Meet Fred Ssenoga, the controversial city dealer behind Tondeka Metro
By Our Investigative Reporter
Fred Ssenoga, the lanky city dealer, is smooth and fast-talking and presents himself as the go-to man when it comes to city transport issues. Ssenoga started as a taxi driver and rose through the leadership of the controversial UTODA where he started making contacts with some of the politicians and influential people.
One of such people is Alfred Muganga, the son-in-law of the all-powerful Minister. As soon as they established a friendship, Ssenoga started making his pitch — we can change Kampala’s transport nightmare and make so much money. He pulled out a calculator like he quickly does. If we import 500 buses, we’ll take over the city and we’ll be making billions every day.
Muganga is a businessman, so he listened but Ssenoga wanted more of Muganga’s access to his influential father-in-law, Sam Kuteesa. Along the way, Muganga agreed to invest in Pioneer Easy Bus and they brought on board, Mathew Rukikaire, another former minister close to the Kuteesas. Rukaire brought others onboard including Eric Adriko and a city businessman with a tall building along George Street that houses a government agency.
The deal was to convince the government of Uganda to guarantee a loan of USD20m to China’s Export-Import Bank (EXIM) so that the China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation Beijing Company (CATICBJ), a bus manufacturer, can sell 200 buses to Pioneer Easy Bus on credit.
Upon reading the documents, Keith Muhakanizi, the Secretary to the Treasury and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance saw many holes in Ssenoga’s proposal and refused to sign the “payment guarantee” telling The Independent Magazine that “the directors of pioneer buses had responsibility to pay their debts should they misbehave by mismanaging the company or failing to honour their debt obligations”
With Muhakanizi’s refusal. Pioneer Easy Bus faced a stillbirth. Ssenoga, as charming and smooth-talking as he always is, returned to his fellow directors and the businessman with a building on George Street agreed to mortgage it for USD10m to Standard Chartered Bank. Ssenoga flew to China and finalized the deal and walked away with a commission from CATICBJ.
Obviously, Pioneer Easy Bus failed to make money and the building was sold by the bank. Ssenoga was chased away for misleading his fellow directors but he didn’t care, his commission was already paid.
But Ssenoga has an insatiable appetite for “government guarantees” because that’s where the money is. He is today the man behind Tondeka Metro, which promises to important 1,000 buses from Ashok Leyland in India. Tondeka is seeking a government guarantee of USD200m to bring the buses on the pretext that they will solve Kampala’s transport nightmare.
Yet Ssenoga knows the truth about public transport in Kampala. The importation of 1,000 buses won’t mean that everyone who has their car will abandon driving in favour of boarding public buses. But Ssenoga is not stupid if the government guarantees the importation of buses worth USD200m, he is set to earn a commission of 30% from Ashok Leyland, which is USD60m which is approximately Shs222 billion at the current foreign exchange rates. Once he earns his commission, he will move on to something else and the government will be left with a responsibility to pay off the Indians.
Ssenoga is the real definition of a Tenderprenuer — businessmen who make money through dubious government tenders.
Ssenoga and his Tondeka Metro collaborators promised that the buses will be on the road in January 2020 and just like Pioneer Easy Bus promised, the infrastructure such as bus stops and parks where Ugandans will park their cars to jump onto Tondeka buses are not yet in place. Tondeka doesn’t even own a single park anywhere and neither has it signed any agreements with landlords or municipalities such as Nansana, Mukono and Entebbe where buses are expected to operate. Failure to sign such agreements led to Pioneer buses being denied access to these municipalities.
The problems that failed Pioneer Easy Bus more than 10 years ago are still in place and if Ssenoga is still the man behind Tondeka, expect to see another fleet of buses rotting away at Namboole just like Pioneer Easy Bus. But again, like Pioneer Easy Bus, Ssenoga would have earned his commission and he will move on to the next transport project. He recently proposed to build a rapid bus transit lane from Kireka to Bwaise!
Ssenoga being a smart dealer, he doesn’t publicly present himself as part of Tondeka, he fronts Peter Kimbowa, a management consultant as the face behind the company. Kimbowa is officially the board chair of Tondeka Metro, which changed name recently from The Transport Management Company. Ssenoga, just like with Pioneer Easy Bus, he changes names and ownership of his companies as fast as he senses a deal somewhere. Pioneer started as Kampala Modern Bus Service then changed to Easy Bus Service before it ended up as Pioneer Easy Bus. Tondeka Metro, in a period of less than a year, is now on second name having discarded The Transport Management Company already.