of Fortune: A Family Tale
|By Manubhai Madhvani with Giles Foden. Random House.India.ISBN
9788184000795 280 Pages Rs.395.
Review: By Mahadev Desai
Gujarati Lohana community is a close-knit, progressive
community, known for its business acumen, enterprise and
philanthropy. Some of the Gujarati Lohanas who left India for
East Africa attained iconic status in corporate and
philanthropic sector. In Tanzania it was the Chande family
whereas in Uganda, the two renowned families were theNanji
Kalidas Mehta family and the Madhvani family respectively.
The engrossing memoir ‘Tide of Fortune: A family Tale ‘by
Manubhai Madhvani with Giles Foden narrates the astonishing
family tale as well as the history of Uganda during 20th and
early 21st Century. The patriarch of the Madhvani dynasty,
Muljibhai Madhvani, who was born in Aasiyapat, India, in 1994,
immigrated to Uganda, (Pearl of Africa), a British Protectorate,
Muljibhai opened his first retail shop in Jinja, about 54 miles
from the capital Kampala. The business flourished and Muljibhai
thought of a sugar plantation and sugar manufacturing on the
fertile soil of Kakira near Jinja. Initially Kakira Sugar Works
acquired 800 acres but presently owns about 23,000 acres. Kakira
now is the headquarters of the Madhvani Group conglomerate.
Muljibhai’s eldest son Jayant was born in 1922 and second of the
five sons, Manubhai was born in 1930. At the age of nine,
Manubhai was sent to Mumbai for studies. Young Manubhai enjoyed
attending Gandhi’s prayer meetings and was very much inspired by
listening to Gandhi, who he regards as his spiritual father.
After finishing their studies both brothers returned to Uganda,
and began learning business ropes from their father. Jayant
married Meena Chauhan in Mumbai in 1950 and two years later
Manubhai married Jyoti Pajwani, also in Mumbai. Following the
astounding success of the sugar manufacturing business,
Madhvanis began to diversify. In 1952, a new oil mill complex
with a refinery for oil and soap was added. And Manubhai began
managing cotton ginneries. The businesses were booming but the
family was devastated with the untimely demise in 1954, of
Muljibhai’s wife Parvatiben at the young age of 45.
Muljibhai knew the Chande family-a prominent Lohana business
family in Tanzania. The relationship and friendship was further
cemented with the marriage of Muljibhai’s daughter Jayalaxmi
with Jayantilal Chande in 1955.
Three years later, the family experienced another grievous loss
when 63 year old Muljibhai passed away in July 1958. The
business tycoon and visionary Muljibhai who was bestowed with an
MBE for his entrepreneurship and community and public service,
was cremated on the shore of scenic Lake Victoria. A mausoleum
was built to honor his memory. Manubhai extols his exemplary
father for his devout nature and his respect for all the
religions; his compassionate nature and his concern for the
welfare and well-being of his employees; his love, high regard
and deep respect for education, his big-hearted philanthropy,
and for imbuing in him a strong work ethic.
Jayantbhai and Manubhai helmed the business empire now.
Jayantbhai had better academic qualifications than Manubhai. He
was a much focused planner with foresight. He could be at home
with dignitaries, corporate leaders or politicians and
comfortable in doing the PR work. He also served on Uganda’s
Legislative Council for a few years before Uganda’s independence
in October 1962.Manubhai on the other hand, was practical and a
financial expert, so the two made a great team. In 1960,
Madhvanis set up Mulco Textiles and in 1964, a steel rolling
On the political front, Milton Obote became independent Uganda’s
first Prime Minister. In 1967, Uganda became a republic and
Obote became the President. After independence, some leading
politicians began whipping up anti-Asian sentiment. Following
the 'Arusha Declaration' by Tanzania’s President Nyerere, Obote
published ‘ The Common Man’s Charter’, for 60% nationalization
of all major industries and businesses. On top of it, strict
foreign exchange rules came into force.
Worse was yet to follow. Obote was deposed in 1971 by Idi Amin.
While all this was going on, Madhvani family were dealt another
cruel blow.49 year old Jayantbhai sadly breathed his last in
Delhi, in July 71. In his absence, 41 year old Manubhai had to
hold the family as well as the Madhvani Group together in
Under Idi Amin’s rule, the economy was in a downturn. In August
1972, Amin issued a decree ordering the expulsion of about
60,000 Asians and expropriation of their businesses and
properties. The Asians were given ninety days to leave Uganda.
The British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath decided
to admit into Britain those with UK Passports, so majority left
for UK. The unprecedented exodus sent shockwaves through the
entire Asian community in other parts of Africa. Manubhai had to
undergo a shocking ordeal of imprisonment in the infamous
Singapore Block of the Makindye prison. He was lucky to come out
alive after three weeks owing to international pressure. His
spiritual faith sustained him in prison. Soon after his release,
the Madhvani family left Uganda.
After Jayantbhai’s demise, cracks in the joint-family combined
with unsettling political events affected the fortunes of the
Madhvani Group. Fortunately Madhvanis had other assets in Kenya,
Tanzania and India, and younger family members were coming on
board. It was decided to divide the non-Uganda operations
equally among five brothers. In January 1979, Tanzanian army
together with Ugandan exiles sent Amin into exile to Libya.
Obote was back in power in 1981.
Manubhai’s wife Jyotiben passed away in September 1982. Obote
was ousted in July 1985 and the new President Museveni revived
the stagnant Ugandan economy. Madhvanis returned to repossess
their assets under the Expropriated Properties Act. Manubhai and
his brother Mayur were back at Kakira Sugar Works. The sugar
estate was in shambles. Oil and soap refineries were mere
shells. But with the help of World Bank, African Development
Bank and other financial institutions, Madhvani conglomerate
rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. Factories began
humming once again. But another big blow awaited. In
July,2006,the glass container factory in Lebanon with an annual
turnover of $26 million was bombed to the ground!
The bitter blow did not weaken the resolve of the Madhvani
family. The family differences were almost resolved and Madhvani
Group not only rehabilitated itself but also expanded its
diversification into floriculture, tourism, insurance,
construction, security, etc..
The mesmerizing memoir, a glowing testament to Madhvani family’s
entrepreneurial spirit, loyalty and love for Uganda, resilience,
spine, trust and philanthropy is bound to resonate with the
Indian diaspora. “Moving from the sylvan shores of Lake Victoria
to war-stricken glass factories in Lebanon, it is an astonishing
account of fortunes made, lost and found again. Narrated with
the acuity and foresight of a veteran businessman, it is a
Noted author Giles Foden, the author of the novel “The Last King
of Scotland” (later made into an Oscar-winning movie of the same
title), helped Manubhai in writing the riveting memoir.