A sprightly 7-year-old accompanied his parents from the UK to Uganda, as his father took over as managing director of a fertilizer and cotton insecticide factory in Tororo (TICAF). Paul Sherwen’s childhood chapters wove the path to his adult life, when he returned in 1996 to become involved in a mining venture in Eastern Uganda.
What followed were several businesses in Uganda from mining to support in the oil and gas development sector. Paul has also been the Chairman of the Uganda Chamber of Mines (now Uganda Chamber of Mines and Petroleum), where he still is the general secretary. He worked closely with the local government to help make Uganda a better known destination for the two sectors. Another passion, conservation, also led him to becoming the Chairman of the Uganda Conservation Foundation (UCF).
Paul is all this, and still has another equally important mandate – growing cycling as a sport in Africa. Apart from being deeply committed and involved with Tour de France, he is one of the founders of Bicycles for Humanity, a global grassroots movement that has delivered over 155,000 bicycles to 11 African countries and created over 250 bike shops called Bicycle Empowerment Centres. They have also delivered over 4,000 bicycles to Karamoja.
Cycling is also, incidentally, how he met his wife Katherine, who is now a yoga instructor in Kampala, where they live with their two children. They met on the Tour de France, when she worked for the American television network, ABC, specialising in adventure and sports programmes.
But this was not Katherine’s first tryst with East Africa. She first came as part of a television production team working on wildlife and adventure programmes. “What a wonderful way to be introduced to the people, countryside and resources of Africa,” she quips. Later, she returned to Uganda for her honeymoon- a life-changing trip to Tororo, she says.
Living in the bush, in a grass-thatched hut amongst wild Debrazza monkeys, a huge vegetable garden and a passion for tree planting was idyllic in many ways, but it was certainly a departure from her life in New York City. While Paul is fluent in Swahili, a trait that often earns him smiles from locals, since not too many “wazungu” in Uganda speak Swahili these days, Katherine’s initiation to the language was rather memorable!
Reminiscing over her first few years in the bush, she speaks about a day when the villagers seemed to be loudly celebrating an event she had not been told about. An excited procession was running towards the front of the house. She couldn’t understand why they would be chanting “nokia”, the popular mobile phone of the day. As she rushed out to meet them, a loud rustling came straight towards her then veered off into the garden, which was next to a very deep and overgrown pit. She quickly learned “nyoka” is Swahili for snake, in this case a 12-foot forest cobra!