The Shah family moved to and settled in Nakuru in 1965 where they started a retail store.
- Shah found a job as a salesman in a shop called Nakuru Mattresses, which was owned by his brother Hasmukh.
In the end, it was only fitting that it should be Tuskys Supermarkets bailing out the ailing giant retailer Nakumatt, for theirs is an incredible story of family friendship and business partnership that is more than five decades old.
This week, representatives of the two supermarkets acknowledged that talks of a merger between them were under way, which would save Nakumatt from imminent collapse under the weight of an elephantine debt estimated to be more than Sh20 billion.
If it goes through, the deal will continue an unlikely business partnership that was borne out of the many fears that foreigners — mostly Europeans and Indians — had about the new African government of independent Kenya.
The Sunday Nation was told the incredible story about the intertwining histories of Nakumatt, Tuskys and Naivas supermarkets by Mr Daudi Kanja a close friend of Dr John Kago, the current chairman of the Tuskys.
Soon after taking power in 1963, President Jomo Kenyatta announced that his government would embark on a process of gradually nationalising foreign-owned businesses as a way of empowering black Kenyans.
One of the many Asians who worried that his business would be appropriated by the Kenyatta government was Mangalal Shah, a small-scale trader who had emigrated with his family from India to Kenya in 1947 to seek better fortunes.
After initially setting up businesses in Embakasi, Nairobi, Kisumu and Elburgon, the Shah family moved to and settled in Nakuru in 1965 where they started a retail store, which mainly stocked clothes and cloth materials.
Being one of the few cloth retailers in the town, and the ideal location of Nakuru as the gateway to the western part of the country, meant brisk business for Mr Shah.
Within a few years, he had bought a commercial building in the town.
However, anticipating the government to appropriate his property for less than its worth, Shah approached Joram Kamau, a friend and a fellow enterprising young man to buy the building for Sh90,000.
“It was his (Shah) belief that if Joram owned it, he owned it as well,” Mr Kanja said.
At the time, Joram was the proprietor of Rongai General Stores Ltd, a company that was based in Rongai town, Nakuru County. His store was doing very well too.
Rongai, a small dusty town located five kilometres off the Nakuru-Eldoret highway at Salgaa trading centre, had been given an economic boost by an Italian-owned transport company — Rongai Transporters — which was based there and which was distributing goods across East Africa.
Over time Rongai became a stopover point for trucks going to other parts of the country as well as Uganda and Rwanda, a legacy that lives to date.
“There were many employees who had money and this boosted Joram’s business,” Mr Kanja said.
It was during these times that Joram and Shah met and developed a close friendship.
However, despite the fact that his business was doing well, Joram did not have the money that his friend was asking him for the building.
“The largest amount Joram had ever handled until then never exceeded Sh6,000 and now he was being asked for Sh90,000! He did not even have a bank account,” Mr Kanja disclosed.
The National Bank of Kenya (Nakuru branch) accepted to finance him to acquire the building but on the condition that he deposits Sh20,000 first.
It was a standard requirement for anyone who wanted to open a bank account in those days to deposit some money first as security.