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Amos Wekesa: From Growing Up In Abject Poverty To Founding 5 Resorts in Major National Parks, Tours And Travel Company

Amos Masaba Wekesa is a tourism entrepreneur and the man behind Great Lakes Safaris Limited and Uganda Lodges.

Despite growing up in a humble background, Wekesa who is in his 50s rose to become one of the most reputable businessman in Uganda.

Great Lakes Safari is a travel company specializing in tailor-made and set departure safaris and holidays in East Africa.

On the other hand, Uganda Lodges which are located in the most popular national parks of Uganda offer a collection of high quality safari accommodation.

He is also the proprietor of Pela Commodities, an agro-processing company in Uganda adding value to grains.

Here is Wekesa’s story as told by WoK.

Amos Wekesa was born in Lwakhakha, Namisindea District in Uganda.

Growing up was not easy as he was born in extreme poverty, and they had to stretch beyond limits to make ends meet.

In an interview with Wode Maya, Wekesa noted that the poverty was extreme to the point that his mother tried to kill him.

“When I started doing business, every time my mother looked at me, she could shed tears. When I was born she was so poor that she contemplated killing me

“She planned to kill me not because she didn’t like me but because the conditions were extremely very difficult for her,” he said.

Wekesa was born in 1973 during Idi Amin’s reign which was characterized by poverty among the people of Uganda.

He did not go to school until 1983 when an international organization visited Uganda to look for the less fortunate children.

In his village, Wekesa was among two children who were picked by the organization.

“For the first time I sit in a car in 1983 and and the car starts moving. In my head I thought the trees were moving. We arrived at the children’s home later that evening

“At the age of 10, they took me to nursery school. I remember going for primary school interview at Oguti Primary and they said I’m too old they need to take me to primary,” he recalled.

After completion of his primary and secondary school education, Wekesa was sponsored by a Canadian doctor working in Uganda.

He then enrolled at a higher learning institution in Kampala where he pursued a course in tourism.

“As a young man, I knew my weaknesses sonI needed to find a group of people that have similar mindset like mine and people that would compound my faith… I did my certificate course for 9 months and I did extremely well,” he said.

Wekesa explained that while he was still find his footing in his early adulthood life, he was under pressure to get married.

He, however, refused because he had no stable source of income.

“I refused because I know however beautiful the woman is, no woman eats love, they all eat food. You have to have the resources to do that,” Wekesa said.

After completion of his tourism course, he started looking for a job, and first worked as an office cleaner.

“After one year, it was about time to move on. One thing about life is that when you’ve done your best in a job that you’ve been given, the voice will be clear that it’s time to move on

“If you go to a job and complain, you will not hear that voice. If you sit there and not give your best, it becomes a problem,” Wekesa said.

He then landed a new job as an office messenger in a tours and travel company after quitting his cleaner job.

Wekesa did his job until one day when all tour guides were on assignment and he was forced to step up and fill the gap.

“We had a group of English people from the UK. They were 22 of them and so they asked me to be the guide, I went and read overnight

“We went for that trip and when we finished, these guys could not believe that that was my first time to be a tour guide,” he shared.

Two days after the trip, the tourists visited him and surprised him with a cake and a tie.

“That spoke a message to me. It showed me where I’m supposed to be; I’m supposed to be a tour guide, I’m supposed to be in tourism,” he said.

Wekesa ditched his office messenger job and assumed a new role as a tour guide earning $1 per day.

However, he got into a heated confrontation with his boss after he humiliated him in front of tourists, forcing him to quit his tour guide job.

“I don’t know where the courage came from, I told him, ‘I will never be poor again and I’m leaving and I will never work for you again’,” he recalled.

Wekesa left and started working as a desk guy.

He worked for a year and he was able to save $200 which he used to register his company, Great Lakes Safaris in 2001.

“In the beginning, I would attend wedding meetings where I’m not invited and when they would ask car for weddings, I would show them what I have,” he explained.

Wekesa hired out vehicles for weddings among other events for nine months when he has saved enough to set up an office.

“The first office was under a staircase. It was tough but by January 2002 I had saved enough to buy a minibus for safaris,” he recalled.

In no time, the business had picked and while at it, he met an elderly couple who advised him on investing in properties.

In 2006, he came across an advert inviting investors to build lodges in Kibale National Park.

Wekesa got in touch with his friend who was living in Netherlands at the time and requested him to write a proposal.

He was subjected to a rigorous vetting process and ended up winning the bid against two other group of investors by a $2 difference.

After saving up and given a go-ahead to kick off construction, he set up Primate Lodge inside Kibale National Park.

This marked the beginning of Uganda Lodges which boasts five lodges in different tourist destinations across Uganda and one in Tanzania.

Their lodges in Uganda are MV Kazinga, Simba Safari and Elephant Plains Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Budongo Eco Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park.