17.6 C
Nairobi
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomebusinessMahomed Moti & Sons: Meru's Oldest Business Thriving for Over 100 Years

Mahomed Moti & Sons: Meru’s Oldest Business Thriving for Over 100 Years

Mahomed Moti & Sons is easily among the oldest thriving businesses in Kenya. Located along Njuri Ncheke Street in Meru Town next to the Nyayo monument, the business was established by an Indian who landed and settled in Kenya by chance.

The business has contributed to the growth of Meru, having been established long before it was declared a township by colonial District Commissioner Edward Butler Horne on May 13, 1911.

Njuri Ncheke Street was previously known as the New Indian Bazaar and Biashara Street owing to the numerous shops owned by Indians in the area.

Settling in Kenya

Mahomed Moti left his home in Kutiana village, Kathiawar, India in 1896 at the age of 29 and sailed to Kenya. Back home, he owned a cotton ginnery.

A portrait image of Mahomed Moti. |Photo| Courtesy|
A portrait image of Mahomed Moti. |Photo| Courtesy|

The businessman was headed for South Africa on a dhow when he made a stop at Mombasa and met other Indians there who convinced him to settle in Kenya.

Moti set up the business in Meru and was frequented by customers from all social classes including colonial masters. This earned the enterprise the nickname “Duka la Serikali” which translates to the “government’s shop”.

The shop was named Mahomed after the colonialists misspelled the name due to Moti’s Indian accent.

Growth

Today, the business is run by Majid Suleman, one of late Moti’s grandsons. The shop deals with electronics, spare parts, machinery, and equipment.

The shop is located strategically opposite the Meru County government offices and is famed for trading in quality, genuine products.

“My grandfather stayed in Mombasa for a while and travelled to Nairobi on foot where he established a textile business. After about two years in Nairobi, the British colonial government asked to open shops in the Nothern Frontier District (NFD). He came by foot with potters and an Ox wagon,” Suleiman narrated during an interview with The Nation.

Immortalisation

Mahomed Moti has been featured in a number of publications and books including the 1927 memoir Out in the Blue by Vivienne De Watteville. He was also the featured in We came in Dhows – Around Mt Kenya, Up to NFD by Cynthia Salvadori.

Mrs Salvadori recounts that Moti started with groceries, textiles, canned beef and biscuits which were preferred by the British. He did not trade much with the locals.

The businessman would then upscale to trade in cereals, maize flour milling, hardware and petroleum products. He was an agent for many companies that distributed products to the Mt Kenya and NFD regions.

“The British asked him to open more shops in northern Kenya. By this time, more Indians were coming to Meru.

Majid Suleman attends to a customer at Mahomed Moti & Sons. |Courtesy| The Nation|
Majid Suleman attends to a customer at Mahomed Moti & Sons. |Courtesy| The Nation|

“My grandfather would mentor them to open new branches. In total, my grandfather operated about 65 shops across the country,” Suleman recalls.

In the 1920s Moti was doing a lot of business with the colonial government. He was the sole supplier of cereals to the Meru Prison and also a distributor of petroleum.

The brick-built house that housed Moti’s water powered flour mill exists to date.

“My grandfather was a very smart businessman to manage 65 branches and make profit without computers. Transport and communication was also a nightmare. The people then must have been very trustworthy,” Suleman says.

Death

Moti succumbed to pneumonia while in Nairobi in 1930.

Between 1939 and 1945, the business experienced rapid growth due to the demand for goods. Suleman’s father and uncles supplied British soldiers with foodstuff and fuel.

Mahomed Moti’s family introduced the first public service vehicles that plied the Meru-Nairobi route.

In her memoir Out in the Blue, Vivienne De Watteville narrates that she traversed East Africa with her father and during their stay in Meru, bought food from Moti.

Moti’s reputation has kept the business running for over 115 years.

Jamia Mosque

Moti is said to have played a significant role in the construction of the iconic Jamia Mosque in Nairobi.

“My grandfather was a founder member of Jamia Mosque built between 1902 and 1906. He encouraged the setting aside of land for a row of shops at the mosque to sustain it. He reasoned that the land would be useful in future. My grandfather was visionary,” Suleman notes.

Mahomed Moti was beloved among the Meru community and is said to have been made an honorary member of the Njuri Ncheke.

The Moti’s own a 10-storey commercial building next to the Meru Police Station among other properties within Meru County. This makes them key contributors to the town’s growth.