Alykhan Karmali, the Managing Director of Mukwano group, who took from his father in 1995 when he retired from active work, says on the group website, that the name symbolizes the fact that Mukwano products had become a friend to millions of people not just in Uganda but in the region.
It was a somber mood at the head offices of Rwenzori
Commodities Limited on plot 11 Old PortBell Road in Kampala on Thursday
afternoon. Top government officials and business community were quietly ushered
into the upper floor of the building to pay their last respect to the late
Amirali Karmali, the founder of Mukwano group.
Amirali, 89, died on Wednesday evening in the
Kampala upscale suburb of Kololo. The industrialist lived much of
his life out of the limelight – where he quietly built an empire that touched
every aspect of life, not only for Ugandans but also citizens of neighboring
countries including DRC, Rwanda, South Sudan and Central African Republic.
Even after Amirali’s death, his family chose
not to overplay it in the media. Only two tweets – one from Mukwano Industries
Limited and another from Exim Bank Uganda were sent out proclaiming the
humbleness and down to earth character of the deceased.
Such was a life he preferred. In Fort Portal, where he has two
homes, locals talk of a humble residence where he lived and that he
occasionally walked around the village greeting ordinary people. Judy
Rugasira Kyanda, the Managing Director Knight Frank Uganda, a real estate agent
that manages Mukwano properties in Kampala, described Amirali as “always
happy to see people and not selective about who he meets.”
“He welcomed everyone big or small, child or adult,” she
said. It is little wonder then, that this rapport paved way for the nickname
“Mukwano” that would become the name of his empire. Alykhan Karmali, the Managing Director of Mukwano group, who
took from his father in 1995 when he retired from active work, says on the
group website, that the name symbolizes the fact that Mukwano products had
become a friend to millions of people not just in Uganda but in the region.
The name was originally given to Alimohamed Karmari, the
father of Amirali, who landed on the East African coast in 1904. According
to available information, Amirali struggled through the 1970s when Iddi Amin
ordered the expulsion of Asian from the country. He chose to stay but couldn’t do
It was not until the 1980s, with Amirali firmly in charge
that their businesses started to sprout.
A statement on the legacy of the business says Mukwano
Industries Uganda Limited began operations in the 1980s in Kampala with a
single enterprise store dealing in general merchandise and produce. "The
first major step in the growth of the company was taken in 1986, in the
manufacturing of soap and edible cooking oil,” it reads.
Adding that, “These were the
mainstay of the company until the late 1990s when we made a major investment
into the manufacturing of detergents and plastics. This etched Mukwano’s
position to the helm of the manufacturing sector.”
On Kampala streets, URN spoke to several people
and many, said they had never seen or heard the name Amirali – but all had used
Mukwano products. While Amirali stayed quiet, he grew the empire to the
pinnacle – from transport, real estate, banking and manufacturing.
Paul Lakuma, a senior research fellow at the Economic
Policy Research Centre (EPRC) in Makerere University, said Amirali “demystified
the fact that a home-grown manufacturer could succeed in very rugged terrain.”
“He is an inspiration to those who prospect to
join the industrial class,” Lakuma said. A story is told of how the tea-growing sector in Uganda had
collapsed until Amirali, through the Rwenzori Commodities Limited turned it
Thomas Joseph is the General Manager Rwenzori
Commodities in Tooro where he has worked since 1993. He says the tea factories
established by Amirali employ 3,600 workers and Shillings 1.5 billion is spent
on staff salaries every month.
In the public information on the group’s website, the Mukwano
Empire is clustered in five divisions: manufacturing, agriculture, logistics
and supply chain, property development and joint ventures. Under
manufacturing, the group made almost every item you use at home – from bathing
soap, detergent to clean your toilet, cooking oil to the plastic chair you sit
At least four divisions are registered under
the manufacturing strand. They include A.K Plastics Limited, which produces
more than 150 industrial and domestic plastic items ranging from kitchenware to
garden furniture and multi-purpose crates, the group reports.
The other, Mukwano Industries Limited produces several
cooking oil brands. Rwenzori Commodities Limited, which trades Mukwano tea,
also falls here. Under Agriculture, the group says its operations are based
around Bunyoro sub-region in western Uganda and Lango sub-region in northern
Uganda where hundreds of acres are under cultivation for tea, sunflower, and
On logistics and supply chain, the group does its work under
A.K Transporters Uganda Limited where it runs over 200 heavy, medium and light
trucks. On property development, the group runs under
the name Gulf Stream Investments (Uganda) Limited and in 2014, they completed a
landmark Acacia Mall, one of the most popular shopping areas in Kampala.
Company files show that they have also constructed a five-star hotel in Kigali,
Rwanda, giving Mukwano industries Uganda, an entry into the tourism and
hospitality industry. On joint ventures, the group owns Exim bank Uganda together
with Exim Bank Group Tanzania.
On Thursday as dignitaries, signed the condolence book, the
air was filled with a sense of fulfillment. The Attorney General William
Byaruhanga and businessman Patrick Bitature were among the first people to
visit on Thursday. To the Ugandan economy and the 10, 000 people the
group employs, Amirali, the humble giant will continue to be a strong pillar.