Ismail Rahimtulla Walji Hirji

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Ismail Rahimtulla Walji Hirji
Town of birth
Country of birth
Place of Death
Country of death
Source of Information
  • 1934 UONL RAC DF Series 1: Serial No. 696
Place of longest stay
Profession or occupation carriedout for the longest period in life
  • Merchant
Where-City or Country

Born in Nairobi


Reprinted here with the kind permission of the author, Douglas Kiereini and which appeared in the Business Daily of 29th July, 2016

The Ismailis were known for their generous philanthropic work wherever they ventured and Kenya was no exception.

Rahimtulla Walji Hirji, a successful Ismaili Indian trader who had come to Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century, founded the Rahimtulla Charitable Trust in 1940.

The Ismail Rahimtulla Walji Trust Library was constructed by the trust of that name in 1953. Situated on what was then Jeevanjee Street (current Mfangano Street), the building was designed by architects Bhalla and Thakore to a neo-classical style of architecture featuring a majestic façade with Greco-Roman columns. Walls are built in smooth dressed grey stone with pedimented door and window frames. The roof is covered under corrugated iron sheets supported by magnificent smooth rendered and painted vaulted reinforced concrete frames with stone infilling. Windows are glazed in steel casements while doors are made of beautiful hand polished panelled timber hung in polished moulded timber frames. Floors are finished in a variety of terrazo and granite. The entrance hall features a mosaic of coloured glass on the floor.

The ground floor consists of the main library hall, a tastily furnished reading room with timber panelling to a height of 1500mm, reception area, office, gent’s washrooms while the upper floor hosts a theatre/gallery, offices and ladies washrooms.

The building is in a good state of repair and decoration. It offers a serene environment for reading away from the hustle and bustle on the street. Although the building is currently not in use, for circumstances which are not entirely clear, there is a dedicated caretaker who sees to its regular cleaning and upkeep. The library books are intact and safely locked away. It was gazetted as a national monument in 2001.

Mr. Rahimtulla’s main interests were in education and health but the objectives of this library, built in his memory, were to “house books pertaining to philosophy, law, politics, history, medicine, arts and religion”.

In contrast to the MacMillan Memorial Library, which was open only to Europeans since 1931, this library was open to all, for free.

Between 1970 and 1978 the building served as the repository for the Kenya National Archives Department. Before then the facility also hosted meetings of the Transport Licensing Board.

Today, the structure looks incongruous nestled between numerous buildings housing “exhibition” type stalls overflowing with human traffic. However, it stands out as a stark reminder of our road to self determination and the efforts by those opposed to racial discrimination by the colonial authorities.

The Rahimtulla Trust largely supports substantial educational scholarships in partnership with local and international organizations. They own the iconic modern building, Rahimtulla Towers in Upper Hill amongst other properties. The trust is one of the largest and best managed in the country.

  • The author is a retired banker and motorcycle enthusiast. E-mail