Mr Mohamedally Rattansi - Mohamedally arrives in Nyeri


Mohamedally arrives in Nyeri, Mt. Kenya

Just at the turn of the century, young Mohamedally boarded a dhow from India and docked at the old harbour in Mombasa.  With Javer's help he got a job with Alidina Visram. The firm sent him to run a shop in the newly established administrative centre of Nyeri in Central Kenya.  It lay in the heart of Kikuyu country, in a valley nestling between the ranges of the Aberdares and Mount Kenya.  He arrived there after journeying several days from Nairobi through Naivasha over the Aberdares, with the porters who had carried his trading goods.  They walked along footpaths and animal trails, covering about ten miles per day, resting each night in a forest clearing. He was to make the journey on foot dozens of times over the years until the advent of motor vehicles and roads.    His first customers were Kikuyu farmers living around the new boma.  As he got to know the surroundings, he made trips farther a field and traded with the Wandorobo hunters inhabiting the dense forests of the Aberdares.
Barter remained the predominant form of trade at the time, although the Indian rupee was already officially in circulation.  He bartered beads, salt, sugar, amerikani (cotton cloth) and blankets with the Wandorobo hunters, for ivory, rhino horn, hides and skins in exchange. He then transported these goods to Nairobi himself by portage, and returned with a replenished stock of trading goods.  So successful was the barter trade that he soon employed about a hundred porters, each carrying the standard load of 18.16kgs of merchandise.  (Strict rules already regulated the maximum weights porters could carry, and the wages they were to be paid.)  

After Mohamedally had been in Nyeri for several years, Seth Alidina Visram died.  His now expansive business empire (he was known as the ‘uncrowned King of Uganda') was inherited by his son Abdulrasul, but it soon began to crumble.  Mohamedally joined forces with a fellow Indian, Osman Allu, who had managed a shop in neighbouring Fort Hall (Murang'a), and they bought up the Nyeri shop in partnership.  It then operated under the name of Osman Allu.

In the meantime, European settlement increased in that area by leaps and bounds.  Mohamedally and his partner Osman gave up barter with the indigenous people and now turned to satisfy the needs of these new settlers. Their profit margins in those days remained infinitesimal.  For instance, when they sold sugar scoopful by scoopful out of a sack, the empty sack was the profit.  Slowly, however, they made a success of the business.  They extended the shop-cum-house, and built a mill for grinding maize on the Chania River where it flows to Nyeri.  Mohamedally acquired several properties of his own in the growing township and in neighbouring Karatina too.  

 The partnership continued to prosper. Mohamedally had a flair for business and looked after the customers, while Osman Allu superintended the transport - at first ox teams and wagons – and later the mill.  A setback came in the 1920s when the settlers plotted rebellion and threatened not only to overthrow the colonial administration but to `drive all Indians into the sea'.  The partners took the precaution of sending their families temporarily to India, while they kept the business going with the help of loyal employees.  

In 1930, they dissolved the partnership and went their separate ways. Each established a business under his own name.  Mohamedally proceeded to become one of Nyeri's most prominent Asian merchants.  He was a member of the Town Council, which later named a street, where he had a ‘shamba' property, after him.  (The ‘Rattansi Street' sign, however, has vanished over the years and has not been replaced.)