The businessman was responding to reports claiming that he was selling up all his properties and leaving Uganda for the more investor-friendly Dubai real estate market due to over-taxation and bullying by corrupt regulators.
“This is fake news. I’m not leaving Uganda. If anything, I am expanding locally and regionally,” he says.
Lexington Properties Limited recently acquired the tycoon’s Acacia Mall, one of Uganda’s most prominent and sought-after shopping malls in the exclusive neighborhood of Kololo. The mall was previously held by Gulfstream Investments Uganda Ltd, a subsidiary company of the Karmali family’s Mukwano Group of Companies.
Industry sources speculated on Alykhan’s motivations for selling his Acacia Mall, amoung them being high-interest rates, declining profit margins caused by worsening inflation, Covid-19, and an unfavourable regulatory and tax environment, which “make it difficult to meaningfully and sustainably invest in Ugandan real estate.”
Therefore, speculators pegged the tycoon as selling up all his real estate assets and fleeing Uganda for UAE, which has considerably lower interest rates and a more favourable tax environment.
Notwithstanding the rumors, Acacia Mall was around 90% occupied when he sold it, and the tycoon confirms he isn’t going anywhere.
Firm Roots in Uganda
Alykhan Karmali is proudly Ugandan, his family having lived in the Pearl of Africa for over 100 years.
Alykhan’s father, Amirali Karmali, was born in the mid-1930s to Ali Mohammed Karmali, a pioneer Indian investor who came to Uganda in 1904 and laid the foundation of the Karmali empire.
Ali Mohammed Karmali began working as a shop assistant in Jinja before relocating to Mbarara in the Western Region of Uganda. Later, he settled in Bukandula in the present-day Gomba District in the Buganda Region. There, in partnership with other Asian families, he made a booming trade in cotton and coffee.
Alykhan’s grandfather had so many friends that he was called “Mukwano gwa Bangi” in the Luganda language, meaning ‘Friend of Many.” The family abbreviated it to “Mukwano,” which translates to “Friend,” and named the family business after him.
The family relocated to Fort Portal, Kabarole District, where Alykhan’s father, Amirali, gained a second-hand truck and began transporting goods to Kampala. Later Amirali moved to Kampala.
The political upheaval of 1972 saw the dispersal of the Karmali family when the then-President Idi Amin issued a decree to expel all Asians from Uganda.
Amirali, reluctant to leave the country he loved, was hidden by some “good Samaritans” and never left Uganda. However, his son, Alykhan, who was then only four years old, and daughter Rukshana, who was ten years old, left the country.
Although the Ugandan supply chain for coffee was largely disrupted during this period, coffee prices were high, and the enterprising Amirali trucked the coffee to Kenya, returning with goods such as textile fabrics with a ready market in Uganda.
The Mukwano businesses diversified and grew, and so did its investment in local manufacturing. Amirali committed himself to develop a fast-moving consumer goods industry in Uganda, leading to local manufacturing of products such as soap and other consumer goods.
Alykhan’s father became one of Uganda’s most successful businessmen, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers as the CEO, founder, and sole proprietor of the Mukwano Group of Companies. He grew the business empire into a diversified conglomerate with holdings in banking, real estate, plastics, agro-processing, logistics, transportation, production of fast-moving consumer products, and exportation within Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, and DRC, among other things. He was one of Uganda’s wealthiest people at the time of his death in 2019.
The legendary businessman was ranked by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as Uganda’s 3rd richest man after Sudhir Ruparelia and the Madhvanis. His Mukwano business empire was at that time reportedly earning over USh300 billion in annual sales. These massive earnings translate into a daily income of USh 127 million.
Upon growing older, frail, and fatigued, Mzee Mukwano had in 1995 recalled his son Alykhan Karmali from Canada to come and take over management of his business empire, as he supervised from the comfort of his retirement in Fort Portal, where Mukwano Group has vast commercial tea estates.
Alykhan was in control of much of the management until 1999 when his elder sister Rukshana Karmali who was also living in Canada, returned to take part in the running of their father’s ever-growing business empire.
Rukshana began her career at Mukwano Group of Companies as a cashier at the head office at Port Bell Road. This position enabled her to study the larger operations of the Group. Upon her success, she advanced to the role of accountant and later to sales manager before elevating to managing director in 2008.
And so, the late Mukwano drew his children into managing his business empire and groomed them to keep the family and empire candle burning even after he transited to the next life.
Amirali Karmali died on July 10, 2019 in the posh Kampala neighbourhood Kololo, and passed the family empire over to his children. At the time of his death, Mukwano had handed the title of CEO of Mukwano Group to his daughter, Rukshana. At the same time, his son Alykhan became managing director of Mukwano Industries Uganda Limited, a member company of the Mukwano Group.
Rukshana and Alykhan are a powerful combination well versed in how to carry on their father’s legacy in Uganda, and it doesn’t appear they are going anywhere anytime soon.
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