It can be said that Arnold Masembe’s journey to China all started with a fashion trend. The Ugandan businessman noticed the surging popularity of jeans among his peer group and decided to head for the southern port city and manufacturing center of Guangzhou to feed their growing appetite for denim.
That was in 2008. Today, the entrepreneur sits at the helm of a multinational logistics company, represents his compatriots as an elected community leader and is expecting his fourth child. We traveled to Kampala to meet Arnold on one of his regular visits home to learn how the transformation came about.
In his newly purchased home in the hills outside the Ugandan capital, Arnold tells us that he quickly discovered buying and selling commodities would only be the beginning of his Chinese business activities.
“In my life, I’ve known to be a service person, very good at offering service. I wasn’t that good at trading.”
Playing to his strengths, the ambitious young migrant decided to take a different path.
“We always faced challenges of how to move our goods from China to Uganda,” Arnold explains. “I stopped the jeans business in 2011, and decided I was going to give myself time to try and grow the logistics part.”
The result was Sino-Equator Shipping, a fully-registered enterprise aimed at helping Ugandans source high-quality goods from factories throughout China and deliver them safely into the hands of East African clients.
But he didn’t stop at making a name on his business acumen alone. Arnold saw a need for leadership among the country’s Ugandan diaspora — and intended to meet it.
“When I got into China, there was a split, we weren’t united. We discovered that we needed leadership, we needed someone to lead us and move forward.”
An election was held that saw Arnold voted Chairman of China’s Ugandan Community, a role that he’s held ever since. Together with his deputies, he helps advocate for Ugandans caught up in immigration quandaries, liaise with local police authorities and promote bilateral trade.
But living a life spread across two continents isn’t always easy, as Arnold’s pregnant wife and business partner Anita can attest. “It’s difficult,” she tells us, “but I find distraction with work, I keep myself busy.”
“He doesn’t really get lots,” she continues, “but he sacrifices what he has and it’s for the good. He takes our kids to the best schools, he gives them the best life. Not because he has, but because he sacrifices.
He knows the reason why he went.”