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How I won over East Africa’s richest girl

ravi

Meera Ruparelia and Ravi Kotecha during the civil wedding in London on Thursday. Ravi, right, and his billionaire father-in-law, the Ugandan businessman Sudhir Ruparelia whose empire includes the Crane Bank.

How do you propose to the daughter of the richest man in a country?

Ravi Kotecha, 30, a Kenyan businessman from Kisumu, grappled with the question before he picked his phone to call Kampala.

On the other end of the line was the love of his life, the daughter of Sudhir Ruparelia, Uganda’s wealthiest businessman and Africa’s 24th, according to Forbes.

It was not enough being a son of Jagdish and Shyama Kotecha, a Kenyan business family based in Kisumu.

Ravi had just ended a meeting with the girl he had known for over seven years, but they were not really close although he had met and dined with the Ruparelias. After composing himself, Ravi picked his handset, called Meera and proposed.

Whatever was going on in Ravi’s mind, only he knows. But Meera, 27, a businesswoman herself running her father’s $1.1 billion (Sh95 billion) business, was not impressed. After consulting her mother, she flew to Nairobi to ensure she gave the shy man a chance to do it the right way.

On Thursday, the couple exchanged vows in London. The wedding at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hyde Park was attended by only a few guests, with the promise of a bigger event in Kampala next year.

Ravi counts himself lucky because Meera was one of Kampala’s top prizes. Marrying her meant joining the family that owns Crane Bank, one of Uganda’s most successful banks, the Speke hotel chain that includes the prestigious Speke Resort Hotel in Munyonyo, and more than a quarter of Kampala’s hot property.

When he got the news, Sudhir, a generous man whose name is slang for “rich” in Uganda, announced on his Facebook wall that his daughter was in love. He also announced that he was splashing $2 million on her wedding.

A series of events have taken place since: an engagement party in Kampala, a sendoff party, and a civil wedding ceremony in London. In February on Valentine’s Day, there will be a Hindu wedding again in Kampala, billed as “the mother of all weddings”.

Ravi, who grew up in Kisumu, met Meera when he frequented Kampala where his uncle, Bhasker Kotcha, owns Midcom, a giant mobile phone dealer in Uganda.

He was educated in the UK where the Ruparelias spent their early life as refugees after Idi Amin withdrew their Ugandan citizenship.

But Sudhir returned to Uganda in the 1980s, first trading in beer and currency.

Ravi and Meera are both UK-trained, the former at the University of Sheffield in the class of 2005 where he read mathematics and physics for his bachelor’s degree, while Meera graduated with a degree in business management from City University, London.

Of Ravi, Meera says: “He travels often and usually takes me to accompany him if I am not busy.

“We meet once a month for a weekend depending on the situation. He comes to Uganda, I go to Kenya or we go out of Africa. We work and date and our families are okay with it because we are taking time to know ourselves better,” Meera once told the Ugandan press.

Meera is Sudhir’s first-born and heiress to her family’s wealth. No wonder Sudhir does not mind pampering his daughter with the best wedding that money can buy.

At $2 million (Sh172m), Meera’s and Ravi’s wedding will be more expensive than David and Victoria Beckham’s (Sh68m), Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s (Sh129m) and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones’ (Sh129m).Ravi Kotecha’s family is said to be close to the Ruparelias, but the children were only acquaintances.

However, in February 2012, Meera invited Ravi to her sister’s birthday in Kampala. After the party, the two became an instant hit on Uganda’s social scene appearing at a Goat Race in August 2012. The race takes place at her father’s Speke Resort on the shores of Lake Victoria.

The two got engaged at a ski resort in Verbier, Switzerland, during Ravi’s birthday surrounded by friends.

For a girl’s dream of a romantic engagement, Meera could not ask for more.

What with a scenic view of mountain snow and the room filled with candles and flowers. “He is easy to love, everything is easy with him. I have dated before, but something always came up; distance and fidelity. We are fitting, our lives, career paths and families. Family is important in Indian culture, and our families have no objection,” Meera told a newspaper in Uganda.

Nation

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