
Kenneth: Sometimes I am working up to that time. Now what I am trying to do is sleep in the afternoon and again work in the night. That’s the habit I need to change seriously. I don’t have habits like alcoholism etc, I don’t do those things. And I need to read. I don’t read enough.
Ian: You don’t have any best books?
Kenneth: I don’t read enough. I start one book, I stop. I am now reading the book “Powered by of Love; a grandmothers movement to end AIDS in Africa” to which I contributed. I read but I don’t read enough.
Ian: Do you have one book apart from the Bible that still speaks to you?
Kenneth: “Jesus the CEO” by Laurine Beth Jones. It has really connected to me. It was a decision making book. It would just give scenarios of how Jesus would have decided. That is the one.
Ian: Your last words to someone who would perhaps want to do the sort of work you do…
Kenneth: I go back to one simple word. Build trust. Build honesty. When you are honest, you build trust. It will bring opportunities. There are some things that you may not have. You may not be as intellectually intelligent, it may not be your gift. You may not have wealthy relatives. You may not even have qualifications. You may not even have capital. And all these things you can get if you are trusted. That’s the only thing, whether you are Christian or not, Muslim or not. That is the only thing within which you have the capacity to control. It is within your means to be honest. That one you can choose to do. And when you do it, it will bring everything else. Build trust and you may even be so remote and think; “even if I am trustworthy, how will important people like Mulwana’s daughter or Museveni ever know I am trustworthy?” It doesn’t matter. The one who is next to you is the one who will take you to the next level up to the highest point
That’s why you find people who may have really been villagers, remote, far from opportunity of any kind in high and privileged position and you wonder; “How could he become a Bishop, how could he become the richest man in town?” Even people who you think are crooked, people that everyone talk about as corrupt in town here, may not be as crooked as you think. There might have been an opportunity where somebody said; this man, I can trust him, I can deal with him. If you get close to the core, in the circles of business they do, they are trusted. And trust is the only thing you have influence on.
Ian and Lilian: You’ve really grounded down that Trust and Honesty. That has really been the central theme…
Kenneth: For me that’s it. Uganda is not poor because people are not spiritual. We are poor because people are not trusted. You can’t even leave this phone here. You can’t even set up a business and call a person to run it.
Ian: I think for me the theme of trust, honesty, not betting on the short-term and knowing that if you have those, it will all be well.
Kenneth: The Bible says I was a young man, and now I am old and I have never seen children of the faithful go hungry. You know this trust can even take your children very far. We have a small business and my son runs it. He gets business because people believe he’s going to be trusted and as honest as his father.
Ian: So my last one. What legacy do you want to stay on, 100 years after you are long gone?
Kenneth: That when I had an opportunity, I was able to help the needy. If somebody can say; “Oh Kenneth, that’s the man who did that for that poor woman, that poor child” that’s what I want. I have told my children, when I am making my will, a percentage of the few things I have, a percentage of it is going to go towards helping the poor. They cannot expect to get all of it. Jesus said; “the poor you will always have with you.” That means we have to take care of the poor.
Ian and Lilian: Thanks very much for your time.
Kenneth: You are very welcome.