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Allidina Visram

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Waras Allidina Visram
AlidinaVisram.jpg
Honorary Titles Seth
Place of birth Mandvi
Country of birth India
Date of Birth 1851
Date of Death 1916/06/30
Place of Death Mombasa


Profession or occupation carried out for the longest period in life: Merchant Prince
Where Uganda
Family tree click here
Child
Full name Abdulrasul Alidina Visram
Child
Full name Haiderali Allidina Visram


Book Review by Zahir K. Dhalla, Toronto, 2017

"Allidina Visram - The Trail Blazer" by M G Visram, first published, 1990, Kenya.

A hundred years ago, "at 6:30 pm on 30th June, 1916, Allidina Visram of Kera, Cutch in India, embarked onto yet another journey", his final journey.

"Almost all shopkeepers in entire eastern Africa shut down their businesses the day Allidina Visram was buried [1916, in the middle of World War I]. The Kabaka of Uganda and the Governor of Uganda stood in silence as the body was lowered into the grave...His exceptionally large tomb lies at a cemetery on Kololo Hill in Kampala overlooking the roller coaster landscape of numerous other surrounding hills."

"Everybody eventually gets forgotten," something Allidina himself had prophesied during his last meeting with His Highness Daudi Chwa, the Kabaka of Buganda, at 'Lubiri' in Mengo, Kampala, Uganda.

Indeed, Allidina Visram would have been forgotten except for two things: (1) a high school in Mombasa named after him and built by his only son, Abdulrasul and which continues to function to this day, AND (2) this lively book by M "Mamdu" G Visram (no relation) of Mombasa, first published in 1990, who recently passed away at the beginning of the year.

"He was unwanted. He was lonely. He was poor. He was as uncertain as a fourteen-year old child can be. But he was born a dauntless spirit." This is how author M. G. begins his narrative. He goes on tell us that it was another pioneer, Sewa Hajee (Paroo), who gave a teenaged Allidina in the late 1870s his start, in Bagamoyo on the mainland opposite Zanzibar; decades later, Sewa Hajee's grandson Rajabali Paroo would run Allidina's headquarters in Mombasa, Kenya!

We get to read of Allidina going on to becoming a tough, formidable trader in the interior of East Africa with eventually 50 trading posts, 35 alone just in small Uganda, becoming the first banker/creditor in the interior, a supplier, a transporter using wapagazi (porters in a caravan), pack animals and even lake dhows that he built, a cotton-ginner and - employer to thousands! [As M. G. tells us, pagazi means 'treaders' in an Indian language, presumably from pag, leg.]

His doggedness was legendary: when the route from his HQ in Mombasa to Uganda failed (looking for cotton), he took the Bagamoyo-Mwanza route in Tanganyika, then over the lake to Uganda in dhows he had had built in Mwanza.

A tough man but certainly not ruthless: "Pay the producers a fair price," Allidina commanded his managers. "Don't underpay an illiterate peasant. Allidina will not stand accused."

Allidina Visram "was always ready to help the encouragement of local industries by buying native crops, which no one else would touch at prices which meant a loss for him." Source: Mangat J. S.: East African Journal, Feb. 1968, Vol. V.

Madhvani, the future commercial king of Uganda, considered Allidina Visram his inspiration.

Timeline

1863 Allidina Visram (AV) born in Kera, Cutch;

1877 AV comes to Zanzibar, works for Sewa Hajee [Paroo] in Bagamoyo;

1882 AV and Nasser Virjee journey into the interior;

1882-83 AV opens his first branch in Kaze (now Tabora), then Dodoma, Morogoro;

1896 Sewa Hajee [Paroo] dies; AV buys his business a year later;

1896 Uganda Railway begins construction;

1896 AV attempts to reach Uganda, fails, then restarts going the Tanganyika route to Mwanza;

1901 Uganda Railway to Port Florence (Kisumu) complete;

1903 AV's caravan goes to the Congo via Sudan;

1904 Cotton exports: £300;

1905 AV comes to Thompson Falls to install sawmill;

1907 Churchill meets AV;

1907 German railway from Dar built up to Morogoro;

1908 Cotton exports: £51,000;

1912 AV closes his business in Hoima;

1912 Uganda rail line to Port Kakindu / Namasagali on Lake Kyoga completed;

1913-14 AV liquidates his interests in German East Africa [just before World War I];

1914 World War I, British invade German East Africa;

1916 AV passes away in Kampala, Uganda.

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PIONEERING ISMAIL! SETTLEMENT IN EAST AFRICA

By:- Kassamali R. Paroo

(Published Essay in Ismailimail(https://ismailimail.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/untitled-attachment-00031.pdf) pg 3)


In 1863, at the age of 12 years, Allidina Visram came to Zanzibar on a dhow and proceeded to Bagamoyo to work as an assistant to Sewa Haji Paroo. Soon however, as was the pattern for Khojas at that time, he branched out on his own and started organizing his own caravans into the interior of Tanganyika. He opened branches of his firm at Dar-es-Salaam, Sadani, Tabora, Ujiji, and Alima and Tindo in the Belgium Congo. In the early years he purchased cloves, wax, and honey in exchange for cloth, salt, grains, etc. Later, he began to specialize in ivory, which was increasingly a by-product of hunting safaris by early Europeans and Americans. Allidina was given the contract to provide packed foods to the hunters. After the death of Sewa Haji Paroo, he took over his caravan trade and took his wagons as far as Uganda, parts of Congo Free State and Southern Sudan.

He was called the “King of Ivory”.

Alldina-visram.jpg

With the ongoing construction of the Uganda Railway, he opened stores along the railway line and became the supplier of food to the Indian workers. He got the contract of paying the railway workers their salaries as well as providing funds to the railway authority. He was practically a bank: cheques given to him at the Coast could be cashed in the interior for a commission of 3-5 percent. By 1904, he began to branch into agriculture and within a few years owned seven large plantations, for sugar cane and rubber, with experimental plots of grams, fruits, flowers, tea, and cotton, employing over 3,000 workers on his projects. He opened his first ginnery at Entebbe in 1910 for exporting ginned cotton to India, via dhows and steamer to Kisumu and then by rail to Mombasa. To facilitate the transport, he himself owned the sailing crafts on Lake Victoria. At Kisumu he had his transportation hub for the connection to the Coast. His telegraphic address said it all: PAGAZI, meaning transporters. Allidina Visram was reputed for his kindness and generosity. In 1905 he started to encourage further immigration of the community from Kathiawar, first as his employees and then as his agents. They spread out to Homa Bay, Mumias, Sio Port, and then into Uganda. It is said that 90 percent of the Khoja Ismailis who attained prosperity in Kenya and Uganda owe their settlement to him.

The first World War led to great business difficulties in East Africa. W. H. King, who fought1here with the Indian Expeditionary Force from 1915 to 1918. used to say that the whole natural line of business communication between Tanga and Mombasa, Arusha and Nairobi, Kisumu and its southwestern hinterland was broken up. He described the sufferings of the lndian duka keepers who were merrily raided by both sides as the battle ebbed and flowed. The Belgians coming in from the Congo into Rwanda and Burundi and then crossing the lake to push towards Tabora treated the Indian traders in the same way as they advanced and the Germans retreated. Allidina Visram was hard hit by the war and made the long and terrible journeys up to the Congo, trying to build up his business again. He largely failed in this and died in Mombasa in 1916.

Allidina Visram was ecumenical however: he contributed substantial funds to the construction of Namirembe Cathedral and to the Red Cross and the Church Mission Hospital in Kampala. And he sponsored and employed as many non-Ismailis as came his way. He lived to see 65 years of hard life bring prosperity to Africa, and made regular annual visits to every branch of his vast business empire. On one such trip to Belgian Congo, he contracted a fever when he returned to his base at Mombasa and died soon after on June 30, 1916. His son, AbdulRasul built a High School in Mombasa to commemorate the name of his father.

A memorial bronze was presented by Rajabali Hasham Paroo, his life-long associate and his General Manager and was unveiled in Mombasa in 1937 by the colonial Governor of Kenya.


Borrowed freely from www.friendsofmombasa.com

Allidina Visram pioneered the emergence of East African countries on the world stage. The British Commissioner of Uganda, Fredrick Jackson, noting the difficulties in getting farmers to grow new crops and hence get the economy going, wrote, “I am doing all I can to induce the people to cultivate sugar cane and simsim (sesame). An Indian trader named Allidina Visram is already prepared to buy as much as the natives like to cultivate and that should assist in the circulation of the rupee if the people can only be induced to cultivate.” Later as governor he described Allidina as “a charming old gentleman, respected by everyone in the country, high and low, white or black.”

Dr. Cyril Ehrlich wrote in The Uganda Economy, 1903-1945 (p 18), “Perhaps the most important individual in the early history in East Africa, Seth Allidina Visram was responsible for laying the firm foundation not only of trade in Uganda but of such industries as cotton, sugar, rubber, tea and various other agricultural products as well as of shipping across Lake Victoria.”

And according to Oriental Nairobi, “An interesting point is that the Khoja community was in East Africa even before the foundation of Nairobi, the merchant Prince, Allidina Visram, also known as the Uncrowned King of Uganda, extended his activities on the mainland from Mombasa to the lower reaches of the Nile.”

In 1972 after Jean-Badel Bokassa declared himself Emperor of the Central African Republic, the first country he visited was Uganda. In a moment of imperial euphoria, Idi Amin honoured him by changing the name of the street where Allidina had established his first shop in Kampala from Allidina Visram Street to Bokassa Street. Obote II changed it to Luwum Street in honour of Archbishop Luwum, who was shot by Idi Amin, some say personally. Of course Archbishop Luwum should be honoured. But the irony wasn’t lost on Asians that in redressing the wrong done against them – the alleged duka-owners – by inviting them back, the wrong done against them in erasing the name of their patron, the King of Duka-wallahs (of course, he was much beside) from the street where he first established his duka wasn’t also redressed at this time.


Mombasa Public Library - the oldest non-racial cultural institution in East Africa

"Founded in 1903 as the Mombasa Public Library, it has been described as not only "oldest library” but also the oldest “inter-racial cultural institution" in East Africa. From the beginning it was open to peoples of all races and creeds. Endowed chiefly by two influential Asians, Jaffer Dewji and Allidina Visram, the library was administered during its first ten years by Cowasjee Manekji Dalal."

The Rise And Fall of Philanthropy in East Africa- The Asian Connection by Robert G. Gregory (pg. 104)


The Social Service Leagues of East Africa

The first Social Service League, which as conceived in 1917-18 was to serve East Africa as a whole, was organized mainly by the Nairobi advocate V. V. Phadke with financial support largely from Allidina Visram, Suleman Verjee & Sons, Ali & Son, and Walji Hirji & Sons, all of whom were designated as the “patrons.

The Rise And Fall of Philanthropy in East Africa- The Asian Connection by Robert G. Gregory (pg. 104)

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http://www.ismaili.net/Source/earlycol.html

King, Noel - Towards A History Of The Ismailis In East Africa - edited by Ismail Raji al Faruq

"Here it must suffice just to tell the tale of Allidina Visram.

He was a Kaira Cutchi who came to Zanzibar in 1863 and expanded the small trading business he had started to Bagamoyo. Thence he traded up to Ujiji. During his visit of 1899, Imam Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah advised Sheth Allidina to pay great attention to Mombasa. He had been trading in cloves, wax and ivory in exchange for cloth and had undertaken contracts to equip and supply hunting and missionary safaris to the interior.

When the railway was started Sheth Allidina Visram supplied food and other necessities to the builders. He opened shops to serve them. He even acted in places as a paymaster general. When the railway was completed he extended his operations into Uganda to such places as Entebbe, Jinja, Masaka. and Kampala. He look up cotton buying, ginning and export He had more than a hundred shops; many Khojas came to work in them and in his other businesses.

When they had saved something, they began enterprises of their own. The Agha Khan honored him with the title of Vazier. Vazier Visram extended his business more and more and not all his creditors paid him back. The first World War led to great business difficulties in East Africa.

The writer's father, W. H. King, who fought here with the Indian Expeditionary Force from 1915 to 1918. used to say that the whole natural line of business communication between Tanga and Mombasa, Arusha and Nairobi, Kisumu and its southwestern hinterland was broken up. He described the sufferings of the lndian duka keepers, who were merrily raided by both sides as the battle ebbed and flowed.

The Belgians coming in from the Congo into Rwanda and Burundi and then crossing the lake to push towards Tabora treated the Indian traders in the same way as they advanced and the Germans retreated.

Vazier Visram was hard hit by the war and made the long and terrible journeys up to the Congo trying to build up his business again. He largely failed in this and died in 1916."