Dr. Ian Clarke: Why Ugandan Entrepreneurs Are Failing

Dr. Ian Clarke: Why Ugandan Entrepreneurs Are Failing

More than three decades ago, Dr. Ian Clarke, an Irish-born professional physician arrived into Uganda under the auspices of the Church Mission Society.

Like any other young enthusiastic profession, Ian Clarke was looking forward to earning a living through practicing primary health care in Kiwoko Village in present-day Nakaseke District in the Luweero Triangle since his arrival around 1987.

However, in 1994, Dr. Clarke went back broad to study a Master Degree of Science in Public Health from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). Suddenly after graduating, Dr Clarke returned to Uganda, but this time he was alone and with a mega vision of starting a clinic- International Medical Centre (IMC) that was housed at Kampala Pentecostal Church Building (Watoto Church) on Buganda Road.

According to Dr. Clarke, this dream wouldn’t have turned into a reality if it wasn’t for a small loan that he picked to start the clinic. The ever small-sized and soft-spoken physician did not have any money and had to mortgage his house in Britain to get money which he used to buy some equipment for the clinic.

Small as it was, this clinic marked the beginning of a different journey for its social impact on communities.

“I wanted to do something that was paid for but in a necessary sector and for sure that 20year journey saw the clinic grow to what it is now; with now about 17health care branches,” Dr. Clarke said during an interview at his office in Muyenga-Bukasa.

Dr. Clarke inspecting construction works at his new site where he wants to put up his University

As his vision continued to grow, there came need for expansion and Dr. Clarke subsequently opened International Hospital Kampala (IHK) in Old Kampala where the first open heart surgery was carried out. IHK subsequently grew and moved to Namuwongo, where the 110 bed facility sits up to date and provides state-of-the-art facilities including specialties such as obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and plastic surgery among others.

To Dr. Clarke, building such a health empire in a period of 20years is not a ride most businessmen in Uganda would want to go through.

“If you tell someone it took me 20years to build this sector, they won’t believe you because people here want things done faster and they forget that they can actually build something significant if they do it steadily with patience and consistence,” Clarke said.

“I had to concentrate on building this clinic because I remember when we were still at KPC building and I was a businessman as well as a doctor and I had to be at the clinic every day. This would have been a different story if I had to be at the clinic and then run to the farm, so it would mean I wouldn’t have enough time for my patients.”

According to Clarke, whereas business needs patience, consistence and work ethics, financial discipline is paramount citing that most entrepreneurs in this country have crashed on arrival because of their extravagant lifestyles.

“What really moved this health business is that I did not have a flashy lifestyle. I was able to keep investing and re-investing. Take for instance, one of the most successful businessmen in Uganda-late Mulwana. He felt there was no need to be flashy and we saw that even at his funeral,” Dr. Clarke said.

Dr. Clarke inspecting construction works at his new site where he wants to put up his University

He added that whereas it is necessary for one to meet their needs, there is no pride to show off what you have, but rather re-invest what you have.

“When I sold my shares from IHK, I did not eat the money, but rather took it and invested it in education. Now that is the spirit of business that people must adapt. So I always want to invest into something that will produce something better in return,” he said. He is however quick to react that sometimes such an investment may turn into a disappointment, but the entrepreneur must learn to embrace the result and pick up their remains and invest again and again.

It is this financial discipline and consistence in investing that pushed the hospital to its peak that saw some investors join hands to work him to take International Medical Group (IMG) to even greater heights as he remained the CEO of the Group.

However, like they say ‘even the best dancer leaves the floor’, after running the hospitals for over 20years, Dr. Clarke recently sold his majority shares of IHK to Ciel HealthCare Africa based in Mauritius. IMG is currently estimated to be valued at over $20m (approximately Shs70bn).


It is after selling his majority shares at IHK that Dr. Clarke felt it was time to invest into another crucial sector in Uganda that is education.

In the last couple of years, Dr. Clarke has built schools, expanding his International Health Sciences University (IHSU) and has embarked on constructing a huge business school that will provide practical skills rather than the theoretical education system that most schools in the country provide.

As we speak Clarke has put up a massive school called Clarke Junior School that sits on a huge piece of land in Muyenga-Bukasa, a stone throw away from L.Victoria. Inside the school that opened last year, Clarke is also putting a business practical school that he hopes should be operational by next year and has also secured a huge piece of land in Muyenga where the university will have a permanent residence.

Just after one year in business, Clarke Junior School is rapidly gaining grounds for using international teaching methods and using Ugandan curriculum whilst incorporating the latest global learning and teaching strategies.

“I admit that this school is not cheap, but I can guarantee it provides quality learning experience for Ugandan children and value for money for their parents,” Clarke said.

He added, “To me it is wrong kind of education to try to make students get so much knowledge to take them to universities. We don’t need education that just gives people information. We need an education system that teaches people how to solve problems.”

According to the head teacher, Katherine Tucker, the School teaching culture strives at training kids to think and not necessarily trying to learn of facts.

A way from education sector, Clarke is exploiting the fertile soils and good climate in the country to engage in commercial agro-business where he currently doing commercial farming in Fort Portal.

Currently, he has planted pine trees as a long term investment and also planted coffee on a 250 acre land in Kyenjojo.


Clarke was born in South Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1952 to Thomas and Jean Clarke. He studied human medicine at Queens University Belfast, graduating in 1976 with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery and a Bachelor of Obstetrics, as is customary in Irish medical schools. In 1987, he obtained a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). He followed up in 1994 with a Master of Science in Public Health, also from LSTM.

In November 2010, Clarke entered politics and was voted as Makindye Division mayor until 2016 when he contested for Makindye East MP seat before losing to FDC’s Ibrahim Kasozi. Clarke is married to Roberta Clarke and the two have three grown up kids.

 (Adapted from Bwino Newspaper)