Never on the slippery slopes of Naguru Hill

Daudi Karungi, Afriart Gallery

It is about 6.30pm and I am waiting for Daudi Karungi outside his gallery Afriart.

Afriart is located near Kira Rd Police Station at the bottom of Naguru Hill. According to the gossip in town, in the late 90s – early 2000s Naguru Hill used to be a site frequently toured by top politicians in the company of potential foreign donors and investors. The goal of these tours was to impress the visitors with the new developments in form of beautiful huge mansions. At a later stage the traffic with visitors to the hill stopped when the scandals of large-scale fraud and corruption with investor and donor money became a bit too frequent, and it appeared that the misappropriated money in many cases was spent on private homes for top officials.

Regardless of where the funding for the beautiful homes on Naguru Hills originates, the once sparsely populated hill is now covered in mansions. In the warm-orange-hazy-sunset light, while I recall the tales of Naguru Hill and try to spot some friends houses, I hear a car stop behind me. Far away in my own thoughts I don’t bother to turn around and see who it is. A few seconds later I hear Daudi Karungi’s voice right beside me:

I would not want to live up there. The constructions are made without prober planning and the houses might slide down one of these climate-changing days, he says in a matter of fact way.

I have not met Daudi since I moved back to Copenhagen in Dec. 2010, and during my five years in Kampala we only spoke briefly when we met through common friends. But each time we had a chat Daudi would tell me about a new venture he had started or was part of. As long as I had known him he had always had Afriart and he had always painted. But in addition he has established – it seems – zillions of new ventures. I had become curious to know more about this entrepreneurial artist.

I was not aware of in the beginning, but I use a particular model for everything I do: I dream, I imagine the future, I plan it well and I start building it step by step, Daudi explains while we have gone inside and sit in an office on the first floor of the gallery.

His first dream was to open an art gallery and as soon as he graduated from Makerere Arts School in 2001 he established Afriart. He was 21 years old and he felt there was no time to waste. Eventually he wanted to run the biggest and most recognised art institution in the country, and the first piece of his master plan was the gallery.

Everything I have done since 2001 are stepping-stones towards building an acknowledged all-in-one art institution. My vision for it is to be the best in every aspect of art management from connoisseurship and promoting and selling art, to collaborating with the most prominent and interesting cutting edge artists, says Daudi Karungi, who by now has a total of 30 employees and besides East Africa sell his art in the US, Britain, Scandinavia.

The different ventures I have heard about over the years are all pieces of the master plan.  Together with a friend Daudi imports wine and runs the Wine Garage  in Muyenga, an upmarket hang out for Kampala bohemians (of course with art from the gallery at display) and the first of its sort in Uganda.

Every first Friday of the month Afriart launches a new exhibition and invites to open house, and some years back the physical gallery went online with a digital art gallery from which customers, primarily international, buy art.

Daudi spearheads and plays a key part in the annual print magazine START and the monthly online version of it. In addition he decorates hotels with art pieces and beautiful fabric, and organises exhibitions in UG as well as abroad displaying his own art pieces and other Ugandan artists’ work.

As so many other Ugandan entrepreneurs Daudi Karungi’s life is his work, he never stops; three or five weeks holiday is totally unheard of, it would bore him to death. Instead he makes sure that all he does fit well into his master plan, and simultaneously reach out and extend his network of art professionals, art lovers – and art buyers.

Daudi Karungi does not hide the business side of his ventures.

I am not one of these people who think it is impossible to do anything without 10million Shillings, but I know that everything requires investments. I make sure to generate enough through my existing work to make the necessary investment for new activities, he says

Daudi’s entrepreneurial gene is not a coincidence. In Uganda it’s well known that only 19 families are running 60% of the industrial production. Daudi comes from one of these families. His grandfather is James Mulwana , but his own father died when he was one year old. His mother passed away when he was a teenager.  His parents left enough resources behind to pay for the children’s upbringing and education. The grandfather and the uncles managed the rest including mentorship in business skills, but Daudi’s love for art does not steam from his family.

I certainly did not grow up in a family where art and wine were part of life, and maybe because my interests were different I follow my own path. I know what I want and most of the time I also know how to get it, he says.

The manager of the Afriart gallery enters the office, takes her laptop and asks Daudi to remember to close the window before we leave. She wants to lock up and it’s time to go.

I am going to see some friends and their newborn baby in one of the more modest houses on Naguru Hill, and Daudi is on his way to the wine garage in Muyenga. But before we part outside the gallery, he invites me to come back by the end of the month when he launches his next new venture: a coffee shop within the space of the Wine Garage.

We figured we might as well use the space to generate income during all the hours of the day and not only in the afternoon and evenings when people come for wine, he explains.

When I start my car and turn it to drive up the hill I think I know Daudi Karungi a little better: A man who sees opportunities, plans well and goes full blast for it, but doesn’t take unnecessary risks. Of course he would never want to have a house on the slippery slopes of Naguru Hill.

One Response to “Never on the slippery slopes of Naguru Hill”
  1. rob says:

    wow-would have read this-but far too much writing…

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