When 23-year-old Isaac Sajjabi bought an Africell Uganda simcard last October, all he wanted was to enjoy fast Internet while surfing the web.
Sajjabi supports English Premiership football club Manchester United and being online and constantly cross checking facts about his team keeps his soccer discussions and arguments relevant.
“I wanted to be different. They had better phones than I did but sometimes they complained about their data just vanishing from their phones,” Sajjabi who owns a One Touch Alcatel phone which cost him Shs 70,000 says.
One month down the road, that decision paid off; Sajjabi was in Kasubi market helping his mother run a vegetable stall when he received a phone call and the person on the other end told him he was the lucky winner of Shs 500,000.
“Of course I didn’t believe him. I thought it was a lie. He asked me if I knew about the Africell One Billion cash bonaza and I didn’t,” he says. “Two days later, I was called again and asked to come to Africell offices where I received the cash. I got even more interest in the promotion.”
In the promotion, Africell customers who would load any amount of airtime would automatically be entered into a draw; weekly raffles on various TV stations announced lucky winners of Shs 500,000. The promotion lasted for two months.
The grand finale would have a lucky winner walk away with Shs 1bn – the biggest-ever cash give-out in any promotion in the country. Come December 17 and Sajjabi says he was just excited to go to Nambole stadium, the venue for the grand draw, because it would be his first opportunity to watch Sheebah, Chameleone and Bebe Cool perform.
But when the machine started drawing the winner, contrary to his wildest dreams, the computer drew his phone number.
“My friends make fun of me sometimes because I’m born-again; they say our faith is for bafere (conmen), but I believe in a living God and that’s why He chose me to get this money,” an elated Sajjabi says.
And his life has never been the same. When I visited Sajjabi recently at his home in Lugala, a city suburb, I found him in a black suit, black shoes and white shirt.
He stood out from the rest; his friends were around, dancing to music courtesy of Africell who decided to throw him a bash to convince others to join the network.
The party was outside his home – a humble two-bedroomed house with old walls and rusty iron sheets. His friends now refer to Sajjabi as ‘Don’ and not by his name anymore. Don is slang for someone with a lot of money.
“Relatives have been calling my mother endlessly since they saw me on TV with the dummy check,” Sajjabi says, laughing.
He brings two plastic chairs for us to sit. Clearly, the one billion has not taken away his humility. His mother, who requested anonymity, says it has not still sunk in yet that her son hit the jackpot. He is the youngest of three brothers; his older siblings are Phillip Nsamba and Gabriel Talemwa.
Their father passed away when he was very little and their mother had to struggle to raise them. Sajjabi would fall sick often, until he was diagnosed as a sickler.
Coupled with the endless medical visits, their mother could not afford his school fees anymore and as such his education at St Charles Lwanga High School stopped in S2. He says the billion shillings is a Godsend.
“I don’t have a bank account yet, but Africell told me they would help me with that, but first I’m going to use the money to get the best medication.”
He says his mother loves farming and part of the money is going to be invested into agriculture so that his family can enjoy the returns together. Africell’s commercial director Milad Khairallah said, “We are getting him financial advisors if he wants them; we would want to visit him after a year and show the world that as Africell, we are about transforming lives.”