From riches to rags: the story of Okello and pioneer Buses!


By John Njoroge

The Pioneer Bus service and how one man -Alexander Okello- tears everyday

Few know Alexander Okello but have had the opportunity of riding the pioneer bus service in Kampala.

Minus the thieves and occasional breaking down of buses, the bus service reminds me of my times in Strasbourg-France in 2008.

Alexander Okello is a former multimillionaire. Once a flamboyant businessman and owner of a business empire under the flagship called Moyo hardware. I know him personally. I visit him numerous times at his current residence. He has cried in my presence and told me his problems- at least his version of why he has those problems.

Okello has 19 children with one wife and she looks beautiful and very very young. It is difficult to believe she gave bath to all those children. They are now grown up responsible people. Okello invested in his family in ways many will call extravagance.

When people take themselves and their children abroad for medical care most of you shout. Me I clap. It is a sign of responsibility and love for family. Although I do not support the “eat here and poop there” trend.

Okello’s children all studied abroad. Most still live abroad. Those in Uganda work in reputable companies. He educated them past university level. Unlike some of our prominent leaders, he was very particular with his daughters and made sure not only did they have university degrees, but they where able to get job without his help. He empowered them.

Okello once owned the entire George street- that is the street behind the Buganda road court and the Central Police Station in Kampala.

The Amamu House, on George Street, where the country’s National registry is housed was Mr Okello’s residence. He lived on the last two floors of that building, renting the rest of it to government of Uganda. Before that building had a lift, Okello had his own lift at the back. Okello was so wealthy that all he had to do was call a bank manager and a bullion van would deliver money to his home. All he had to do was sign the cheques from his pent house.

Those of you who know the building called Okello House, in Statehouse Nakasero, Mr Okello is the landlord.

Statehouse pays him a few million dollars every 5 years according to the tenancy agreement. Unfortunately Okello sees little of that money and it is actually purely his fault.

In Gulu, Okello owned many businesses among them, the Viva hotel that was famous for Alobo disco. In 2001 when I was working in Gulu I frequented that bar. It was where I meet the current speaker of the EAC Hon Dan Kidega and the Deputy SG of the NRM party Richard Todwong who later employed me for a year.

Alobo was where I met the late Col Walter Ochora who would flood me with beer and his humour. May he Rest In Peace.

Let me tell you in brief how the pioneer buses came to be in Kampala.

A former high school classmate of Bwana Okello [name withheld] approached him with a proposal. Okello was to give powers of attorney to this classmate for the Okello House. The classmate and other persons would then use the property to get a loan from a bank. The money would be used to purchase buses in a partnership deal with a powerful Kenyan businessman once a first son. Okello would then receive some money every month to keep him afloat.

You may wonder what I mean by “keep him afloat”.

Well, okello went down badly.

At the height of his wealth, he encountered some Nigerians at the Sheraton Hotel, who fed him on lies. They took him on a world wide full expenses paid tour of their “businesses” and convinced him to be their partner for a hefty fee which I will not mention.

Okello could foot that bill. A two figure million dollar figure, he could and very comfortably. His wife told me how she begged Okello not to get involved.

Okello was thinking of the Milky Way, not the sky!

In the end, Okello did that same round the world trip tour, expenses of his own, trying to track down those “business partners” of his and following his money.

All he got was high blood pressure. He is lucky he never ended up in wooden box.

The banks that treated him as king started taking his buildings in the city centre and across the country. His business empire collapsed. He was in and out if courtrooms and boardroom, pleading and negotiating hopelessly.

One top military General and one Asian hotel businessman, all once his drink buddies, where at the forefront of buying off his bank loans and taking his building.

Finally he was humiliated in public.

There is an auctioneer called Kirunda in this town. Very effective man always in a brown Kaunda suit- either he has one or many brown Kaunda suits I don’t know. Kirunda evicted Okello from Amamu house terribly. Okello’s property was literary thrown from the top floor to the grown. He lost so much valuable things that day.

The TV camera never had mercy on Okello. If you can find that clip, it’s on YouTube. White discharge was coming out of Okello’s mouth. He was tearing, sweating and in a panic, pleading with Kirunda. Sincerely Kirunda had no problem. He was doing his job and had no power to stop his own activity. But like a drowning man, who grabs on to a snake, Okello pleaded as his piano hit the ground from the 9th floor.

Fast forward.

Now here comes the classmate, with a “bailout” idea. Okello jumps for it. Signs off powers of attorney giving authority to this gentleman. The man left him, got a two digit million dollar loan and used just a fraction of that money to buy the U2 buses we now call Pioneer bus service.

Okello pursued his classmate for some money in vain. Once I visited the bus offices at the Namboole stadium and money was being counted from the floor. Later, a Newvison reporter also visited the offices and before long we where all writing about Pioneer bus. During my visit, I could not see the feet of those counting the money. I was not quick to write about it because I was looking for the contract. When I got the contract between KCCA and Pioneer bus, my story caused mayhem. I went to Rwanda for a week.

I see Okello once in a while. When he sees those buses, he looses a kilo, and stands Akimbo.

He stays indoors most of the time. He is so heavily in debt but the one thing he is happy about, he invested in his family.

So today I parked my car and I am riding pioneer. Join me upto 1pm.

Love you all!!!

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