15 Fascinating Facts about Indian Diaspora in Africa that most Indians don’t know!

President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, said, ”India and Africa have been together through difficult times as well as happy times. We are at home in India”

BAPS temples are worldwide. Here you see a gathering at The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir of Chicago, Illinois, USA. Picture with permission from Asia Media USA.

The historical connection between India and Africa can be dated back to Harappan, Mohenjo-Daro civilisation. Earlier, these relations were limited to Eastern Africa. However, due to the expansion of commercial and diplomatic representations, India has now developed a strong connection with most of the African nations. The Indian diaspora has played a major role to strengthen this bond.

During the 50s and 60s, when Africa was struggling for its independence, Indian Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru asked the Indians living in Africa to support the struggle. But in the next few decades, the Indians at Africa were targeted for prosecution, expropriation of their property.

Now the time has changed. Africa’s trade with India has grown at an astonishing rate of 35% every year since 2005 and is currently estimated around $100 billion. According to the Business and Government leaders at a World Economic Forum (WEF) India Economic Summit session held at New Delhi, India-Africa trade will raise up to $500 billion by 2020.

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India and Africa have been trying to continue the socio-cultural and economic exchange. Below are the 15 facts about the two-million strong Indian Diaspora in Africa:

  • Indian merchants have been trading through the Indian Ocean since the days of ancient Babylon. The eastern coast of Africa, Periplus of the Erythanean Sea, was the established trading post for the Indian merchants.
  • Durban, South Africa is sometimes called the “Largest Indian city outside India”.
  • Around 715,000 Indians live in Mauritius which forms around 60% of the population. Reunion has around 220,000 Indians which is one-third of their population. Uganda with 15000, Tanzania with 90,000 and Kenya with 100,000 make South Africa home to about 1.3 million Indians.
  • About 32,000 workers were forcefully brought from India, mainly from Punjab, to build the Kenya-Uganda railway. The majority of the labourers returned to India after the contract ended. Only about 7000 chose to remain Africa.
  • Out of the 31,983 Indian workers who went to Kenya, 2493 during construction. Records show that 35 Indians were eaten alive by a pair of lions in Kenya’s Tsavo.
  • The Kenya-Uganda railway opened up East Africa for trade and many free emigrants, mainly from Gujarat, set up trading posts and became the East Africa’s traders and merchants.
  • The first Indians to settle in Africa were domestic and agricultural workers of Natal Colony.
  • The Father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was an expatriate lawyer in South Africa who worked for the civil rights of the Indian community.
  • Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 as a legal representative for the Muslim Indian Traders of Pretoria. He developed political leadership skills and ethics during his 21 years stay in South Africa. Although some critics say that he had racist views against Africans.
  • In Kenya, Fitzval de Souza, Pio Gama Pinto, Chanan Singh and Pranlal Seth were leading the Independence’s journalistic campaign.
  • Military dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin, announced in 1972 that all the Asians in Uganda would be expulsed and their property will be expropriated. The majority of expelled emigrants went to UK, Canada and Kenya.
  • In 1986, when Yoweri Museveni became the president, most of the expulsed families returned to Uganda. The law for their return was passed during in 1981 when Milton Obote returned to leadership, but he didn’t have the power to action it.

Mara group, the diversified conglomerate with $100 million revenue, was first set up in         Rwanda in 1992 by Ashish J. Thakkar. But two years later, The Rwandan Genocide forced       them to flee and the family settled in Uganda.

  • Bollywood is enjoyed in Nigeria, particularly in the North with the Muslim majority. According to the High Commission of India in Nigeria, there are only 35,000 Indians in Lagos. Lebanese businessmen started importing Bollywood movies which were cheaper than American movies. The business became successful.

According to South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection (SAMAR), “Mother India” is the most popular Indian film in Nigeria. A distributor told SAMAR, “I have been showing this    film for decades, and it can still sell out any cinema in the north,”

  • Many Indians were employed on a contract basis in Ethiopia to teach country’s primary and secondary schools in the late 60s. But when Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown by Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1974, a new regime introduced “Ethiopianization” which forbade the foreigners from teaching in Ethiopian schools.
  • Vasco da Gama found some Indian traders at the Mozambican shores in 1499. When Goa became a Portuguese colony, People from Goa started to immigrate to Mozambique to serve as soldiers, clergy or bureaucrats. Today, there are around 20,000 Indians in Mozambique.

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Olabivi Babalola, the eminent scholar, once said that ” African and Indian cultures are convergent. For millennia, they have emphasised the oneness of existence, the harmony between gods, nature and human beings. They both believe in the formula: I am because we are.”

– by Diksha Arya of NewsGram. Twitter: diksha_arya53


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