Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Who Is Zari's Ivan?

There has been a change in the old guard. Ten or so years ago, the old people who were associated with money and who threw money about were the likes of Ruparelia, Wava, Zzimwe and Lalani for example.
Then and out of the blue emerged a Michael Ezra who openly flaunted large wads of dollars. But the difference between Ruparelia, Wava, Zzimwe and Lalani is that we knew where their money came from and we could trace it.
On the other hand, we didn’t know where Ezra’s money came from and to-date we still don’t know where it all started.
Ezra’s stunt opened Pandora’s Box that suddenly Kampala was awash with young men and women who drove expensive cars and made it their mission to throw money about without a care in the world.
But with Bad Black languishing in Luzira, Judith Heard keeping a low profile, Susan Ochola having run out of ideas, Ezra who seems to have gone underground and Zari who is yesterday’s news, there was a vacuum and sensing an opportunity to exploit not only himself but the public too into the mix emerged Ivan Semwanga.
Mukulu Ivan as some of his associates refer to him is known as the better half of Zari. In their relationship, it was always Zari in the limelight and the one, who seemingly had the money.
Why Ivan decided to emerge from Zari’s skirt remains a mystery but he is here and in our faces trying to prove a point.  If anything I feel he would have been happier to stay under her skirt, but circumstances and the mystery surrounding their split (though he denies they have split) may have forced him and for a lack of a better word to use, to ‘show his balls’ that it was he who all along had the money and that Zari was just riding on his back.
Getting hold of Ivan is no easy affair. He is a regular at Fusion Auto Spa on Munyonyo road, where he is keen to show off his worth by buying numerous beers by the crate for whoever is there.
Such is his economic power that the Congolese and Nigerian’s who are laden with bling, drive expensive cars and come across as having money, have been forced to relocate from Fusion Auto Sap to a downtown bar in Kansanga where they can hold their own and not be over shadowed by Ivan. Whenever he drives in, he comes with an entourage of at least 30 people and in a number of cars – Hummer, Mercedes ML, Nissan Elgrad, BMW. Why he needs all those cars for an outing, only he knows.
His ‘people’ are fiercely protective of him that they thwarted my first three attempts to talk to him asking what it is that I wanted with him. I did eventually get to him and set up an appointment for the following day.
Ivan does not carry a cellphone because he has a number of ‘aides’ to do that for him nor does he carry money because once again there is an ‘aide’ tasked with that job.
We met at Hotel Bavita in Makerere for this interview and what I thought would be a one-one-interview turned out to be a one-on-forty interview.
His baleebesi were everywhere, each wanting to answer whatever question it is that I asked and he was happy enough to let them go ahead. Just as I had suspected, there was a communication problem not only between Ivan and I but between his baleebsi and I.
The funny thing about Ivan is that as much as he throws a dime about, he comes across as a rather shy and insecure man enough to suggest he was bullied at school. And there is nothing flamboyant about him. His watch was a plebe watch that was seemingly bought from a hawker near Radio One for 10k.
I throw at him the million dollar question: “How did you make your dime and how much are you worth?” to which the baleebesi were keen to answer but without putting a finger on the pulse.
All I managed to extract from them is that he worked very hard in South Africa and has two BMW’s, a Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Rolls Royce amongst many other cars.
Of course I was skeptical about all this because the chief muleebesi I am sure would not be able to tell the difference between an Aston Martin and a Lamborghini even if the makers’ badges were on them.
Ivan tells me that his cars and his property in South Africa which includes schools, apartments and commercial buildings have not been bought with bank loans. He says, “When I buy things I pay cash. Recently I bought another school called Heartland and which has four branches in South Africa for one million US dollars” to which I responded, “but where did you get the money from?” The response was quick enough – “from my bank account.”
He also has a hotel in Uganda though he wouldn’t tell me which one it is, houses and numerous apartments.
But that still does not answer the question of how a young man from Kayunga in Bugerere has access to that kind of money.
At this point the baleebesi are in full cry because another round of drinks has been ordered for and there is debate of whether they should go to Fusion Auto Spa or not. “I really have to go” he tells me. “You can ask a couple more questions but I really have to go”.
I ask him about the Namboole helicopter stunt. “I was in Kenya and I really wanted to watch the match (Cranes vs. Zambia) but getting a flight from Nairobi to be here in time was cutting it tight. A helicopter was more practical. And for that ‘practical ride’ he says he paid $18,000.
I throw at him more questions but he has lost interest in me and the interview and suggests we conclude in Club Silk.
If it has been hard enough to do an interview in the bar at Hotel Bativa and with his forty baleebesi crowding me, would it be any easier in Club Silk? I pass on his suggestion.
When he walked to the car park, if the anti riot police had been around, they would have wasted no time in breaking them up as they would have thought it was a demonstration in the making.
He opted to be driven in the Mercedes ML and as it screeched away leaving a dust bowl in its wake, I suddenly realized I was no wiser as to knowing who Ivan Semwanga is and how he actually made his money.

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