A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa

The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the 19th century after the abolition of slavery, as the next cheapest form of labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan Railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in the various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India due to being considered on the lowest rung, racially.

Despite not being equal to white colonialists, upon independence for some of the former African colonies, some Asian communities were treated similarly. The case for Indians in Kenya and Uganda were particularly difficult, with many in these countries forced to leave. Upon independence in 1963, the Kenyan government gave non-Kenyans two years to take up Kenyan citizenship. However this meant giving up British citizenship which many were reluctant to do. Therefore many did not take up citizenship within the deadline leading to tensions with Kenyans who felt that Kenyan Indians were not loyal to Kenya. This in turn led to discrimination against those without Kenyan citizenship, restricting their economic activity. As a result at the end of the 1960s, many left for Britain feeling they could no longer live in Kenya. Kenyan Indians continued to leave Kenya until the early 1970s. While tensions existed in Uganda from independence due to Asian dominance of the economy, it was not until the 1971 coup that Indians were forced out of Uganda by the dictator Idi Amin. The majority fled to the UK, however some also went to other Western countries such as the US and Canada.

The Indian diaspora still exists in Africa although it is smaller than it was in its heyday. Many remained in areas where there was less tension. In countries such as Uganda, Indians have begun to return to their former homes. This shows the constant fluctuating migrating patterns which have always existed, but in modern society has increased, as did the various empires of modern history.

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