Our past

Our past is linked to that of our founders, Sultan and his son Karim Noorani. Both have lived and worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo since the 1950s. Unicompex exists thanks to their efforts and we continue to work with their vision.

Sultan Noorani, co-founder

Co-founder of Unicompex, Sultan Noorani (picture taken in the 1950s)

Since the 1950s, Sultan Noorani started many businesses in the Democratic Republic of Congo such as:

  • A retail shop & semi whole sale and beer distribution
  • A curio shop with goods from Hong Kong, Thailand and Lebanon (the shop was in front of Memling hotel, Kinshasa). From 1956-1959. Zahrina, his sister, would manage the shop.
  • In 1961, he worked for the United Nations in Kinshasa and Bukavu for 6 months
  • In June 1961 he went to Mbuji Mayi. He started a trading business with goods from Kinshasa. It was a good business according to him. The business made a lot of money. The best selling goods were textiles.
  • In Mbuji-Mayi, Kananga and Lubumbashi, Sultan opened 3 shops.
    • In Lubumbashi, he had an office for supplying his Kananga and Mbuji-Mayi shops
    • He opened a bakery and pastry shop in Kananga (1963-1974) with imported machinery from Greece
  • He also started Trabet, a river sand suction service from the river for construction. It operated from 1965 to 1974. It stopped due to nationalization by the government.
  • There was also Sopal that sold reconstituted milk (the factory was in Limite 4eme rue Kinshasa). He had bought a Swiss machine to make the milk. In 1974 when the government nationalized, the company was forced to shut down.
  • Isombe, the exclusive Honda dealer in the DRC selling motorbikes, cars and backup generators
  • Melotte Congo, a Belgian industrial supplier of agricultural equipment in the DRC including small engine driven mills and tractors
  • With his son, Karim Noorani, they established Unicompex Congo in 1997

And many other small businesses and projects in Angola and South Africa.

Sadly, Sultan passed away in 2019 in the UK at the age of 89 from a heart attack.

He was also a dedicated servant and leader of the DRC Ismaili community for most of his life. He was also a family man.

1930s – Beginnings

Sultan Ali Hasham Lalji Noorani was born in Nyeri, Kenya on October 27th 1930. He was the son of Mr. Hasham Lalji Virsam and Rehmat Bhai Jamal Daya Velani, who were originally from Bhanvad, Kathiawar, Gujarat.

1940s – Childhood

In 1940, 10 year old Sultanali moved to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to begin his studies. He went on to graduate in Bujumbura, Burundi.

1950s – Move to Belgian Congo

In 1954, Sultan went to the Belgian Congo with his brothers Badhrudin and Sadrudin, to look for new opportunities. He married Dolatkhanu Amersi Kanji at the age of 24 and lived together at Basoko Street. From 1955 to 1958, they moved to École Street where their three children were raised: Zahir, the eldest, Gulshan, and Karim, the youngest. In 1956, Sultan opened his own shop and started trading in general merchandise on Hôpital Street.

1960s – Congo Independence

The Belgian Congo, at the time, gained independence on June 30th 1960. In July 1961, a revolution took place and forced the family to leave the country.

Sultan later started to travel to Mbuji-Mayi with his old friend Amin Janmohammed and Jaffer who were Ismailis like him. They began trading goods like cigarettes and beers.

In 1965, Sultan remarried on September 10th 1965 to Kathoon Karmali. They raised their two additionaly sons, Firoz and Mahmood. Zahir, Gulshan and Karim also grew up in Kinshasa. They all attended TASOK, The American School of Kinshasa.

1970s – Sopal

In 1970, Sultan founded Sopal an ice cream factory, a dream he had had since childhood. He bought the first Tetra Pak Machine to the DRC and employed over 100 sellers.

He then established an import-export company with his Congolese partner Jacques Isombe during Zairianisation[1].

He travelled to many countries but mostly to Brazil, China and Japan. In Japan, he met with the motor company, Honda and agreed to become their sole distributor in the DRC. Zahir, his eldest son eventually joined the company for a short period after his studies in the US.

[1] Carried out in November 1973, “Zairianization” was one of the most important events in the policy led by the Mobutist regime, namely the progressive nationalization of commercial property and land properties belonging to foreign nationals or financial groups. In fact, it was the expropriation procedure. And in order to have a mass support of his people for this project, Mobutu announced to the population that it was without financial compensation, also called “confiscation”. This financial compensation to the various foreign owners constituted an important part of the State’s debt. In fact, if this measure was officially part of an effort aimed at the national reappropriation of the economy as well as the redistribution of the wealth acquired during colonization, it was above all a failure. (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Za%C3%AFrianisation)

1980s – Honda

In 1980, his youngest son, Karim, after obtaining his bachelor’s degree of mechanical engineering in Canada at Concordia University joined the family business at the age of 24.

Together, father and son, they developed the company and opened the first Honda garage in 4eme Rue in Limete in Kinshasa.

Leon Motema, a young Congolese manager at the time, went to Japan and returned to the company and helped grow and build the garage. He stayed with the company until the present day (2020) where he now heading the telecom maintenance department.

During that time, Sultan invested together with his friend and partner, Andre Schetter, in an established Belgian agricultural machinery company, Melotte Congo.

1990s – Isombe Honda

In 1990 and 1991, Isombe, Sultan and Karim’s business of Honda product took a huge hit with the lootings by the Zairian military of Kinshasa. They lost millions of dollars of goods after their homes and offices were emptied by angry soldiers who had not been paid. They fled the DRC to Congo Brazzaville for 2 years while they rebuilt the company.

Eventually things settled and after repaying huge debts to suppliers and taking out loans from friends and family, the company grew again. Karim had secured a contract to manage the Shell Oil Company fuel stations in Kinshasa where he kept selling Honda products like motorbikes, cars and small portable generators.

However, in 1997, the dictator of Zaire at the time Mobutu was overthrow by Joseph Kabila. The Honda business Isombe had to be closed down and the whole Noorani family left to the UK and South Africa.

But Karim kept coming back to Zaire, which became the Democratic Republic of Congo, to rebuild his business. On the 19th of July 1997, Karim and his father Sultan set up Unicompex and started again from scratch. They began introducing the sale and servicing of large diesel generator sets by FG Wilson, Lister Petter, Deutz, Perkins. They started servicing diesel generators for telecoms like Vodacom and Celtel.

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2 réponses à “Our past”

  1. Avatar de Godwin Nannan
    Godwin Nannan

    A story of dedication, perseverance and love for family.

    1. Thanks Godwin! 🙂

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