The life and times of ‘Nick’ Noor Kassum (1924 -2021)

Friday December 03 2021
Kassim pic

Al Noor Kassum Sunderji. PHOTO | FILE

By The Citizen Reporter

Dar es Salaam. Al Noor Kassum Sunderji - popularly known as “Nick Kassum” - was born in Dar es Salaam on January 11, 1924. He passed away peacefully, surrounded by his three sons: Saleem, Diamond, and Jemal-ud-din(Jamil) in Dar es Salaam on November 18, 2021. Nick first attended schooling in Dar es Salaam, and later in Ashford, England. However, his studies in England were abruptly ended by the outbreak of the Second World War (1939-45) - and he returned to Dar es Salaam to work alongside his father in the family business.

In 1951, he returned to England with his young family to study law. He was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in London in 1954. He practiced law in Dar es Salaam until the start of his political career in 1958.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere asked him to join the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and the independence movement. He was subsequently elected Member of Parliament for Central Province. From then on, his friendship with Mwalimu Nyerere strengthened.

In 1965, Mwalimu gave him a leave of absence from politics to take up an appointment with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in Paris. After a couple of years there he was sent to New York where he was transferred to the United Nations as Secretary of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Nearing the end of his five-year leave, the UN Secretary-General wanted him to become his Chef du Cabinet with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General.

The Secretary General wrote to Mwalimu who replied that his need for Nick in Tanzania was far greater than the Secretary-General’s, so he be returned to Tanzania.


In 1970, Mwalimu asked him to go first to the diamond mine in Mwadui as Deputy General Manager where he instituted significant changes in management in favour of Tanzania. Then, in 1972 he was sent to Arusha as the East African Community (EAC) Minister of Finance and Administration, where he was instrumental in developing the mandate, rules and regulations for the EAC, as well as overseeing the building of the new EAC headquarters.

In 1977, he returned to Dar es Salaam and was appointed the Minister of Water, Energy and Minerals, a position he held for many years.

In 1985, he received the Order of the United Republic of Tanzania conferred on him by Mwalimu. Following his retirement as cabinet minister, Mr Kassum was appointed Chairman of the National Development Corporation (NDC) of Tanzania in 1991. In 1993, he was appointed Chancellor of the Morogoro-based Sokoine University for Agriculture (Sua).

Nick’s adherence to the Shia Ismaili community also played a significant role during his lifetime, both in Tanzania and in England. In 1951, the late Aga Khan appointed Nick President of the Ismailia Council in the United Kingdom.

In 1954, he was appointed by His Highness the Aga Khan as Education Administrator for Tanzania. During that time, his efforts improved the quality of Tanzanian education and he also insisted on the accessibility of higher education abroad by sending students to universities in Europe and North America.

Nick’s ongoing dedication and value to the Shia Ismaili community was recognised by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan who appointed him his personal representative in Tanzania in 1991, which position he held up to the year-2002.

His autobiography - titled “Africa’s Winds of Change” - details his life as well as some interesting aspects of Tanzanian politics.

‘Nick’ Al Noor Kassum Sunderji will be remembered for his diplomacy, charm, charisma and humour, as well as for his deep love and pride for his family. He will be missed beyond measure.

He was pre-deceased by his second wife Yasmin, and is survived by his first wife Shirin; three sons: Saleem, Diamond, and Jamil; two daughters-in-law: Nasim and April; five grandchildren: Azali, Tasleem, Shamina, Alysha and Arif, and five great-grandchildren.