Reviews & Profiles
Amina Omusementi: The Somali woman building an empire in Kampala
Posted Monday, November 11 2013 at 00:00
Omusementi is not her real name. The name, like her establishments, is something she got through her reputation as a savvy businesswoman.
The President of the foreign country Amina Hersi Moghe now calls home speaks highly of her and he openly vows to offer all the assistance she requires and protect her from any roadblocks.
She has a rising real estate empire – having built Oasis Mall which houses Nakumatt Supermarket and the posh Laburnam Courts Apartments. And she has built alliances with the biggest politicians, businesspeople and banks in Uganda and beyond.
This cannot be bad for a daughter of a migrant Somali cattle keeper. Her father’s search for better fortunes took him from Somaliland to western Kenya in the second half of the 20th century.
Hersi thus grew up in the border town of Bungoma in western Kenya, from where she moved to Nairobi, before following in her father’s migrant footsteps when she relocated to Kampala in 1998.
She is a woman of average height and weight, not exactly as light as your usual Somali. Hersi adheres to the Muslim dress code, complete with a head scarf and speaks English – not perfect English – with a heavy Somali accent.
A chance encounter with her may therefore not immediately suggest that she is a very successful businesswoman in Kampala, playing in the biggest league.
But she must fondly look back to the day she set off for Kampala, although it was forced by a heavy dose of sadness.
She had suffered a most gruesome incident, she says, when her two little daughters were killed in a motor accident. She took advice that she needed a change of address to start a new life.
In Kampala, Hersi set up a cement dealership, first as an agent of Bamburi Cement in Kenya and later established relations with the nascent cement factories in Uganda.
“In fact most people know me as Hersi Omusementi,” she says.
Hersi’s stamp of authority on the real estate sector in Kampala grew stronger when on October 3 her Laburnam Courts Apartments was launched with President Museveni as chief guest.
Also in attendance were prominent businesspeople – representatives of banks, cement factories and others. There were also politicians from Uganda and Kenya, including DP president Norbert Mao.
The High Commissioner of Kenya, Maj Gen Geoffrey Okanga, presented Amina with an award – The Moran of the Burning Spear – from the government of Kenya, in recognition of her contribution to the Kenyan economy.
Hersi is the managing director of the Oasis Group of Companies, which owns Oasis Mall and Laburnam Courts in Uganda and is said to have interests in real estate in Kenya.
Hersi’s mother, Sarah Hersi Ali, and her siblings stayed back in Kenya to take care of the business that side when she moved to Kampala. Her mother, she says, laid the foundation for the family’s real estate empire from a modest restaurant and food store. Hersi built on that foundation to ally with powerful people in Uganda, and it didn’t take her long to get to the core of Ugandan business.