Eating off mending shoes for 20 years

By: Mutebi Kalema

A pair of tattered shoes, was Ivan Madira’s first test, as well as a gate pass to his future as a successful cobbler. When his first client, musician General Mega Dee, who was a student at the time, presented to him shoes in a sorry state, he immediately grabbed the opportunity and got working. Since then, the 45-year-old cobbler who operates from a store in Makerere University’s Nsibirwa Hall has never looked back.

“General Mega Dee gave me his shoe to mend but it was in a poor state. He thought I could not repair it but when I fixed it, everyone who was around was amazed. Students from different halls started bringing their shoes for mending.

“My first day in Makerere University, I made Shs7,000. The second day when other students saw my work, they brought their shoes for repair. That day, I ended up with Shs15,000. This income inspired me to gain more interest in my job. I bought more tools and got a place where I could work from,” says Madiba.

What inspired him to start mending shoes?

The need to look after his family led him into shoe-mending. “My life was hard because I had a family to take care of. I had to pay rent yet I did not have a stable source of income.”

When the idea of mending shoes to support his family struck him in 1993, he sold his small radio at Shs25,000 to top up the Shs10,000 he had. This is what he used as startup capital to buy equipment for his business.

He then asked his mother, a cook at Lumumba Hall, Makerere University, to request the university council to allow him work within the campus.

“I was certain that students in the university wanted my services because there were very few people working as cobblers yet students demanded the services. Therefore, this was a strategic place for my business of mending shoes,” he narrates.

Fortunately, Madira was given the opportunity to operate within the university’s campus. Ever since then, Madira has been mending shoes for people within and outside the university. Because of his honesty and trustworthiness, Madira has kept his old customers and attracts more every day.

So how did Madira get here?

Born in 1969, the fifth born of seven children, Madira lost his father when he was five years old.

Before his death, Madira’s father was working with Makerere University as a chief cook in Mitchell hall. After his father passed away, his mother took on the role of bread winner.

“She used to sell porridge to students and builders who were constructing Nsibirwa Hall in Makerere University. With the small savings, my mother used to support my primary education plus my four brothers and two sisters.

“While at school, I loved sports and used to play football with friends, he says. Madira recalls Majidu Musisi, Allan Ssewanyana (currently a sports analyst on NBS television) as his teammates.

Unfortunately, because his mother could not afford to support the family anymore, in 1984, aged 15, Madira dropped out of school in Primary Seven.

Madira, his elder sister, and Harriet Ogaru, the lady he had started cohabiting with, later went back to his village in DR Congo. By this time Ogaru was carrying Madira’s second baby.

While in the village, Madira worked hard as a farmer. By age 20, he had constructed a grass- thatched house near his father’s main house. When he started earning some money, he paid dowry to Ogaru’s family in order to legalise their union. The couple at this point had five children.

In 1990, following his elder sister’s advice, Madira, together with his family decided to go back to Kampala. His sister facilitated his travel to Kikoni, a Kampala surbub near Makerere University where she secured him a house. She also paid rent for the first three months. It is from here that the idea of shoe-mending was born.

On becoming a cobbler, Madira says he started paying his own rent and even moved to a bigger house in Kawempe.

He is now able to cater for his six children’s school fees and other basic needs using the money he gets from his job.


However, his job has not come without challenges, a major one being a suitable work station.

“When the university council of Makerere banned all the small businesses that were operating within the university, this set me back because I was forced to change the place where I was working from. I now operate within the store of Nsibirwa Hall, Madira laments.

He adds that it is hard for his clients to easily locate the store. This has made his income dwindle thus making it hard for him to meet the needs of his family. This has also affected his payment of rent as he cannot afford to pay the full amount at ago like he used to.

“Sometimes when I am going home, students welcome me back from the village. They assume that I am from the village since they no longer see me at the place I used work from. If I fail to settle, I will to go back to the village,” he says.

His future hopes

Although he has not fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a teacher, Madira has found joy in mending shoes and his prayer is to get connected to any company that makes shoes. He says he needs less training and if he gets a stable place to work from, he will not go back to the village.

According to Madira, every job is good and rewarding. The patience and trust of an individual in any job makes it even better.

It is patience that has enabled him gradually develop and he is working towards establishing himself in the shoe industry.

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