THOUGH TRADITIONAL doctors/healers are part and parcel of African culture, it had remained a back room subject in our contemporary society.
This however instantly changed when Mama Fiina aka Sylvia Namutebi steeped at the helm of the profession.
Through her affluence, philanthropy, and rough approach to quack witches, Mama Fiina brought this to the front pages of our society. It’s for this reason that whenever traditional medicine is mentioned, the picture of the huge bossy, and brown lady rubs into your face. She’s truly the brand of the tradition.
Mama Fiina runs a multi-million shilling estate that covers importation of cars and general merchandise.
Prominent celebrated cultural practitioner Mama Fiina, aka Sylvia Namutebi, the chairperson of the Uganda Traditional Healers’ Association is the real story of Rags to Riches. She is so wealthy and ever since she is got full initiation to become a traditional healer her riches started flowing. She has been offering healing services a tradition to numerous individuals.
It is said that Mama Fiina’s wealth has roots from tradition healing where she got the money she used as capital to start to go to Nairobi and buy her first consignment of baby clothes which gave rise to her other businesses. She has a number of minibuses, which are operating as taxis and she is also into the lucrative gomesi business where she commands a large number of clients from her strings of shops.
It is the reason she was forced to join “Difra language services” to learn enough English to start flying abroad to import merchandise. She has prime plots of land in Makindye, Najjanankumbi, Sseguku, Kireka, Kawempe, Bulenga, Mukono and many other places. She has properties on all the major highways and she is also into freight and own several long-distance trucks that import and export goods. Previously she has given out more than 300 motor bikes to help youth all over Kampala to start the boda boda business. She has timber business in Ndeeba. It is said she buys everything for her husband Hajj Ismail Sekidde and two years back she paid for his holy pilgrimage to Mecca.
Today Mama Fina shares her story with Xclusive UG…
Xclusive UG: Tell us briefly about your background
Mama Fiina: I was born 38 years ago in Mukono Kyagwe. Both my parents are deceased. I dropped out of school in Primary 2 when my mother was exiled to a far-flung village after she was suspected of supporting rebels. She died from there. At only 12 years of age, I was left with my one-year-old brother in Mabira forest, where my late mother had bought land and it is then that it dawned on me that I had to fend for my brother and myself. I started digging to provide food for us. I supplemented that with odd jobs in the village.
Xclusive UG: How did you end up in Kampala?
Mama Fiina: A certain man called Byakatonda came to our village from Kampala looking for a housemaid, everyone recommended me because I was hardworking and an orphan. He brought me to Kampala in 1991, promising to pay me sh400 per month. However, six months passed without me receiving a cent from him. He soon fired me for giving a cluster of matooke to hungry neighbours.
I was later taken on by Princess Nakayenga, who had sympathised with me. I worked for her in Bugolobi flats before she later took me to work for her mother on Salaama Road.
She took me to school, but I could not cope because I was already mature and hardly knew English. So I requested her to let me focus on work, to which she agreed.
Xclusive UG: Tell us about how you cut it into business
Mama Fiina: It all started when when my boss doubled my salary to sh3,000. After the first payment, I requested her to hold my salary for the next three months. It accumulated to sh9,000, the highest amount of money I had ever held. I went back to the village to see my people and that is the time I started practicing traditional medicine. I later came back to town — this time determined not to work as a housemaid. Armed with sh9,500, I set out to vend katogo (a mixture of matooke and offal (byenda) for breakfastin Kisenyi, in Kampala. In 1994, business was slow, so I moved in with my brother, who lived in Kirombe Zone, Kaliga, Ndeeba, a Kampala suburb. I thought he was doing well in the city because of his showy lifestyle. But when I moved in with him, I was shocked to find out that he lived in a mud-and-wattle shack.
A Hajjat had allocated him space on her premises to erect the shack using mud and elephant grass fastened with sisal strings. The rent was sh500 per month. My brother would jump onto trucks that brought matooke into Ndeeba market. In the process, he would pluck some bananas off the bunches.
He would gather them into small heaps (myeera) and peddle them along the railway line in Ndeeba for a living. That’s how we survived; that’s how he earned his living.
While at his place, I earned my upkeep by washing clothes for people in the neighbourhood. However, these people were as desperate as I was, so I tried out traditional spiritual healing to better their lives. I became more popular for the traditional healing than the washing, thus the origin of the phrase, “Maama Fina mu Ndeeba”.
Xclusive UG: And how do you end up in other businesses?
Mama Fiina: I have never practiced traditional spiritual healing for money. It’s more like a calling; an anointing by my ancestors, not a job. In fact, any person who practises traditional spiritual healing solely for money is a quack. You have to have a business or job. I practise traditional spiritual healing to help people prosper, not bring harm to anyone. That’s why I don’t understand why anyone would call it “evil”. As a reward, I believe the spirits have cleared my path to success, bestowing blessings on me for the good job I’m doing.
No one has ever paid me a sh1m to “cure” them.
I get tips in appreciation from people who feel I have helped solve their problems. There’s no way anyone can get rich from money taken from people, who are ailing. Its cursed money and I can never use it in my businesses.
Just so you know, I have been “seeing patients” on the side for 20 years now and I only do it on Sunday. I “see” up to 150 “patients” on any given Sunday and I wouldn’t take time off to see anyone else on any other day because I have businesses to run.
Xclusive UG: So, how did you get the money to start you off in serious business?
Mama Fiina: There was a girl called Anita who had a boyfriend abroad. She sold buveera (polythene bags) in a shop called Nansagazi near Mini Price on Ben Kiwanuka Street in Kampala. For a long time, she attempted to join her boyfriend, but failed to secure a visa. I tried to secure a visa with her and fortunately, with God’s will, she succeeded. As a way of appreciating my efforts, she left her business to me on condition that I would look after her child. However, most buyers did not make it to the shop.
They bought buveera from vendors by the roadside and from those in the taxi park, who incidentally would buy from us. So, I started taking the polythene bags to the taxi parks. I made some good money.
Xclusive UG: How did you expand your business?
Mama Fiina: While at Mini Price, a woman who imported children’s clothes from Nairobi came to our shop and told me how Ugandans were making a killing from the trade.
I listened intently and asked her how much capital I required. She told me I needed at least sh450,000 to cover my return bus ticket, food and accommodation and remain with enough to shop. I had sh280,000, my entire savings at the time, but I took my chances with it. I boarded a bus to Nairobi, slept in some of the cheapest places and ate the cheapest food, but returned with clothes. I spent sh40,000 on the trip and I brought clothes worth sh240,000, which I sold and made sh570,000.
I went back and brought more clothes and by 1995, I had accumulated over sh2m in capital. I later moved into importation of cotton fabric which I would sell to schools and other traders. The same year, I bought my first car, a Toyota Hiace (kigege) at sh3.5m to ease the transportation of my products. The rest is history!