James Mugoya Isabirye: The Ugandan Tycoon Who Built Times Tower, NSSF Building

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James Mugoya Isabirye: The Ugandan Tycoon Who Built Times Tower, NSSF Building
File image of James Mugoya Isabirye (l) in a Nairobi Court in 2007. |Courtesy| The Nation|

James Mugoya Isabirye is a Ugandan engineer and billionaire businessman. He is the founder and owner of the famous Mugoya Construction & Engineering Limited, behind the construction of some of the most iconic projects in Kenya.

Mugoya was one of the most politically-connected contractors in Kenya and bagged several development projects during the reign of late former President Daniel Arap Moi. The iconic Times Towers and the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Embakasi housing projects are some of the notable projects undertaken by the company.

In this article, WoK takes a look at the career of a man described as one of the wealthiest in Uganda, and his dealings in Kenya.

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Background & Education

Mugoya was born in 1950 in Eastern Uganda. He attended Uganda’s Bulyansime Primary before joining Iganga Boys.

He then proceeded to King’s College Budo before later joining the University of Nairobi (UoN) where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil engineering. He graduated on October 26, 1971 at a ceremony witnessed by President Jomo Kenyatta. He was registered as Abiam JM Isabirye in a class that had 46 students.

Career

During his time at UoN, Mugoya is said to have forged a great friendship with one of Mzee Moi’s sons. Immediately after graduation, he founded Mugoya Construction & Engineering Limited and almost immediately, he landed the deals to build the NSSF building and Hazina Estate.

In 1992, Mugoya landed a tender to construct the 40-storey Times Tower building which was the tallest at the time. The project was financed by the Central bank of Kenya (CBK) and the state.

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He also built Moi High School, Kabarak, Kabarak University and the Kisumu Provincial Headquarters.

In 1995, NSSF awarded Mugoya a contract to construct 265 houses in Karen, together with an administration block , a club house and a kindergarten. However, the project failed to start due to pending approvals  from Nairobi City Council. Mugoya was paid Ksh342 million in 2012 as an out-of-court settlement for the very project after he had initially claimed Ksh633 million.

In 2001, he hit the government with a Ksh1.9 billion claim in respect to a contract awarded to him in 1990 to construct a building meant to serve as an annex to Treasury building.

Mugoya Estate in Nairobi’s South C was named after the Ugandan businessman as well as Mugoya Housing Scheme in Nyali, Mombasa County.

At one time, reports alleged that a majority of the stake in Mugoya Construction & Engineering Limited was owned by powerful KANU oligarchs and thus why the company effortlessly bagged multi-billion tenders.

In 2000, then-Mathira Member of Parliament Matu Wamae asked a question everyone dreaded to ask.

“Why do all construction jobs from the government go to Mugoya Construction and Engineering Limited … Is it because some individuals in the government are involved? We do not want to see Mugoya getting more contracts directly. Let them compete in an open tender,” he said.

Turn of Events

Mugoya’s fortunes began to go south after the NARC coalition government led by late President Mwai Kibaki cancelled his pending road contracts when it assumed power in 2002.

In 2015, the High Court also ordered that the company be liquidated after findings revealed that the company had been unable to pay its creditors. The company owed Gichuki King’ara & Company Advocates Ksh35 million in legal fees, it owed Dew Security Services Ksh14 million in unpaid bills, among others.

“I am aware that winding up is a draconian step to take, but in the circumstances of this case the only appropriate thing is to make a receiving order against Mugoya Construction Company. Accordingly, the company shall be wound up in accordance with the law,” Justice Francis Gikonyo said.

He added in his ruling that controversies surrounding Mugoya Construction had made it difficult to establish whether it was capable of paying its creditors.

“There is no satisfactory explanation of the failure to pay that has been offered by the company. The company has been accused of hiding its attachable assets, refused to furnish security or produce books of accounts or provide explanations regarding its assets or money it received from NSSF.

“Conviction in the company’s insolvency is further built by the fact that the company last filed its annual returns in March 2008. It seems to have ceased trading despite keeping an office in Nairobi,” he added.

In 2010, Mugoya was arraigned in a Nairobi court for allegedly selling off construction machinery worth Ksh3.5 billion that had been charged to Kenya Commercial Bank. That same year, he was charged in a Kampala court alongside Uganda pension fund officials with operating an illegal joint real estate venture valued at Ush8 billion (Ksh235 million).

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