Uganda Funeral Services Ltd Marks 20 years
Uganda Funeral Services Ltd still top
In 1996 two siblings Freddie Katamba Mukiibi a lawyer and Regina Mukiibi, a banker made history when they registered a funeral service management company, the first of its kind in the country. It was registered as an investor by the Uganda Investment Authority in 2003.
At the time, management of funerals as a full-time occupation was considered rather odd. That however did not deter the siblings as they registered the country’s first professional funeral management company. Incidentally, it is the only company in the Great Lakes Region with a chair at the World Organization of Funeral Operatives based in the Netherlands.
It is also a member of the National Funeral Directors Association based in Washington DC in the US. Perhaps even the Registrar of Companies at the time, had no idea that 20 years down the road the industry would blossom and attract more than a dozen other players. According to Regina Naluyima Mukiibi, the Managing Director of UFS starting the company was a very risky venture.
“We took a financial risk, which is taken by any investor; but investors usually calculate their financial risks based on past experiences of similar investments and the reigning economic environment. We had no earlier reference point to bank upon; neither did we have any idea as to whether the environment for such a service in Uganda was good or bad at the time,” she notes.
“Today as we mark 20 years of the venture into the unknown, I believe God had been on our side,” she says. The idea of starting the service was a result of their many travels abroad. “During these travels people get interested in various aspects of life.
We were impressed by the dignity with which people abroad celebrated their funerals and the hygienic way they handled and buried their dead, and we wished it could be mirrored back home in Uganda. That was the spark,” she says.
Filling a health sector gap
Mukiibi notes that the other aim of the business was to fill the public health sector gap in sensitizing people with regard to the health hazards in mismanaging human remains. She says they also wanted to highlight and lessen the risks associated with some of the cultural and religious norms involved in traditional funerals. “We wanted to transform the ugly and traumatic face of death into a more friendly and bearable event in people’s lives, and to relieve the already stressed bereaved members of the extra responsibilities of managing the funeral. We wanted to try as much as possible to preserve the God-given dignity of the human body even in death, to turn funeral management into an enviable, respectable and professional service to the community,” she explains. Considering those noble aspirations, the advent of Uganda Funeral Services should have been a welcome development.
“Several dignitaries, Religious leaders, Government officials and widely travelled individuals who had witnessed similar services abroad, applauded the innovation, were very supportive, encouraging and openly asserted it was long overdue,” she says.
However a section of the community called the siblings all sorts of names. They were insulted and persecuted, but remained resolute and stuck to their vision.
“UFS has endeavored to team up with Insurance companies in an effort to design products that assist our clients to prepare for the inevitable funeral expenses in good time. Several organizations and individuals have gradually embraced these pre-planning programs, and many have already benefitted from this arrangement,” Mukiibi says.
Mukiibi explains that the first major challenge they faced was the death of her founder brother Freddie, barely a year after they had launched the service. “I was devastated and this could have meant the end of this venture had it not been for the encouragement of religious leaders, Ministry of Health officials, embassies, my former employers at the bank, my siblings and friends who made several logical arguments against my abandoning this noble industry,” she explains. She adds that later on, she came face to face with objections from the area where she had invested to start the service.
“They feared ghosts of the dead would come at night and haunt them. (I have never been attacked by any ghost in the 20 years of our operations). Well-wishers advised me to change location and helped me to find the current appropriate alternative location,” she explains.
Mukiibi adds that recruitment for such a unique industry was another big challenge, “Since I could not do this work alone, I had to recruit staff. Here I depended heavily on the youth who seemed to have a more liberal mind-set. Since there was no funeral science training Institute in Africa, I had to pay heavily to bring in expatriates from the US and Europe to train our initial staff,” she explains.
She adds “we were called names by several people, and that almost knocked me out! But prayer, and encouragement from friends, people who had seen these services abroad plus people who sympathized with our investment, kept me going,”.
Mukiibi says funeral management is still a very young industry which needs support to grow. The heavy taxes imposed on their services, she says have stunted growth of the industry. The need for people to bury their loved ones with dignity has grown but they are still crippled by the heavy taxation. “The cost of funerals is relatively high because in Uganda burials are done at ancestral burial grounds rather than in organized cemeteries. This culture is not about to change.
The cost of transporting the remains is significantly high,” she explains. “The absence of approved regulations has also led some industry players to engage into bad practices.
Secrets of success
Mukiibi attributes most of their success to friends and sympathizers. “It should be recalled that I had initially invested all my retirement benefits in this venture; so it was a do or die affair; and then, I felt I had to keep our grand idea alive at all costs. But above all, I devoted myself to very serious prayer,” she explains. For Mukiibi funeral management is not an occupation, but a calling or vocation. “If it had not been that, we would be doing something else. It is like attending to the sick for the medical professionals or going to war for soldiers.
Our joy and our sustenance is in seeing the end result of our positive contribution which helps our clients in such a distressing situation,” she notes. “We have succeeded to convince several investors that there is a gap to fill in the management of funerals. We now have close to 15 funeral management companies in the country. We have made funeral services much less traumatic, convinced several people to realize the need to give decent funerals to their loved ones and our services have received local and international accolade,” she adds.
UFS has won a Phenomenal Woman of Funeral Service Trail Blazer Award 2013 – presented at Austin Convention Center – Austin Texas, USA. In 2013 it was also honoured as one of the top 50 brands that have had a tremendous impact on the lives of Ugandans since Independence. Due to her work, Mukiibi bagged the Uganda Investment Authority Best Woman Entrepreneur award (2007), Investor of the Year National Award 2009, Sustained Growth National Award 2009 and UWEAL Best Woman Entrepreneur 2004 (Senior Category).
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High profile funerals they have handled
UFS has made a lasting mark on high profile funerals. “We have handled disasters, for example; we singlehandedly handled the funeral and outward repatriation services in the Entebbe Air crash situation where five foreigners perished in Lake Victoria in October 2000 in a CESSNA210 Aircraft,” she says. The funeral and inward repatriation of fellow Ugandans in the incident of John Garang and 13 others who perished in a helicopter crash in July 2005 near the South Sudan border were handled by UFS. Another incident was when UPDF Air force crew enroute to Somalia crashed in the Kenya Mountains in August 2012, the
funeral management was also handled by UFS. It is noteworthy that all these events were handled without closing
their normal operations. “We have two private storage facilities, and we are in the process of establishing more countrywide.
We also have a large fleet of hearses for transportation to any part of the country and beyond the borders. We also have a sister company dealing in coffins/caskets. These combined with our trained youthful workforce make us a formidable force with the capacity to handle a sizable disaster,” she says. Mukiibi explains that UFS is fortunate in that it has both national
and international membership to several Associations. When it comes to repatriations in-ward or outward, this membership plays a key role. “We have connections with Funeral Homes virtually all over the World. Mention the country and we have a contact.” she explains.
Impact on traditional funerals
The birth of UFS was a response to the already disintegrating ties that used to bind us together as a society. “Our work pressures had started taking us away from our villages to towns, across borders and out of the continent. When death occurs however, we all need a quick shoulder to lean on. UFS today quickly provides that shoulder.” she explains. Mukiibi says with traditional funerals, one of the most significant features was the terror of death. “These days more and more human remains are prepared for viewing, they are therefore not as frightening as they used to be,” she says.
The insurance arrangements in place can cover individuals, families and organized groups. The annual premiums range between UGX 19,000= and UGX 200,000= depending on one’s choice of cover. Cash Pac: – This is a saving scheme for self, for parents or for anybody that may fall into one’s scope of responsibility in case of death. Cash Pac provides the saver with very favorable saving terms, and its funeral benefits are transferable to whoever you instruct UFS to take care of. UFS Corporate Guarantee: – This is a corporate arrangement where a corporate body prepares itself for any eventuality of death among its staff or their dependents, and UFS guarantees the provision of the agreed services at a fixed rate over an agreed period of time.
All these programmes and many others are meant to make it possible and easier to ensure decent funerals for
our loved ones when the time comes. It is only prudent that all the general public avail themselves of these opportunities to have peace of mind with respect to eventualities of death. ‘This is where we take the opportunity to thank all the
Organizations and families that have continually given us the confidence to handle the remains of their dear ones departed’.
What other people say about Uganda Funeral Services
Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala, Archbishop Emeritus of Kampala
Many of us today are familiar with companies which give dignified service to our brothers and sisters at the end of their earthly life. The wording of their titles varies, but they end with funeral services. I hail Uganda Funeral Services because it was the first organised group to render funeral services. They remind us of a Jew whom we read about in
the holy books, that whenever he found the body of a dead fellow Jew, he would bury him (Tobit 1:15-18). Uganda Funeral Services has over the years inspired other people to set up similar services in various corners of Uganda. It is my hope that they too will be of the same spirit of respect and love for those bodies which St. Paul describes as temples of the Holy Spirit. I congratulate Uganda Funeral Services and wish it to continue the noble service to our brothers and sisters when they end their earthly life.
Maggie Kigozi, President of Business and Professional Women
I respect Regina Mukiibi for building her own capacity in business and specifically in funeral services.
She travelled with a business delegation to the USA where she was able to learn from state of the art funeral service providers. She also was able to train her daughter in funeral science in the US. I am proud that a company that started when I was the Executive Director of UIA has succeeded beyond our expectations, becoming the number one funeral service provider in the country. The company has invested in infrastructure and capacity building and creates a number of jobs.
Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, Archbishop of Kampala
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1Thessalonians 5:18). Guided by these words of sacred Scripture, I join the Uganda Funeral Services family in celebrating this great landmark of 20 years in the service of humanity. We thank the Lord for the inspiration and guidance that he gave to the founders of this pioneer funeral service provider in our country. Yours is not an ordinary business but a service to humanity, both the living the dead, during a very difficult moment of death.
You have resolutely carried out your mission of providing quality, compassionate and professional funeral services to all classes of people, at affordable terms. On my own behalf, and on behalf of the clergy, religious and faithful of Kampala Archdiocese, many of whom have benefited from your services, I congratulate you. During this past year, we have been invited to ‘be merciful like our heavenly father’ by carrying out acts of mercy, one which is burying the dead. This obligation involves accompanying them with our prayerful supplication on their behalf. You have rightly begun your celebrations with a very special prayer; Mass for the dead. This ‘holy and pious’ commemoration forms part of our Catholic traditions. I encourage you to promote this spirituality in your services.
This celebration further reminds us that life is an important gift from God, who alone has the right to take it when time comes. None of us has authority over our lives or that of others, right from the womb through old age.
Haji Yunus Kakande, secretary Office of the President
The Office of the President congratulates the management and staff of Uganda Funeral Services upon making it to the 20th anniversary. I have not seen any company for the last 20 years offering the same kind of service. You have exhibited professionalism and excellence. You have opened a door and set a good example for the other companies to join the field. I, therefore, unreservedly commend you for having opened a way for other companies to join the same industry.
Gideon Badagawa, Executive Director, Private Sector Foundation Uganda
The Private Sector Foundation Uganda is proud to associate with the management and staff of Uganda Funeral Services on the auspicious occasion to mark 20 years in business. As pioneers in the professional funeral and hygienic mortuary management, UFS has excelled in the business and attained professional status as a member of the World Organisation of Funeral Directors Operatives (FIAT-IFTA), Netherlands and the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) – Washington D.C (USA). PSFU is glad to have been part of the growth agenda for the company through various expert support -that has transformed both operations and human capital development . We congratulate you on your achievement and endeavors in the last 20 years and pray for your continued professionalization of the funeral industry not only in Uganda but beyond.
Teresa Saavedra, FIAT-IFTA International President,
Uganda Funeral Services has added the human component and transformed services that you are able to provide a family during the difficult time when a loved one has passed on. We are sure that as you look upon the years past you must recall all the circumstances, steps, difficulties or positive inputs that you have had; yet we are absolutely confident that you have made a difference in all the families that you have served. At the dawn of your 20th anniversary, we are proud to witness your impact, your devotion and passion in making this difference possible in Uganda and beyond.