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Jolly Ngabirano: The Woman Whose Spiritual Gift Inspired Her Business

posted onFebruary 15, 2018
Jolly Ngabirano

By Dennis Katungi 

Our dear departed Jolly Ngabirano was born in a strong Christian family to Gladys and Yeremiah Nyakairima on 21st May 1961 in Nyakiju village, Buyanja sub county Rukungiri District. Her parents were illiterate pastoralists but devout Christians who championed ethical values.  She was the eighth born in a family of 10 children.  She married Henry Ngabirano in February 1988 and left behind three children Phyllis, Phillipa and Abraham.

I first met Jolly in 1987. I had just completed my A’ levels and she was then working at Coffee Marketing Board HQs Umber House.  Those were heady days, just a year after the NRM had come into power and there was a fair buzz of excitement all round. The top bosses at Coffee Marketing Board were Dr James Makumbi (RIP), as Chairman, Mr Ernest Kakwano, General Manager and Mr Elly Rwakakoko, Board Secretary.

I got the vacational employment because a family friend introduced me to Mr Sam Kigundu, then Deputy Board Secretary and asked him to keep me occupied during the long vacation.  It ended up being a full time employment for me for the next two years.  

In the two years I worked with Jolly, she was a firm but kind lady and helpful in those first few days settling into employment as a school leaver. As Personal Assistant to the Deputy Board Secretary, she literary run the roost for all administrative elements of that office, including placing junior personnel and interns such as myself.  I remember when she tipped me on an impending transfer and I used the information to forestall it. 

I was enjoying my new post at CMB Hqs when the personnel office then headed by Mr Sonko originated a loose memo to the Deputy Board Secretary suggesting to move me to the Purchasing Department. She popped into my office and asked if I would be happy with the move.  I said I would be displeased because I liked what I was doing.  She advised me to express myself to the Deputy Board Secretary about it - otherwise I would be in a new office very soon.

The dilemma to me was: How would I explain myself to the Deputy Board Secretary on an issue that was at that point a confidential loose minute from personnel?  I certainly couldn’t say to Mr Kigundu that his PA had tipped me off, although she had not told me not to. I thought it was sheer common sense. And so, off I went to my God parent who had originally put me in touch with Mr Kigundu for the employment and put the scenario to him. I had spent one year at CMB then.

My God parent picked his phone while I was in his Office and called the Deputy Board Secretary by his pet-initials SK, after a little chit-chat, he told him - ‘they are proposing to move the young man I gave you to another department and he is not happy about it.  Since it’s still a proposition to you, can you decline the transfer please?  And so, I survived an unexpected move because of Jolly Ngabirano for which I was eternally grateful.

She was straight forward, graceful and very honest.  I eventually left CMB in 1990 for studies in the United Kingdom and left her there.  She then moved on to Uganda Revenue Authority where she spent some good years raising to the position of Principal Revenue Officer. She left URA in December 2003 and ventured into the private sector by creating her own brand, Café PAP, it became a signature venture.  She was the first woman to go into the Coffee shop market in Uganda and she run a successful chain of them in this city at Parliament, Garden City & Shell Ntinda.  She also invested in a tourist lodge called Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Those who knew Jolly attributed her success in business & in her family life to her spirituality. She desired and indeed run her businesses on biblical principles, which she termed FAITH IN THE MARKETPLACE. Over the years, I would pop into Café PAP at Parliament Avenue to say hello and savour the flavor of her fine coffees and she was always happy, smiling & welcoming as ever.

At the vigil in Kololo, and at the funeral service at All Saints, hundreds of people from all walks of lives turned up to bid her farewell.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a collection of so many former workmates at Coffee Marketing Board which I left 28 years back in 1990.  Mr Hannington Karuhanga, who became Marketing Manager at CMB in 1988 and has remained in the coffee business ever since was key in organising a befitting send-off for Jolly, given that Mr Ngabirano was in Germany with his wife by the time of her demise. As soon as word filtered through, Hannington put together an incredible team that run the show until Jolly was brought home.

Fare thee well Jolly, Heaven has gained and planet Earth is poorer for the loss.


Communications & Media Relations Manager, Uganda Media Centre


Jolly Ngabirano spirituality biblical principles

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