Our History

From the early 1950s, Uganda Breweries was always going to be one of Uganda’s most important companies. It was one of the largest taxpayers, one of the largest employers and one of the most profitable.

Even through the period in which it was a state-run corporation, it remained a crucial entity. The history of the company provides insights into the challenges and the opportunities of corporate Uganda.

It is also a cautionary tale on why it is usually best for the private sector, and not government, to manage business corporations in developing economies.

Early history

Until the arrival of the British, distilled liquor was unknown in Uganda.

When British explorers; John Speke and James Grant arrived at the court of Kabaka Mutesa I in 1862, among the many new products and ideas they sold to him was that brewing of liquor.

In the 1880s and onward during the period of upheaval, Sudanese-born mercenary soldiers known as Nubians introduced liquor into the territory.

The local liquor was nicknamed “war gin” by the British who noted that the Nubians and other soldiers drank it before battle in order to raise their spirits. From “war gin” came a local mispronunciation “war-agi” or waragi as it is now known.

As the Uganda Protectorate formed and the first elements of trade and business began to take root, traders noted that while the local banana and sorghum beer went bad after a short while, waragi by its distilled nature lasted much longer and so could be transported across villages and towns.

The establishment of Uganda Breweries

In 1922, the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) was founded in Kenya, a country with the largest British settler community in East Africa at the time.

EABL afterwards began to moot the idea of industrially-produced beer being introduced onto the Ugandan market thus the birth of Uganda Breweries Ltd. (UBL)

Uganda Breweries itself was started in 1946, the year after the Second World War. On the face of it, it did not make any business sense.

However, before the company was launched, a detailed feasibility study had been conducted by Kenya Breweries. A location was needed in Kampala that was close to an abundant and steady supply of water.

That location was Luzira, near Port Bell. Tests were done at Makerere College (later Makerere University) of samples of the water at Luzira, its quality, alkaline content and the microbes in it.

Finally the company was formally started on July 27, 1946. The first Managing Director was a Dane and all the first directors of the new company were Europeans. The first drink produced by the new company came off the line in 1950 with a new, mild beer called “Bell Brand”.

For the next six decades, Bell would become the flagship brand of UBL and for many, almost synonymous with the company itself.

In 1950, Macclesfield Brewery of Chesire in England acquired an interest in Uganda Breweries. Not only did this strengthen UBL’s capital base but also signaled that the Ugandan beer market was promising enough for a British brewer to make such an investment.

At the time, a new indigenous middle class was starting to form in Kampala, Entebbe, Mbarara and Jinja. Outspoken Ugandans such as Ignatius Musaazi, Augustine Kamya, Milton Obote and Abubakar Mayanja began to agitate for independence.

The Madhvani family of Kakira near Jinja saw an opportunity in this growing Ugandan economy and in 1951 founded a brewing company in Njeru, Jinja called Nile Breweries. Uganda Breweries and Nile Breweries would soon become competitors.

By this time, despite only being a relatively new company, UBL had started thinking beyond the Ugandan market. In 1954, it applied to be incorporated in Kenya.

Just before Christmas that year, UBL was registered in Kenya on the basis of a nominal capital of 5,000,000 shillings. Its address was given by Kenya’s acting registrar of companies, D.J. Coward, as Moody Brook Chambers, plot 4 Kampala Road.

The “Bell Brand” label of Uganda Breweries was registered in Nairobi on December 21, 1954 as Trade Mark No. 6154 in Class 43 of the company that produced “Fermented liquors and spirits excluding brandies and whiskies”.

This signal of confidence in the prospects of profit in the Ugandan market was reinforced when EABL acquired a 60% stake in UBL in 1959. EABL would now control the financial aspects of UBL. The majority owner of EABL was Allied Breweries of the United Kingdom.

Uganda Breweries is registered.
Production of the first beer in Uganda and our flagship brand, Bell Lager®, commences.
East African Breweries Limited (EABL) acquires an interest in Uganda Breweries to allow both companies a regional presence as pioneers in the brewing industry in East Africa.

Uganda attained internal self-rule in 1961 and independence in 1962. At that time, Uganda was a confident country. At the time, a bottle of beer cost one shilling.

Sir Michael Blundell, a British-born farmer and politician in Kenya, was named chairman of the board of EABL in 1964 and in 1965 also became chairman of the board of UBL.

Blundell although British felt strongly that the future of colonial Africa should be put in the hands of indigenous Africans. A young dentist called Dr. Martin Aliker was thus named a member of the board of directors of UBL on the recommendation of his mentor Michael Blundell.

Another Ugandan, Besweri Mulyanti, a county chief from Kaggo in Buganda, was also on the UBL board. Aliker was a doctor but had been interested in business since his university days at Makerere. He was also self-employed, a condition for one to join the UBL board.

Aliker would go on in later years to become one of the largest Ugandan shareholders of the company and become a perennial personality on the boards of various companies through the years.

In 1966, Dr. Aliker was appointed to the board of East African Breweries in Nairobi, to represent Uganda.

By 1967, Uganda Breweries was one of the largest companies in Uganda. It had a market capitalisation of £600,000 and had about 800 shareholders.

However, just when the outlook was positive for Uganda Breweries and Uganda, a major political move was made that would affect the company for years to come.

In 1969, the government of President Milton Obote announced an emphatic change in political direction toward socialism when a pamphlet; The Common Man’s Charter was published.

The Common Man’s Charter called attention to the idea that while African economies were growing the ordinary people often did not benefit from any of this ‘so called’ growth.

On Labour Day, May 1, 1970, in what came to be termed as the “Nakivubo Declaration”, President Milton Obote announced that the government was going to nationalise the economy.

As a result, large companies like UBL were targeted for what was effectively a government takeover.

It should be noted that although the government now had a 60% stake in the major companies, that percentage was only in the final profits. The day-to-day management of these companies was left in the hands of the managers who had been running these companies.

The partially nationalised companies however, found a way to under declare their profits and ultimately the government did not gain as much of the profits as they had hoped.

Following the expulsion of the 40,000 non-citizen Asians in September 1972, scarcity of commodities such as salt, sugar and beer, that had previously been in plenty on the market began to be felt.

The same year, UBL embarked on an extension of 1.5 million Uganda shillings (about $200,000 at the official exchange rate of the time). With this extension, expected to be complete by the end of 1972, production at the plant was projected to increase from 110,000 cases of beer per month to 185,000.

Following the breakdown of relations between the Uganda government and the West and the steady trend toward strident nationalism, Hunter, a white Managing Director left Uganda for Nairobi in 1974 where he re-joined EABL.

Juuko was then named Managing Director, becoming the first Ugandan to head UBL. Makai became the head brewer

.

Two years later, Juuko left the company and was replaced by a Hajji Fadimula, a businessman and close associate of President Amin. Fadimula would remain in charge of the company until the fall in 1979 of the Amin government.

On May 5, 1976, Radio Uganda announced that the government was to take over a number of companies including Uganda Breweries. The government took full control of Uganda Breweries, running the company more or less like an extension of the civil service.

This was the most serious blow to the company since the 60% stake in business corporations first announced by the government in 1970.

An unexpected increase in world coffee prices in 1977 brought Uganda its first budget surplus in years and with that a brief period of economic growth and increased disposable income for the population. There was a corresponding rise in the consumption of beer and other commodities.

However, this increase in national prosperity was reversed with the collapse in July 1977 of the East African Community. It thus became difficult for industrial machinery to be imported via Mombasa, affecting the beer industry as a result.

To add insult to an injury, on December 28, 1977, the government announced a freeze on the allocation of foreign exchange to businesses wishing to import manufacturing inputs and spare parts.

The collapse of the East African Community and the curb on foreign exchange allocations weakened the Ugandan beer market by the end of that year.

The most serious damage to the Ugandan economy came with the 1979 Uganda-Tanzania war. In Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja widespread looting followed the fall of the Idi Amin government.

At this time in 1979 and 1980 following the fall of the Amin government, the Managing Director of Uganda Breweries was Daniel Kigozi. Kigozi had been an engineer with East African Breweries in Nairobi.

Throughout the 1970s, East African Breweries never totally gave up its interest in Uganda Breweries despite the nationalisation of the company in 1970.

The Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) of Milton Obote returned to power in December 1980 and set about trying to revive the Ugandan economy. Economic policy took centre stage after 1981. The priority was the manufacturing sector.

John Ibara, an Under Secretary in the civil service, was seconded by the new UPC government to head Uganda Breweries. Gabriel Opio, a future cabinet minister, was the Marketing Manager at the time.

Kigozi, who was a supporter of the Uganda Patriotic Movement party led by Yoweri Museveni in 1980, left the company and fled into exile.

To encourage factories to invest in new equipment and increase production, the government in the 1981/1982 financial year announced a waiver on import taxes on inputs for the manufacturing sector.

The government’s budget proposals for 1981/1982 also lifted state controls of commodity prices.

By the 1983/1984 fiscal year, industrial production had increased sufficiently to end the black market that had dogged the economy for the previous four years.

The government in 1984, after lobbying and protracted negotiations by EABL, announced that it would return UBL to its original owners; East African Breweries and Ind Coope and City Breweries of the UK.

Average daily output in the early to mid-1980s was about 1,500 crates per day.

A new government, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), came to power in January 1986 led by Yoweri Museveni. Much of the central and southern part of the country regained a measure of peace but the economy had been ravaged by years of war and erratic economic conditions.

After 1986, with as Museveni the head of state, Ibara left UBL and returned to the civil service. Daniel Kigozi who had returned from exile, was re-appointed as Managing Director.

The new president made revival of the Ugandan economy an early priority and one of the first companies he visited in 1986 was Uganda Breweries. The President wanted to get familiar with the way government corporations were run and what role they might play in revitalising the economy

What surprised him the most, was how the brewery had managed to stay afloat during all those years of economic decline and political upheaval.

After Kigozi was appointed Minister of Industry, he was replaced by a Kenyan, Ephraim Kubai, a former head of production at EABL.

In 1987, Uganda Breweries was producing only about 2,000 crates per week. The company produced the Bell, Pilsner and Citizen brands. The Head Brewer was Anthony Makai while the late Frank Kyeyune was a Senior Brewer along with Nekemia Matembe.

With demand far outstripping supply, the allocation of beer had to be delicately balanced and became a major part of management meetings.

Many recipients of the beer, usually politicians and government officials however, would sell it on the black market soon after receiving their quota.

In May 1987, Uganda Breweries faced a crisis arising from tensions between Uganda and Kenya. Relations between the new NRM government of Uganda and the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) government of President Daniel Arap Moi had never been particularly close since Museveni took over power.

Wagons of Uganda Railways at Mombasa would be delayed for days and even weeks without explanation by the Kenya Ports Authority.

On May 19, 1987, over 1,300 tonnes of malt barley belonging to Uganda Breweries were held up in warehouses in Mombasa, causing a further shortage of beer in Uganda in what was already a market of severe shortages.

The company at the time had a football team, Bell FC that was managed by Charles Bakabulindi, the current Minister of State for Sports. Bakabulindi was an electrician at Uganda Breweries as well as head of the Uganda Breweries workers’ union. Frank Nyanzi was the head of marketing at the time.

During these difficult economic times, beer brands from Kenya like White Cap and Tusker were smuggled into Uganda across Lake Victoria. Kenya Breweries even built a small factory in the western town of Kisumu just to supply the Ugandan market.

In 1989, EABL announced plans to expand its output to 4.2 million crates of beer per annum by the end of 1990.

One of the most interesting episodes in the history of the company occurred in the early to mid-1980s.

The economic situation in Uganda was so dire in as far as the consumer market and operational conditions of companies were concerned that it forced the two brewing rivals, Uganda Breweries and the Jinja-based Nile Breweries, to put aside their differences.

At that time, Nile Breweries’ bottling machine was in a better working condition than Uganda Breweries’. The two companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which the beer produced by Uganda Breweries was driven to Jinja and bottled using the Nile Breweries facilities.

In a sense, the two companies had no choice but cooperate. Even if they tried to go it alone in the market, the demand was too weak to be of much profit to either company.

Uganda Breweries is licensed to produce Uganda Waragi
A Ugandan, Baker Magunda, is appointed Managing Director. Taking over from Chris Emptage.
Uganda Breweries wins Silver President’s Export Award.
Alvaro, the company’s first non-alcoholic natural malt drink, is successfully launched and records consumption of over eight Million bottles within the first three months following the launch in East Africa.
• Uganda Breweries installs a new packaging line with capacity of 50,000 bottles per hour.
• November 2010, Alasdair Musselwhite is appointed Managing Director taking over from Ivo Buratovich.
• Bell Lager wins Gold at the coveted Monde Selection.
• Bell Lager® receives a resounding nod from Uganda consumers as the best quality beer brand in the market as verified by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS).
• September 2011 - Uganda Breweries Limited scoops the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Tax payers 2010/2011 Excel Award in the manufacturing sector in recogniting for contributing 26% total revenue to the economy from the sectors.
2012 - Uganda Breweries becomes an affiliate of Diageo Plc.
• Hon. Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda commissions a 200,000 cubic liter overhead tank and water harvesting system in Mbarara Referral Hospital donated by Uganda Breweries in partnership with the EABL Foundation.
• Uganda Breweries celebrates 2,000 days of no Lost Time Accident at the International Distilleries Uganda.
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• Uganda Breweries top brands, Bell Lager and Uganda Waragi are recognized by Private Sector Foundation as part of Uganda’s Top 52 brands.
• February 2014 - Uganda launches pilot partnership with Straight Talk Foundation as part of “Red Card - Zero Tolerance to Underage Drinking" to deal with underage consumption concerns in northern Uganda.
• July 2014 - Bell Lager runs the famous Sip Sip Samba promotion, allowing Bell consumers to travel to Brazil during the World cup.

• Uganda Breweries is named 5th Top Employer of Choice by Federation of Ugandan Employers 2014/2015.

• March 2015 - Bell Lager, Pilsner Lager and Uganda Waragi win Gold award at International Monde Selection.

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• Uganda breweries celebrated 70 years of existence which also coincided with the welcoming of a new managing director; Mark Ocitti, the 2nd Ugandan MD to be at the helm of Uganda breweries.

• Our flagship brand Bell Lager launched a refreshed look in a stunning new pack that was unveiled at the climax of a successful consumer promotion dubbed “Pop ‘n’ Jam” and celebrated at the most-talked-about concert in Kampala headlined by renowned artiste Shaffer Chimere Smith (“Ne-yo”).

• Uganda Waragi launched a cocktail agenda, with 50 UG cocktail recipes; the first of its kind in celebration of its 50years. The “UG @50 cocktails” celebrations accelerated the distribution of its flavors and allowed more consumers to engage with this iconic Ugandan brand.

• Uganda Breweries was named amongst the top 2 Employer brands of choice in Uganda by the Federation of Ugandan Employers (FUE).

• In November 2016, The RED CARD Responsible Drinking campaign won the award for Best Concern for Consumer Issues at the Uganda CSR Awards organized by Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) and GIZ, bringing the total of awards on Responsible Drinking to three in the past three years.

• Uganda Breweries Limited earned silver in the PRESIDENT'S EXPORT AWARDS within the category of alcoholic beverages in recognition of its significant economic contribution through exports.

• Kampala City Authority Executive Director - Ms Jenifer Musisi and key stakeholders in the water sector commissioned Uganda Breweries Limited’s Expanded shillings 20b Effluent Treatment Plant.

• Uganda Breweries Limited awarded best employer of the year 2016/2017 by the Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE)