- Merchant Trader
Born in 1853 Berberaja
Kassim Lakha’s father, Lakho better known as Lakha, was a hawker (Khojas worked with "rekri" carts, selling produce in Kathiawar) and lost his house in one of the terrible famines in India during British Raj See Gujarat Famines & Khoja Migrations for more details. Reduced to extreme destitution, he wandered from village to village in search of livelihood.
His son Kassim, who was born in 1853, also had to toil and moil in Kutch. Nothing is known of Kassim's early life except that he did work in a grocery shop.
It is a known fact that most of the Indian Ismailis came to Africa with entrepreneurial skills in their blood, business in their brains and immense caliber to labour in their muscles, but with empty pockets. This illustration richly permeated the life of Kassim Lakha, who earned his bread and butter by the sweat of his brow.
When Kassim Lakha was 18 years old, he left his birthplace and boarded a dhow at Porbandar with few Khoja Ismailis and landed in Zanzibar in 1871. At that time, another Khoja, Peera Dewjee was in charge of many of Sultan Bargash's businesses including a shipping line. See Peera Dewjee
Kassim Lakha started his work in Sultan Sayed Bargash’s firm (1870-1888). Within a year, he was well established with the Sultan. He was promoted to an advance party responsible for providing logistics to the Sultan’s encampment as he toured various parts of his lands including Pemba and coastal strip of Mombasa and Malindi upto Lamu. He learnt how to cook for the retinue. He was tall, very strong, and well built and could lift a cooking pot weighing over 100 lbs. When he felt well settled in his position, he called his mother and his wife, Ratanbai Pradhan with whom he had married in 1870, just before he left India. They came both by dhow to Zanzibar by the end of 1871. In 1880, Kassim Lakha’s first child was born, a daughter Kursha. In 1884, a son, Mohammad was born.
After having worked with the Sultan’s firm for nearly 10 years, Kassim first moved to Lamu with his family, where he opened a small duka grocery shop.He was the first among his family members to venture into the business field. His family enlarged with the birth of Fatima, Alibhai, Hassan, Sakina, Rehmatullah and Jina. He employed a Hindu teacher, Raval, from Zanzibar to teach reading and writing to his children.
Kassim Lakha was a social worker and focused on helping the Khoja Ismailis who followed him from India. He was appointed Mukhi of the Lamu Jamatkhana.
by 1898, the British had established a Protectorate in Kenya with the headquarters in Mombasa. Following the greater opportunities, Kassim moved his family from Lamu to Mombasa, where he lived for a few years after opening a small duka shop. In 1903, soon after the Uganda Railway reached Kisumu, he moved to this city and in 1905, he was appointed by Alidina Visram to be the inspector of all his shops in Uganda.
His son Mohammad was also employed by Alidina Visram as a manager of the Kisumu branch. The other three brothers, Rehmatullah, Hassan, and Alibhai were also employed in the same firm as junior accountants, where they learnt bookkeeping. Kassim Lakha’s job required a great deal of traveling, which was difficult because bicycles and bullock-carts were used in and around Kisumu, while dhows were used to navigate on Lake Victoria.
Because of the hardship of traveling and poor medical facilities, Kassim Lakha died of malaria in 1910 in Kampala, where he had gone for treatment.
It has been recorded that during the Plague that broke out in Kisumu town in 1905, resulting in heavy casualties in the town, Kassim Lakha rendered help & medical assistance to the residents without discrimination of caste and creed at his own expenses.
In appreciation of his invaluable services during the plague, the colonial government honoured him with a Clock Tower in Kisumu town in his memory.
Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, the Governor of Kenya at the time, performed its opening ceremony on August 19, 1938.