Whilst this cultural combination might seem paradoxical to some, the two go together like tea biscuits. North Indians, notably Gujarati’s migrated during the 1890’s to help build the Kenya-Uganda railway. Since then, more Indians migrated to settle in the east African countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
There were often culture clashes between the native Kenya’s (as well as in East Africa as a whole) and migrant Asian groups, due to a combination of British colonial policies and lack of integration. Some policies favoured the migrant Indian’s who ended up doing economically well as a result and garnered resentment from the Kenyan locals. Some people felt the Indian’s had come from India and brought India with them, as there was little efforts of integration into society.
Post British independence in Kenya in 1963, Indians could choose to retain their British passports (as many had a British oversees passport when they had migrated) or take up Kenyan citizenship. Many chose to utilize their British passports and settle in the UK, which led to growing hostility against the Asians who chose to remain.
Whilst south Asian’s contributed hugely to health, education and the business sector, whilst many of them lived in Kenya, they lived in endogamous communities and were largely segregated in large part due to the British policies that came before them. However, they were integral in the development of Kenya, as the schools and hospitals they set up primarily for their own communities opened up to other races soon after. Their economic and political activity reached the remotest parts of the country.
The growth of Kenya and the Indian community is inextricably linked, so much so that President Kenyatta formally recognised this in 2017. Whilst the social relations have been tumultuous in the past, this has now changed greatly. Although many Asian’s have migrated to the UK, Canada and other countries, those who have stayed have integrated socially and Kenya has greatly progressed. It is no longer seen through the lens of a third world nation in despair, but as a leader with limitless opportunity.
As this niche diaspora of East African Indians have migrated to predominantly the UK, much of this community are migrants twice over and did face discrimination, racism and hardship on their arrival. They fell several rungs in the ladder before my generation was able to live more comfortably and there was a little more equality. Whilst in recent times, the community has largely prospered and integrated well into society, little is known of this shared history which began well over a century ago. Of course, the more we share our food, culture, and languages, this history can slowly be rediscovered. I myself still yearn to learn what my auntie’s jokes in Swahili mean when they switch from Gujarati or English!
So next time you see an Indian person living in London, speaking of Lake Victoria in Kenya with great joy and reminiscence, whilst enjoying some Indian fried potato bhajia, it will make a lot more sense. Their unique blend of cultures has mixed together in a myriad of ways, with some Indian foods being loved in Kenya, Swahili words having been adopted into Gujarati by some Indians, and this community having brought their fusion into the UK.