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, founder

Since the 1950s, Sultanali Noorani started many businesses in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his life, he had many businesses and jobs. Here are but a few of the most memorable ones that he built.

In the 1950s, he had a retail shop & semi whole sale of beer, a curio shop with goods from Hong Kong, Thailand and Lebanon (the shop was in front of Memling hotel) in Léopoldville, current day Kinshasa.

His younger sister, Zarina, age 16 at the time, managed the shop between 1956 and 1959.

In 1961, during the civil unrest when a lot of the shops and business were closed, he worked for the United Nations in Kinshasa and Bukavu for 6 months.

In June 1961, he went to Mbuji Mayi. He opened a shop with goods from Kinshasa. Textiles were the best selling items.

Sultan eventually opened other shops in Kananga and Lubumbashi.

He opened a bakery and pastry shop in Kananga (1963-1974) with imported machinery from Greece.  This bakery was run by his brother Sadru.  This bakery was eventually moved to 4eme Rue in Limete.

He also started Trabet, a river sand suction service from the river for construction. It operated from 1965 to 1974.  In 1974, It eventually closed down due to nationalisation by the government.

There was also Sopal that reconstituted milk and ice cream (the factory was in 4eme rue, Limete, Kinshasa).

  • He had bought a Swiss machine to make the milk. 
  • He installed a huge Tetrapak machine to process the milk. 
  • Eventually, longlife milk in cones were being imported which meant that Sopal milk was no longer in demand. 
  • Sultan switched to making milk products like cream cheese, yogurt and ice cream which turned out to be very popular with supermarkets and restaurants.
  • In 1973, he introduced ice-popsicles sold by an army of vendors on bicycles, selling all around the whole city. His daughter Gulshan (age 16) created the smiley face artwork.

Sultan and his two brothers Badhur and Sadru decided to split all the businesses and Badhur took over Trabet which proved to be highly profitable, Sadru took over the bakery and a shop in town and Sultan was left with Sopal.

In 1974, subsequent to the exodus of Asians from Uganda, the Zaire government – mostly President Mobutu Sese Seko started to nationalise many businesses not owned by Africans. 

As a result, many Asians left their business and homes and migrated to Canada and Europe.

Since Sultan was the president of the Ismaili Council and was responsible for at least 1,000 Ismaili families during this period of crisis, he was obligated to shut down Sopal and spent most of his time assisting families with their Canadian immigration papers. 

This was a full-time job as families were arriving in Kinshasa from the interior with no places to stay and no money.

In 1975 when the exodus of Asians was found to have a detrimental effect on the Zairian (Congolese) economy, the rules were relaxed and Sultan was able to establish his business again. 

Sultan and his various partners eventually built the following ventures :

  • 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
  • Unicompex Congo, a diesel generator sales and services business with his son Karim

Personal life

Pastimes and passions

Sultan was an avid reader who never stopped learning.

He loved sports and always tried to be as healthy as possible.

He was a lover of wisdom and cared deeply for his employees, family and friends.

He dedicated a lot of his own time to the Ismaili community and his faith.

He loved to travel and had visited many countries.

He was a fighter and always did his best to charm his clients and negotiate the best prices. He was a tough business man that rarely gave up.

He was a hard worker who was never lazy.

He loved golf, cycling and card games : rummy and bridge especially.

He enjoyed discussing and reading about geopolitics all his life.

He spoke 10 languages : Kingogo, Swahili, Lingala, Urdu, Gujurati, Hindi, English, French, Portuguese and Tshiluba.

He lived in all corners of the Democratic Republic of Congo : from Kinshasa to Mbuji-Mayi to Goma to Lubumbashi.

Marriage

Sultan married Dolatkhanu Kassam in December 1954 with whom he had 3 children. 

In July 1960 during the Congolese Civil War, all women and children were required to leave the Congo and therefore Dolatkhanu left with her 2 youngest Gulshan and Karim for London in the United Kingdom. 

Her eldest son Zahir arrived 6 months later. 

  • Zahir Sultan (b. 1955-d. 2011) who had a son with Corinne Evens, Jonathan Zahir Evens (b. 1990)
  • Gulshan (born 1957)
  • Karim (b. 1958), who married Aracelli Espinoza Noorani in 1984. They had 4 children : Khalid Emilio (b. 1987), Aysha Mercedes (b. 1989), Rodrigo Rahim Erasmo (b. 1997) and Tariq Alejandro (b. 2003-d. 2004)

Dolatkhanu and Sultan divorced soon after giving birth to their last son Karim. Dolatkhanu got re-married to Abdul Pirbhai Kassam. 

In 1965, Sultan married Kathoon Karmali, who was also a divorcee with a young son named Feroz (age 8) and together they had a son named Mahmood in 1967.

Feroz Karmali (b. 1957) has three children : Omar, Miriam from his first marriage and Tiger from his second marriage.

Mahmood (b. 1967) lives in the UK with his wife, Camilla. They have three sons:  Alexander, Victor and Odin.

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

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.

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 they 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, as it was called 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 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 brought the first Tetra Pak Machine to the DRC and employed over 100 resellers.

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 United States.


[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 – Isombe 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.

The company was also lead by Leon Motema. He went to Japan and returned to the company and helped grow and build the garage. He stayed with the company until the present day (2021) where he now heading the telecom maintenance department of Unicompex.

1990s – Isombe Honda

In 1990 and 1991, Sultan and Karim’s business of Honda product took a huge hit with the lootings. They lost millions of dollars of goods after their homes and offices were emptied by angry rioters 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 president of Zaire at the time Mobutu was overthrown by Joseph Kabila. The Honda dealer had to be closed down and the whole Noorani family left to the United Kingdom and South Africa.

But Karim kept coming back to 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 small diesel generator sets by FG Wilson, Lister Petter, Deutz, Perkins. They started with the telecom operators Vodacom and Celtel.

2000s – FG Wilson

In 2001, Unicompex became the exclusive FG Wilson dealer in the DRC. FG Wilson is a company with over 50 years experience in diesel generator manufacturing based in the United Kingdom and part of the Caterpillar group.

2010s – Telecoms

In 2010, Unicompex developed significant projects with Vodacom in Kinshasa with the maintenance of over 600 base transceiver station sites equipped with 20 kVA diesel generators.

Unicompex now represents the following suppliers in the DRC:

  • FG Wilson, a 50 year old diesel generator manufacturer from the UK, owned by Caterpillar since 1999
  • Datakom, a Turkish company specialised in control panels with remote monitoring and synchronisation
  • Inforise, a static voltage regulator company in Turkey
  • Deutz, a German engine company

In 2018

  • Unicompex won a maintenance contract for 400 telecom sites for Helios Towers Infraco in the east of the DRC : Goma, Kisangani, Bukavu, Bunia, Beni, etc… It is a region known for instability and difficult working conditions. Part of the project took place during the Ebola epidemic and conflicts.

In 2019

  • Importing lubricants and additives: Unicoil
  • Opened of a branch in the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville to service hotels and other clients

Today, Unicompex is in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma and other large cities in the DRC. They are committed to their clients and employees in order to be a leader in the back up energy sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo for years to come.

Photographs

Here are a few snapshots of Unicompex’s past and its founders past companies and employees.

1970s – Marche Ouvrière MPR

Parade of Zairian workers. Honda Isombe staff are present.

In the 1970s, all local companies had to march with their national dresses and clothes while holding the company banner.

1980s – Fikin

“The Kinshasa International Fair (FIKIN) was an international event of a commercial, industrial, agricultural and artisanal nature, located in the municipality of Limete (main entrance facing Lemba) in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

FIKIN is also the place where this biennial event takes place. Every odd-numbered year, in July, FIKIN welcomes international participants. In even years, a national meeting is held there.

The first international edition was held from June 30 to July 14, 1969. Several other international events took place there.

In 1991, and then in 1993, FIKIN, in its national edition, was the victim of looting in the city of Kinshasa. Since these looting, it has been idling. During the summer, it hosts one of the biggest African music festivals.” [1]

Isombe participated in this event in 1985. Here are a few photographs of the event.


[1] https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foire_internationale_de_Kinshasa

Kinshasa Fair 1985. Pavilion of Isombe Honda and Melotte Zaïre. Industrial agricultural machinery, Honda motorcycles, Honda groups, mills, water pumps.
Kinshasa Fair 1985. Pavilion of Isombe Honda and Melotte Zaire. Industrial agricultural machinery, Honda motorcycles, Honda groups, mills, water pumps.
Kinshasa Fair 1985. Pavilion of Isombe Honda and Melotte Zaïre. Industrial agricultural machinery, Honda motorcycles, Honda groups, mills, water pumps. Visit of officials and potential buyers. Karim and Aracelli Noorani.
karim aracelli 1985
Isombe Honda and Melotte Zaïre. Industrial agricultural machinery, Honda motorcycles, Honda groups, mills, water pumps. Visit of officials and potential buyers. Karim and his wife Aracelli with a client.
Kinshasa Fair 1985. Pavilion of Isombe Honda and Melotte Zaire. Industrial agricultural machinery, Honda motorcycles, Honda groups, mills, water pumps

Honda training center: delivery of motorbikes to the National Police Force, 1985

In 1985, these Honda motorbikes were delivered to the Zairian National Police Force. They were to accompany King Baudoin Ist of Belgium who visited President Mobutu.

The picture below was taken in front of the old Isombe Honda offices in Limete, 4ème rue.

Sale of Honda motorcycles to the Zairian police in front of the Honda Service Center.

Business trips to Honda Japan in 1980s

In the 1980s, Karim and Sultan travelled regularly to Japan to meet the Honda executives and negotiate and order motorbikes, cars and other Honda machinery. Here are a few pictures of those trips.

Karim goes to Japan to meet supplier Honda and order motorcycles, cars and generators for Isombe Honda in Zaire

Karim with the Honda team in Japan.

Honda dealers Africa meeting April 1990

From the 9th to the 14th of April 1990, Honda organised a meeting for all the african dealers in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Isombe representatives, Karim and Sultan were present.

Picture 19. April 9-14, 1990, Congress of Honda Importers of Africa. Karim and Sultan are present.
Picture 20. April 9-14, 1990, Congress of Honda Importers of Africa. Karim and Sultan are present.

Melotte

1960s-1970s

Melotte’s primary vocation was the import, manufacture and distribution of agricultural equipment, in particular milk skimmers, maize and cassava mills, rice huskers, maize and peanut shelling machines, nut crushers, palm, etc…

Melotte also took care of the import, distribution and maintenance of:

  • Earthmoving equipment; grader, loader excavators Hanomag (Germany)
  • Public works equipment, concrete mixers, water pumps, dumpers, Richier elevators (France)
  • Pumping equipment (hydrophores groups, Delaule France pumps, water pumps and galvanized tanks Herstal / Belgium
  • Funki hatcheries (Denmark)
  • Brenta-Danckart sawmill machines
  • Lurem and Quilliet woodworking machines (France)
  • Bernard gasoline and diesel engines (France)
  • EXIMO / Belgium welding equipment (welding electrodes, welding doors, etc.)
  • Baudouin marine engines (France)
Melotte employees. Marriage of Annie Tshibola. Date Unknown. Top row: Male, Simon Kimbangu, Male, Maurice Miyankangila. Middle: Man, Lady, Man, Edouard NTONA, Lady, Man, Man, Man. Crouching: Man, Lady. Mobutu portrait on the wall.
Edouard Ntona, Administrator Melotte in the center
Melotte workers in abacost on September 20, 1969. Installation of the MPR / MELOTTE-ZAIRE Sectional Committee at the Palais du Peuple. Top: Male, Male, Male, Troquet KIBENGA, Male. Left to right bottom row: Michel NYUNZI, Unknown, Edouard NTONA, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.

Unicompex in 2003

Sultan and Karim set up their new company Unicompex, specialized in the maintenance of generators for telecoms with customers such as Vodacom, Celtel, Tigo.

Unicompex received sole distributorship of FG Wilson generator sets in 2001.

Pictures of Unicompex in 2003

Melotte Congo showroom in 2003. Melotte and Unicompex share their offices.
View of the workshop in 2003 with outboard motors.
The workshop in the dark in 2003.
The workshop in 2003 with abandoned machines
The workshop in 2003 with abandoned machines. A Melotte Zaire truck in the foreground.
Unicompex offices in 2003
Unicompex offices in 2003
Main office Unicompex in 2003

Then and now pictures: Melotte in August 2003 and Unicompex in November 2020, 17 years later

Picture 39. Entrance of Melotte Congo in 2003, at 1458 Avenue Colonel Lukusa.
Entrance of Unicompex Congo in 2020.
View of the entrance to Melotte Congo in 2003
View of the entrance to Unicompex Congo in 2020
The showroom in 2003
Unicompex showroom in 2020.
Entrance at the back of the workshop in 2003
Entrance at the back of the workshop in 2020
The interior of the workshop in 2003

The same view of the workshop with the exhibition room at the back on the right, but in 2020.
View of the workshop in 2003
Workshop in 2020
The upper floor of the workshop carried a “We refuse to die” sign in 2003
Meeting in 2020 in the “Stand-up Meeting” section of the workshop with monitoring white boards.
Showroom in 2003
Entrance to the showroom in 2020

Unicompex in 2020

Today, Unicompex is a total power solutions supplier and service provider to telecommunication, banking, retail and residential industries.

Main office entrance
Giresse Mampuya, electric generator set technician.
Emmanuel Lubanzadio, Senior Perkins Engine Technician
FG Wilson generator sets in stock.
Neil Bell, Central Africa Sales Manager for FG Wilson. Visiting Unicompex in 2020.
With the whole Unicompex team in Kinshasa, Neil Bell, the Central Africa Sales Manager for FG Wilson. Visiting Unicompex in 2020.

Acknowledgments

This page and the information shared was written thanks to the help of Gulshan Noorani, Sultan’s daughter, Karim Noorani, Aracelli Noorani, Léon Motema Malemo, Edouard Ntona and all the family, employees and friends that kept records (texts, documents, photographs) since the 1950s. We thank them all on behalf of Unicompex and it’s employees. They are grateful for all the diligent work and effort throughout the years and for their future efforts.

If there are any inaccuracies, comments or any other information you would to add, please feel write to contact@unicompex.net and kenoorani@unicompex.net.

This document is subject to changes or corrections and is a subjective account of events from different sources. Apologies if there are mistakes or corrections to be made.