Interview: Giorgio Petrangeli and Nelly Ruiz Aranibar de Petrangeli

Giorgio Petrangeli, an Italian civil engineer, first set foot in Uganda in 1959, on a work assignment. The beautiful blue-green tapestry, created by Lake Victoria and the lush forests, left him spellbound.He enjoyed the quality of life; in the lap of nature, amidst abundant wildlife. “I was very young then and so impressed by the beauty of the country. It gave me a chance to appreciate nature and wildlife. And believe me, it was an exceptional marvel. So I decided to accept other assignments in Africa,” he says.

As a senior employee and manager of a global leader in the construction business, Giorgio spent many years all over the globe.His construction projects included significant roads, dams, treatment plants, airports and tunnels in places such as Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea, Upper Volta, Rwanda, Malaysia, South East Asia, the United States, Canada, Turkey, North Sudan, and the Middle East. But it was in Uganda that he chose to set up his company, Sobetra Uganda Limited. After retirement, Giorgio returned to Uganda to incorporate his company, in 1996. This is also the year his Peruvian wife, Nelly, visited Uganda for the first time.Her life in Africa began in 1973, when she moved with her son Giorgio Jr. and daughter, Katia, and has since been enjoying this beautiful experience with her husband – in a different country with a different culture, participating in social and charity events, she says.

Since 2002, Nelly has been the Honorary Consul of Spain in Uganda. Reminiscing over times that were, Nelly says, “In 1998, Entebbe and Kampala were lively places, with a special charm, traffic was quiet and visits to Entebbe were a pleasure. Also, driving from Nairobi to Kampala meant a pleasant trip by road or railway! No large supermarkets, commercial centres, and just one movie theatre in downtown Kampala.” Giorgio, too, has witnessed many changes in Ugandan history (and in the economy). “During my life in Africa, I have witnessed the declaration of independence of many countries and the important changes that each country has made and is still implemented.  Age permitting, I would like to see the fruition of all the plans and expectations that these countries have indicated as necessary to become fully economically independent,” he states. His brainchild, Sobetra, too, has come a long way in and around Uganda.

“By the end of 1998, we were awarded our first contract – to rehabilitate and construct security roads in North Uganda. And this was just the beginning,” he says. Three to four years ago, his company was awarded a few contracts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to build roads for a mining company. They have also built urban roads and buildings in Goma, financed by the European Union. Recently, they have been awarded a contract for the construction of a 94-kilometre road in Kenya. The love for Africa has definitely been inherited by the next generation too.

Giorgio Jr., who is also a civil engineer, manages operations of the company, and lives in Nairobi with his wife and six children. Katia, studied biology and specialised in ethology (animal behaviour), while their Australian son-in-law is part of Sobetra too.“Our current staff strength is about 500 employees, many of who are Ugandans,” says Giorgio, adding that Uganda has enriched his life, with all it has to offer.