AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 231

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Session 231: Negotiating Nationhood: The South Asian Diaspora in Post-Colonial East Africa

Organizer: Sana Aiyar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Discussants: Pedro A. Machado, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA; Stephanie Jones, University of Southampton, United Kingdom

Idi Amin’s 1972 expulsion orders to South Asians in Uganda and their subsequent exodus has conventionally been viewed as the culmination of racially-motivated, anti-Indian sentiments amongst Africans in East Africa. What is often obscured in this sensational story is the post-colonial milieu of all of East Africa – not just Uganda – that brought to the surface tensions between the Indian minority and Africans. As Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania struggled with the economic and political legacy of colonial rule, fault lines emerged over the issues of race, nationhood, citizenship and minority rights resulting in a policy of Africanization that was ambiguously defined, but aimed at limiting the commercial activity of Indians in East Africa. Sana Aiyar’s paper looks at the making of “twice migrants” as thousands of Indians left Kenya for Britain in 1968 despite the absence of any expulsion order, as legislation was passed in the two countries that rendered them stateless. Savita Nair studies the exodus of Gujaratis out of Uganda to their homeland in India in 1972 who, significantly, made their way back to Uganda. Finally, James Brennan’s paper on Tanzania reveals innovative ways in which Indian Muslim shi’a businessmen weathered the anti-Indian wave by forming alliances with the African shi’a community after the nationalization of South Asian properties. Through an exploration of the post-colonial predicaments of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania from the perspective of South Asians resident there, this panel aims to gain a nuanced understanding of nation-building in East Africa and the Indians’ negotiation of their diasporic, minority position.

Africanization and the Making of Twice Migrants
Sana Aiyar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Kenyan independence in 1963 did not undermine the entrenched position of Indian traders whose experience and monopoly within the colonial political economy thwarted the aspirations of the African petty bourgeoisie who had hoped that independence would bring with it a complete overhaul of the economic structures inherited from the colonial era. Under pressure from radical critics, Kenyatta’s government initiated a policy of African socialism aimed at stimulating the economy by creating more jobs through a policy of Africanization. While never clarifying whether “Africanization” was to be defined in racial or citizenship terms, the policy aimed at the gradual displacement of the Indian trading class from the economic realm. These Indians, in turn, began to migrate to the United Kingdom. Fearing the economic and political implications of the arrival of over 200,000 East African Indians, the British government rushed to pass legislation restricting the Indians’ right to enter the UK despite their possession of British passports. Though Africanization has been blamed for the exodus, this paper argues that in 1968 the predilections of British citizens of Indian origin resident in Kenya exposed the racial considerations underlying the principles of citizenship in both Kenya and Britain. It explores the emergence of African majoritarian rule in Kenya and multicultural governance in Britain to show how inextricably connected the post-colonial histories of the former periphery and metropole were, as they negotiated the realities of the multi-racial polities that they had both inherited in the form of a common Indian diasporic minority from the colonial era.

Despite the Odds: Uganda Indians Remaking Home and Nation
Savita Nair, Furman University, USA

The distinctive migration history of Uganda Indians allows us to rethink diaspora identities and the formation of trans-local communities. “Home” had been extended and thus connected to sites in India and East Africa, yet the 1972 expulsion called into question the very idea of home. The broader history began with pre-colonial Indian trade and later colonial importation of Indian indentured laborers. Most Uganda Indians, however, are descendants of those recruited for commercial and government employment. Settlement and citizenship created a postcolonial order of overlapping allegiances and multiple, mobile identities. While expulsion in 1972 was a momentous crescendo to 19th and early 20th century migrations, it did not put an end to the history of Uganda Indians. My paper focuses on the less-studied post-expulsion return of Indians to two Ahmedabad (Gujarat, India) neighborhoods, on the 1980s-90s repatriation of once-residents back to Uganda, and lastly on a brand new generation of Indians coming to Uganda. By tracing these movements, I examine the fault lines for Indian migrants in terms of identity, investment, and interaction with East Africa and with India. How do experiences of rejection and return factor into (multi)national loyalties, notions of home, and diaspora identities? I draw upon newspaper reports, local and colonial documents, and oral historical sources in India and Uganda in order to highlight the centrality of migrants and, by doing so, to place India and Africa in the same intellectual and interactive frame.

Religion and the South Asian Diaspora in Tanzania: socialism, exodus, and re- making of Islamic communities, 1950-2010
James R. Brennan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

This paper investigates changes in Tanzania's South Asian shi'a communities during the late colonial period, post-colonial socialism, and liberalization since the late 1980s. Efforts to bridge racial gulfs between Indian and African Muslims in Tanzania enjoyed some success during the 1950s and 1960s, until the nationalization of the Aga Khan's East African Muslim Welfare Society in 1968 and the (mostly Asian- owned) buildings in 1971, precipitating a massive exodus of South Asians. The nationalizations of private and public South Asian properties raised important religious as well as economic questions, and formed surprising new connections between Indian and African Muslims, most particularly in the success of the shi'a "Bilal Mission" which grew enormously over the 1970s and 1980s, attracting thousands of African converts to Shi'a Islam. Those South Asian shi'a businessmen who remained found new niches in the socialist economy, and were posed to become quite wealthy when liberalization arrived. From this base has emerged not only a small but influential economic community, but also one that is increasingly involved in national politics and Islamic initiatives. By examining these developments from a wide lens, this paper will demonstrate that the story of African nationalism and Indian exodus from East Africa is not a linear tale of further diaspora, but rather a reconfiguration of religious and economic power whose dynamics owe more to a long history of continuities rather than a singular story of post-colonial break with the past.