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Meet Ugandan tycoon behind the construction of Times Tower, NSSF, Kabarak buildings



Meet Ugandan tycoon behind the construction of Times Tower, NSSF, Kabarak buildings

Little known James Mugoya Isabirye is the Ugandan tycoon behind the construction of one of Kenya’s tallest buildings, The Times Tower.

The building was completed in 1999 and has been standing tall for over 2 decades. The 38-story magnificent skyscraper serves as the headquarters of the Kenya Revenue Authority.

The modern design and towering presence have made Times Tower a landmark in the City of Nairobi.

Mugoya Construction & Engineering Limited, under James Mugoya’s command, is the prominent company responsible for its construction. They have also engineered several iconic projects in Kenya.

Some of them include the National Social Security Fund building, Hazina Estate in Nairobi, Moi High School Kabarak, Kabarak University and the Kisumu Provincial Headquarters.

Mugoya’s entrepreneurial rise was greatly influenced by the Moi regime. He was a heavy politically connected contractor. Mugoya came to Kenya from Ugand, after securing the chance to join the University of Nairobi for a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering.

Mugoya, born in 1950, attended Bulyansime Primary in Uganda before proceeding to Iganga Boys. He also attended the prestigious Kings College Budo in Uganda before joining UoN.

He was registered as Abiam JM Isabirye in a class of 46 students. In his time at UoN, Mugoya forged a solid friendship with former President Daniel Moi’s sons and children of other high-ranking individuals.

This proved to be very rewarding after he completed university studies. In a ceremony graced by President Jomo Kenyatta, Mugoya graduated on October 26th, 1971.

Soon after completing his studies, he founded Mugoya Construction & Engineering Limited and quickly secured contracts to construct notable projects such as the NSSF building and Hazina Estate.

In 1992, James Mugoya landed his biggest contract from the Moi government; to construct the nearly 40-storey Times Tower which was then set to be the largest building in Eastern Africa.

Funding for the project was provided by both the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and the government. The tower is served by 10 elevators.

The Times Tower building has now been dethroned by Britam, GTC and UAP, ranked with respect to height. Times Tower comes fifth on the list. 

READ: Top 10 tallest buildings in Kenya today

Mugoya was contracted by NSSF in 1995 to construct 265 houses, an administration block, a clubhouse, and a kindergarten in Karen. The project was delayed due to pending approvals from Nairobi City Council.

In 2012, an out-of-court settlement was reached, with Mugoya receiving Ksh342 million for the project, which he had initially claimed Ksh633 million for.

In 2000, the then Mathira MP, Matu Wamae, questioned why all contracts landed on Mugoya’s palms.

“Why do all construction jobs from the government go to Mugoya Construction and Engineering Limited. Is it because some individuals in the government are directly involved?” he quipped.

“We do not want to see Mugoya getting more contracts directly. Let them compete in an open tender,” Wamae demanded.

After the NARC coalition government led by late President Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2002, Mugoya’s fortunes began to decline as his pending road contracts were cancelled.

The 21st century hasn’t been exactly beaming with projects for Mugoya. He still made a fortune from court settlements following the cancellation of his pending contracts.

Mugoya’s legal troubles have not been limited to Kenya alone, as he has also faced charges in Uganda. In 2010, he was accused of selling construction machinery worth Sh. 3.5 billion that had been charged to KCB Group, leading to his arraignment in a Nairobi court.

Furthermore, in Kampala that same year, he was charged alongside Uganda pension fund officials for operating an illegal joint real estate venture worth Ush8 billion (Sh. 235 million).

The High Court issued an order for the liquidation of Mugoya Construction & Engineering Limited in 2015 following revelations that the company was unable to settle its debts.

Among the company’s creditors were Gichuki King’ara & Company Advocates, who were owed Sh. 35 million in legal fees, and Dew Security Services, who were owed Sh. 14 million in unpaid bills.

Despite controversies, Mugoya still remains celebrated in Uganda for his philanthropic contributions.

In 1994, he reconstructed Bugabawe Primary School after a student died due to a roof collapse during heavy rainfall. Mugoya demolished the dilapidated structures and rebuilt the school, leaving a lasting impact on the community.

He also has an estate named after him in Kenya; Mugoya Estate in South C. It is a middle class gated community.

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