Does 2017 matter to the Indian community in Kenya? By Nerima Wako @nerimaW


indian communityI have been contemplating whether to write this blog or not. This time I am not angry-I am bothered. I went to Aga Khan Academy for my high school and I remember my first day in school. I got to the school compound at about 11am.   I was with my mother. I was extremely nervous. You can imagine- there I was my first day of school but it was the middle of a school term. What had happened? I had just completed my KCPE and received my results.

I knew that moment that there was just no way could I continue on to Form Four. It was not that I did not perform well, quite the contrary- standardized tests made me extremely nervous.  At that age, about 14 years old, I knew there were people who did well in tests when it came to the pressure- then there was me.  I was never good at taking tests.

Especially tests that determined your future as Mr.Wambua, our Kiswahili teacher was great at narrating “this exam determines the high school you go to, then determines the college you go to and finally the life you lead!”  So much pressure!! I am just 14 years old, still trying to figure out what the heck style is and why I still find boys gross but the girls in my class seemed to have moved to another level.

Anyway, I remember my first day of high school. I was standing in the hallway at this window where you collect your text books.  The school provided the books for different classes. This was already different for me. I had to sign for the books and return them at the end of the term. I remember the strong scent of chlorine that filled the air. I knew there was a swimming pool somewhere even though I had not seen it yet.  Then the school bell rang. Not the “ting ting” sound I was used to.

I was a bell ringer in primary school and loved having that authority and responsibility to ring it on time and have students change classes. This bell was electronic.  You could hear it and there they were- the students walking out of their classes, switching to the next course of the day.  I remember thinking- I have never seen so many Indians in one place at once. They were more than the African students.

For a moment it was almost as though I was not in Kenya!  Four years in that institution were some of my best childhood years. I made lifelong friends and also learnt a lot about the rivalry (especially in cricket between India and Pakistan). That some of my classmates were actually Guan and that not all Indians are born in Kenya. There is a difference between those born in Kenya and those who have moved from India.

This blog however, is for those born in Kenya.  Some say they don’t like being called Kenyan Indian; they prefer to be called Kenyan. Whatever the case, I am speaking to those who ran several businesses in this beloved country of ours. Some own huge pieces of land in Kisumu or Mombasa and ran businesses that drive our economy (Manu Chandaria) and have been passed down from generation to generation.

They have their own communities from neighborhoods, to radio stations, television shows and even places of worship and hang out spots. There is a whole community- thousands! I have often wondered do the young know the part their grandparents played when it came to gaining independence. People like Pio Gama Pinto, founder of Kenya African National Union Newspaper, Makhan Singh who is regarded for laying the foundations of Kenya trade unionism, A.R. Kapila and Fitz de Souza.

The Indian community was behind the printing when it came to publishing pamphlets against colonialism and distributed them to the population.  Several of them even hid freedom fighters in their houses- including the late Jomo Kenyatta.  They put their lives at risk for the freedom of this nation.  But where did that ball drop? Why did was it dropped?  Do you vote? Do you care? Do you keep up with current events? Do you get involved? I am not too sure.

I see you opening your businesses early in the morning and keeping them open till late. You work extremely hard. There is no question.  And you say you are part of this country. But are you? Or are you so closed up in your community and only come out when you need to? After the Westgate attack, I saw some of you- but that’s because your space was intruded and it’s worrying. I am concerned really I am.

With 2017 elections swiftly approaching I wonder what it means to the Indian community in Kenya. I hope it doesn’t take another intrusion before we see you again. At the end of day, I want to know one thing- what are you doing about it?  Will it matter? Should it matter? What is your role as economic giants and as citizens?

By Nerima Wako


Facebook Comments

  1. I am guilty of never having even thought about the Indian Community as I reflect on democracy and politics in the country. Thank you for opening my mind to this.

  2. Dear Nerima,
    This is a well written – but it took you a while to get to the point. Even though I am not a “Kenyan” Indian – I have grown up here and call Kenya home. I just find it bizarre that you singled out just the Indian minority community in Kenya – there are other communities who have made similar contributions and created their own niches. Similarly the native Kenyans from various ethnic backgrounds and regions also have their own radio stations and hang out spots – why aren’t you calling them out? I have also seeing instances where my African friends have faced resistance from their family and peers when they wanted to marry outside their own ethnic background. Or that a certain community will not do business or sell property to any outsiders. What about them? They are Kenyan too.

    With regards to politics, I think you should have a look again at the representation – there are more Kenyan Indian representatives that in the past 10 years. Also – during the previous elections there were a lot of “brown’ faces lined up to vote including my elderly neighbours who stood up to 3 hours in line to perform their civic duty.

    Economically, I think you mentioned a few examples yourself, should those industries of hard working Indians not be there, imagin the rate of unemployment? Nor are you considering the many not for profit, environmental, charity, social and civic entities that are established and run by the Kenyan Indians. Just because they don’t tout their horns doesn’t mean they are not doing anything. As a matter fact – the Indian employer is non-partisan he doesn’t care what ethnic background someone is from to hire them – unlike many of the African Kenyans.

    Please let go of your pre-conceived notions and look. You will find the Kenyan Indians doing a lot for our beautiful country.

    No so Kenyan Indian

  3. @Murabwa- anytime, letting the mind reflect is needed
    @Not so Kenyan Indian- I enjoyed reading your sentiments. I believe there is so much to discuss. That is why we have decided to have a discussion on the same in a few weeks. Hope you can attend.