The last time Chipper Adams was in the news was in August 2006. The rally champion had been shot in the arm by a security guard at a filling station in Mpererwe, a Kampala suburb. A guard mistook him for a thug. Since then, he has only returned to the rallying circuit on special occasions.
But before that incident, he was a darling to rally fans and at some point, the public fundraised for him to acquire a rally car when he reduced one to almost scrap. But recently, when I went to his home for an interview, the first thing I saw in his compound somewhere on Gayaza Road, was a fleet of cars of different makes and sizes. In one corner, two mechanics were busy screwing parts of what looks like a new car. There were other mechanics working on different cars.
Between supervising work on different cars, Adams stops to say hello before going on to narrate what is and has been occupying his life. For the last eight years, he has been working with oil companies such as Tullow and Total, transporting their staff.
Initially, he would drive station wagons, but later asked them to opt for buses, he would handpick from Japan, Dubai or even select from the bonds here. When he acquired the busses, he would add a few extras such as raw cages, fire extinguishers and other safety features.
“About three years ago, I noticed that this standard was not good enough for them. They wanted brand new vehicles. However, about 90 per cent of vehicles that come to Uganda are used from Japan. They (my clients) said they could not allow something (cars) over five years old,” Adams recalls.
So he started researching about cars around the world and particularly makers of four-wheel buses. He did not find four-wheel buses. He checked some in Australia and started communicating with some people from there on what it would take to get a vehicle to Uganda.
However, the major challenge he cites was that the car engines would not last. His bigger dream was to start assembling and building cars that would meet the standards of his clients.
He has since begun on his dream. “We are using Toyota, Hino truck four-wheel-drives, which we buy in Uganda and we get parts of the body from Australia. We do the fitting here. The parts come in a container. We are assembling the first four in Uganda,” he explains.
The former rally driver has bought some land where he plans to put up a factory. Adams says he started building cars a while ago, when he was still a rally driver.
“I used to build and work on my own rally cars, so it’s just natural for me to move from that to fixing used cars such as station wagons, four wheel drive, buses, and also assembling cars. We now rent cars,” he says, adding: “I was trained as an aircraft engineer at Texas State Training Institute.”
Adams says they are planning on building the world’s best four-wheel drive truck. “It is the first of its type in the world. The bus is made of light weight composite material and is actually stronger than that of metal. It is labour-intensive. Australia has the highest safety standards for vehicles on roads. However, we are building a bus that is suitable for our conditions and when we put it on the road, it will withstand. It will be comfortable inside and secure to use on the roads,” the aircraft engineer, explains.
Two of the cars’ bodies are already on site. Inside is a TV, a D player and efficient air-conditioning system. While inside, you can carry out a power presentation over a Public Address (PA) system that serves both the front and rear end of the bus. He has made a $2m (approximately 5.9b) investment in the project at his company called Safe Tech Auto. It is under his other company, Pro- Ride, which maintains his fleet of cars.
Giving kabaka a ride
Before he chose to fix cars instead of driving them for fun and a living, he got the chance to drive the Kabaka (king) of Buganda- Ronald Muwenda Mutebi. It was for the king’s birthday in 1993.
“It was a great honour. He made me feel comfortable even when the car was loud. We were wearing headsets to enable us carry out normal conversation. It was really amazing. There were about 20,000 people as reported by the media and as we were driving by, it was like driving through a crowd of people. He was interested in getting involved in making the circuit,” the rally ace recollects.
As they drove around, they talked about each other’s lives. Adams spun the car and the Kabaka was not scared. However, this raised a few eyebrows. Years later, the engineer walks through markets and people recognise him as the man who spun the Kabaka. He was nicknamed ‘Ssentamu’, as his Ganda name.
Chipper Adams also runs an airport shuttle company that transports people from Garden City to Entebbe airport at Shs30,000 per person.
He employs 40 people, half the number he previously supervised. When the business slowed down, he had to downsize on his workforce. He rents each bus for $200 (Shs600,000). When it is business as usual, he rents out 22 buses a day.
He adds, “The person renting the bus pays for the fuel but we provide a driver. There is safety and comfort as well. For instance, buses coming from Kenya are made by Indians and people are trying to cut corners. I noticed accidents and I decided to join the business because I want to promote safety and help prevent accidents. I would like to take over and export these to Kenya and even South Sudan has expressed interest.”
The engineer is toying with the idea of going into inland transport. “Hopefully in the long-run, we can get the prices down and I can see it going for inland transporting, make it from here and I can see it going for that,” he reveals. The body parts are assembled here, but imported from Australia.
About chipper adams
Before settling in Uganda, ‘Ssentamu’ had lived in Kenya and Tanzania, where he spent his younger years. When he came to Uganda, he liked the country for its friendly people. English was common which made communication easy. Plus, the weather was good.
All these convinced Adams to settl and married a Ugandan lady, from Eastern Uganda.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor