Uganda: Mengi - the Story of an African Self-Made Billionaire

Tanzanian billionaire, business magnet, author and philanthropist Reginald Mengi has died aged 75

When Forbes Magazine put Reginald Mengi's fortune at around $550 million (about Shs2 trillion) a few years ago, few would have realised that he actually started by selling ballpoint pens.

In fact, with Tanzania experiencing shortage of almost everything during the mid-1983 to 1984, the departed Tanzanian dollar millionaire had to sweat to get the ballpoint pens, he wrote in his book I Can, I Must, I Will.

With the government resorting to harassment and detention of traders as it accused them of hoarding the basic necessities during that time, Mr Mengi actually jerked his entrepreneurial spirit and decided to start importing the products from Kenya.

He was denied a $4,000 (Shs15m) loan from then government-owned National Bank of Commerce (NBC) but he remained focused and decided to talk to fellow businesspeople in Kenya and finally, it worked out.

Amid challenges, including the lorry, which was transporting the pens from Mombasa, Kenya to Tanzania, getting a breakdown at Horohoro, he finally made it.

"When the components arrived, I didn't know where to put them. So, the best place was my bedroom and it was in that bedroom that I started the assembly of the pens," he told Forbes Africa magazine in its July 2014 edition.

Having realised that he could do well with the ballpoint pen selling and purveying business, the next thing in his head was to quit his job at Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers - PwC).

Amid a challenging business climate, Mr Mengi was into the business for good and in fact, he decided to diversify it into other areas, including establishing a Coca-Cola soft drink plant in Moshi, the Bonite Bottlers in 1987.

Business journey

He sold shoe polish made from ground charcoal and oil, and natural skin exfoliator, which was simply bottled sea mud.

He was on roll and made anything he could: toilet paper, soap, detergent, beds, shoes and toothpaste.

This partly explains the story of Mr Mengi, the founder, owner and executive chairman for IPP Limited and IPP Institute of Technology and Innovation.

IPP has interests in print and electronic media. It also owns Bonite Bottlers. Mr Mengi also has interests in mining, oil and gas, CNG, pharmaceuticals, large scale horticulture, automobiles, cement and in other manufacturing businesses.

The story of Mengi, who was born in 1944, goes back to Nkuu Village, Machame in Kilimanjaro where he grew up as a poor boy from a poor family.

Mr Mengi writes in his book that his father, Mr Abraham Mengi, was very poor so much that the family owned not even a single acre of land.

Mr Abraham Mengi and his wife Ndeekyo, were blessed with seven children namely Apaansia, Elitira, Asantarabi, Karileni, Reginald, Evaresta and Benjamin.

Having completed his primary school at Kisereny, Mr Mengi joined Nkuu District School where he did Standards One to Six.

Having passed Standard Six national examinations, he was selected to join Standard Seven at Siha Middle School before proceeding Old Moshi Secondary School.

He did well with his O Level Cambridge School Certificate examinations and proceeded with A Level at the same school.

With the desire to become a chartered accountant, he left the school to pursue further studies when a chance dawned.

That saw him leaving the school half-way through Form Five and flew from Moshi to Glasgow, via Nairobi and London.

While there, Mr Mengi studied accountancy and articles with Cooper Brothers in the United Kingdom and after being accepted as a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, he returned to Tanzania in 1971 where he was employed by the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand Tanzania.

He stayed with Coopers & Lybrand Tanzania (now PriceWaterHouseCoopers) up to September 1989 during which time he became its chairman and managing partner.

In October 1989, Dr Mengi left Coopers & Lybrand Tanzania to concentrate on his own businesses.

See related story on page 38.

HELPING COMMUNITY

Mengi was a generous giver. He donated cash to groups of the disabled and upon the death of his son, Rodney Mutie Mengi in 2005, he launched the Rodney Mutie Mengi Foundation. He has been sponsoring children to undergo lifesaving heart surgeries in India. He participated in forming, and then led various business organisations, including the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture, Confederation of Tanzania Industries and the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation.

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