Khartoum — Whenever the history of trade and the industry in Sudan is remembered, the name of El-Sheikh Mustafa El-amin always crops up in the memory with utmost regard and admiration.
The man had fought a long battle of success from the scratch and under very difficult conditions until he became the first figure in the world of business and trade in the country's pre-independence years and after. In addition to that, El-Sheikh Mustafa assumed a patriotic role, participating in different ways in the support of the struggle for national independence and in the support and promotion of education, in his mind the expansion of education opportunities for all Sudanese youngsters, the poor in particular.
On the occasion of the convening of the first National Economic Conference after the revolution, 26-28 September, Sudanow gives glimpses of El-Sheikh Mustafa's bright profile as a model for how private businesses can contribute to the country's economic revival.
Starting from Zero:
El-Sheikh Mustafa was born in 1889 in the Matamma town in the now River Nile State. Receiving no regular education, he worked in farming and animal husbandry in Matamma's neighboring village of Almahmadaniyya. In 1908 El-Sheikh Mustafa left this village with only the clothes he wore on his body and twenty piasters in his pocket. Regardless of that and depending entirely on himself, he fought his way to build his big business empire as a self-made and proud person.
He first worked as a vendor of straw mats and used empty tins and gallons. Then he worked as a railway laborer where he learned discipline and perseverance. He then returned to trade, selling local products between Abuhamad and Wadi Halfa in the country's North. Then he moved to Sherkaila district of Kordofan Province in the mid-west where he owned a humble shop in which he sold hides, bee honey and other simple local products. Soon after he would win some money, he would also very soon lose it.
Then he changed courses and started to trade in groundnuts in Kordofan and sell it to the owners of oil mills. Then he managed to buy a groundnut peeling machine that helped him sell his groundnuts in peeled form; later on managing to add a lot of these groundnut peeling machines in the towns of Wadi Halfa on the border with Egypt and Alghabsha in Kordofan.
In 1924 El-Sheikh Mustafa moved to Khartoum and after sometime he travelled to East Kordofan where he started a rain-fed farming business that did not last long. In 1925 he shifted to edible oil cereal trade, buying and selling groundnuts and sesame in the district's towns of Umrawaba, Sharkaila and Alghabsha. Because that year saw a bumper sorghum crop, he exported this cereal to Egypt where it is garbled and shipped to Europe.
El-Sheikh Mustafa then expanded his business, launching an oil mill in Port Sudan from which he exported oil to the rest of the World, Europe in particular. He then widened his export business, extending his sesame oil exports to as far as Venezuela in those old times.
The Biggest Industrial Services Complex In The Middle East And Africa:
His passion for the industry then led him to move from the small primitive oil mills, which he already owned about a 100 of them, to automatic oil mills: He introduced German hydraulic mills in Alghabsha. Then in 1958 he launched British electromechanical oil mills in Port Sudan, beginning an opening towards global business.
In 1976 he introduced the World's most sophisticated oil extraction technology that used Belgian organic solvents. That was a precedence in Sudan's industrial history. In 1980 El-Sheikh Mustafa was the first trader to export 'purified' groundnuts to America. The same year he launched the biggest industrial services complex in the Middle East and Africa he named Aba Almu'tasim Industrial Complex. On an area of 78 acres at Albagair here, the Complex contained 13 integrated production units that processed soap of different types, groundnut peeling machines, oil mills, plastic jerry cans, tin canteens, packing cardboard, all driven by an electric power station he established on site. The complex also included an integrated housing section for overseas experts he procured to train the complex local engineers and workers who also had their contribution in the country's national industrial projects.
After El-Sheikh Mustafa's sons came of age, he involved them in his wide business and his charity plans.
He assigned his son Alamin to the management of the Aba Almu'tasim Industrial Complex that grew further, exporting cotton fluff to Egypt's warfare factories. Germany became the biggest buyer of edible oil and oil cake from the complex.
Looking at his vast businesses, El-Sheikh Mustafa often boasted that "my business extends from Alghabsha in Kordofan to Hamburg in Germany!"
The Biggest Rain-fed Agricultural Scheme in Sudan:
In 1984 El-Sheikh Mustafa established the biggest rain-fed agricultural scheme in Sudan that extended over an area of half a million acres, second only to the Gezira irrigated scheme. This scheme was launched between the Blue Nile and Gedarif districts (in the east and the south-east of the country), producing sorghum, sesame and sunflower.
And due to his expanding farming and industrial businesses, El-Sheikh Mustafa launched an integrated land transport fleet to carry his own products, thus combining agricultural and industrial productivity in a single order for more effectiveness. Due to his successful business he took the front seat in the list of exports, ranking the first exporter of edible oils to Egypt during 1964-1974.
His Banking Business:
El-Sheikh Mustafa had contributed to the building of several commercial and economic institutions. He contributed to the establishment of national banks, including the Sudanese Commercial Bank that later on became the International Investment Bank. He also contributed to the establishment of the Sudanese French Bank and the Saudi Sudanese Bank.
He also contributed to a lot of national companies, thanks to his strong character and his trustworthiness in the world of business.
Accordingly he assumed ranking offices in the business world: He was leader of the wholesale traders association, chairman of the financing group in Khartoum and member of the first chamber of commerce that embraced leading Sudanese and foreign traders.
His Contributions to the Education of Poor Kids:
In 1944 El-Sheikh Mustafa, in collaboration with other traders, established the Khartoum Ahlia School in the heart of the Khartoum major market. Around the school a hoard of shops were built the lease of which meant to beef up the School's finance. The school was meant to help with the education of poor children. The school was in 1972 annexed to the Ministry of Educations that renamed it The El-Sheikh Mustafa Alamin School. The school's pupils were meant to be drawn from all the regions of Sudan as a way of boosting national unity and understanding.
The school's idea came into existence when the Britons granted a missionary with the name of Comboni a plot of land to build a missionary school. El-Sheikh Mustafa, then a cereal trader in the major market, called the traders around him and suggested a school to be built on the same place they bought and sold cereals. After some hesitation, the British authorities approved the idea.
Later on El-Sheikh Mustafa established several schools and mosques in regions where he conducted his business. These facilities also include a health center and a school in the under developed Engasana district of the Blue Nile region and a similar one in Port Sudan in the East. He was helped in this philanthropic activity by his sons Idris, Bashir, Mustafa. At a tip from his father his son Idris built a school and a mosque in the Dendaro region of the Blue Nile.
As part of his philanthropic activity, El-Sheikh Mustafa had used to cultivate wide areas in the Butana and Gedarif districts of east Sudan with cereals and gift part of the crop to the poor of those areas.
His Role in National Liberation:
El-Sheikh Mustafa was active in the organizations pushing for the independence of the country. In this he was a member in the White Banner Society that clashed the Britons in 1924. He then joined the Umma Party that sought the independence of Sudan.
In 1952 El-Sheikh Mustafa was part of the Sudanese delegation that visited Egypt in search of Egypt's backing for Sudan's independence. He was also part of the delegation that visited Britain to push for the independence of Sudan.
His Pride and High Self Esteem:
The self-made El-Sheikh Mustafa was highly proud of himself. During the years when he was very poor, he reportedly used to get inside his cottage, take off the only pieces of clothes he had, wrap himself in a piece of cloth, wash his clothes and stay inside until they dry and put them on, instead of asking somebody else to wash his clothes.
El-Sheikh Mustafa was honored with several medals and honorary orders from the successive governments that include the order of education and the order of the faithful son of Sudan. He was also honored with an honorary M.A of arts from the University of Khartoum.
He died in 1988 and was buried within the building of the Khartoum Ahlia school, the place he said when writing his will, was the place he loved most.