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Paul Markovits, in his book “The Global World of Indian Merchants” used the term circulation instead of “diaspora” to describe the global network of Indian entrepreneurs. To Markovits ‘diaspora’ suggests that these Indians leave the homeland and rarely return, having minimal economic and political connections across the divide. But in the book, he shows that the famous Sindh merchant class that had created a global network centuries ago had a very strong relation to India and that they instead circulated between their home in India, the several hubs of Sindh merchants overseas, and the ports where they sold their goods. And, barring those Indians that are descendants of those brought over to Africa by the British, the same holds for many of the Indian nationals currently working in East Africa.

So I’ve decided to continue my research independently in India. For the next year, I’ll be jetting between India and East Africa to follow these trade routes and immigration patterns. In my interviews with Indian businessmen in Kampala and through phone/ Skype talks with those in South Sudan, I’ve hit on a few interesting points that I hope to investigate further.

Thus far I’ve spent most of time with the higher class of Indian entrepreneurs working in Africa. But a bulk of the Indian population here and by far the fastest growing are the ones I mentioned earlier and the ones that boarded the evacuation flight of Juba: The young Indians whose poor grades and lack of skills kept them from competing in India but allowed them to make a comfortable living across the Indian Ocean. I’d like to trace the path of one of these workers from their school to their hiring and then work in African enterprises. Though it is a great opportunity for Indians, the whole system risks plunging all Indians back into the situation that Idi Amin put them in 1972. By choosing to import labor rather than train and utilize local African capacities, they alienate their host populations and make themselves perfect targets for nationalization policies and threaten to push Indian diplomatic efforts back thirty years.

When India became a sovereign nation in 1947, it sought to become a beacon of strength for the global south, to present an alternative to Cold War alignment and create something of a political bloc of developing nations heavily influenced by socialist ideology. Part of what that entailed is developing the production and industrial capacities of lagging nations, such as those in Africa which would become independent in the coming decades. But there is quite a bit of difference between the sharing of solid technological equipment and technological know-how. Thus far, Indians have played a big role in bringing the equipment to the African continent but have retained a monopoly on the know-how, primarily by using such schemes as the one above to use Indian labour rather than train Africans, allowing these men to maintain their monopolies on industry in the continent. One such monopoly that is almost entirely Indian is that of water bore hole drilling. In nearly every country in Africa, the bore hole drillers are Indian, and more specifically from the south, seemingly the only industry that southerners have cornered in Africa. This is due to the technological hub of Hyderabad in south India and the cluster of bore hole equipment developers based here such as KLR Industries, the global leader in the industry. These companies host tours for Indians to travel to Africa and dip their toes in the market before purchasing the equipment and moving out to start a business. But again, despite the service these Indians provide by supplying remote places with clean water, the hoarding of know how and expertise threaten the same consequences as above.

India is world famous as a hub for pharmaceutic production. And it is also notorious for its lack of regulatory standards on these drugs. I was turned on to a lead about a drug company that had spent the last thirty years pumping African conflict markets with substandard medication at unbeatable prices. They then used the government and business contacts formed through entering the medical trade in these vulnerable areas to hustle their way into the mining sector. Now this same drug company has a mining operation in the DRC extracting cobalt and copper from some of the more volatile regions. A bit of digging into their history uncovered a history of worker abuses and land mismanagement. It’ll take quite a bit of work to draw strong connection between their pharma trade and mining operations but of everything I’ve seen of Indian involvement in Africa, this remains one of the more insidious schemes I’ve come across and deserves to be researched thoroughly.

I can’t thank Kenan enough for the opportunity they’ve given me here and can’t wait to dig my teeth into these leads. Thanks for everything and stay tuned for the rest of my research!

Indians Staying in South Sudan

South Sudan is once again up in flames. After a series of targeted assassinations of rebel officials by the SPLA and ensuing tit-for-tat killings put the capital on edge, full-on fighting finally broke out last week. A siege was laid on the presidential palace during a joint press conference between Kiir and Riek, killing more than 300 soldiers. The situation spiraled out of control quite quickly. Fighting erupted in several neighborhoods around Juba. The following days saw thousands displaced amidst heavy shelling, constant gunfire, and the bombing of several hotels and buildings around town alleged to be rebel holdouts.

Rumors began to fly around town faster than the mortar shells. At first, it was that Riek had attempted a coup against the president. Then, it was that Kiir had attempted to kill Riek and bombed his home. Next, it was that neither the President nor FVP had any knowledge or control of what was happening in the city and were hunkered down waiting for it to pass. The truth is still elusive, death counts have yet to be made, and the whereabouts of Riek are as yet unknown. A ceasefire was announced and for the time being, Juba is calm. Tense, to be sure, but calm.

Soon after the ceasefire was called, the Indian Air Force sent two C–17 Globetrotters to Juba to evacuate the Indians living in country. But of the 550 reportedly living in the capital, only 156 chose to board the planes. The second plane returned almost entirely empty.

I was lucky enough to be added to the whatsapp group run by the Indian embassy which includes all the Indians in South Sudan on their email list. So I’ve been calling around trying to figure out why so many chose to stay. From my previous interviews with most of the mid level guys in town, they had all expressed to me that they were ready to pack their bags and skip town. The economy was crushing their margins and the security situation was becoming unbearable. I thought for sure that this recent flare-up would be straw that broke the camels back.

But instead what I’ve found is that most of those that chose to fly back aboard the C–17 were in fact lower level workers that had been brought in from India by bigger businessmen straight out of college. South Sudan, and Africa in general, as Rajesh from Adjumani told us, is perfect for Indian students with mediocre marks. They wouldn’t be able to compete in India, but if they’re willing to take a cut in standard of living and head off to South Sudan, they could make a killing and send back five to ten times as much money to their families than they could have provided had they stayed in India. But even this income is not worth risking life and so when the opportunity came to jet out, they went. That being said, many have expressed interest in returning to South Sudan should the situation calm down a bit. So this doesn’t spell quite a death sentence for the commercial capacities of Juba.

Those Indians that had come years ago and built their businesses in South Sudan from scratch, on the other hand, chose not to take the flights. Leaving everything they’ve worked all these years for, left vulnerable to the spate of looting that taken over Juba following the fighting? That for them would be paramount to suicide. They’ll stick it out for the next few years, praying for better days and hunkering down through the crises. But they won’t be giving up. For some of these men, who deal with NGO tenders and service internationals and therefore get paid in dollars, the crisis means they’ll be turning over even higher profits than before. International attention follows violence and dollars follow international attention. For a select few, this is boom time.

The other large portion of Indians that had not evacuated are those that are working in the northern oil fields. South Sudan presents one of India’s largest investments in foreign energy supplies and leaving now would be tantamount to surrendering to Chinese interests which are king of the oil fields. Also, with all the airports shut down, it would be next to impossible for these Indians to get down south to Juba where the embassy was evacuating from.

There’s still quite a bit of digging to be done around the changing situation of Indians here and much of the situation on the ground is still unclear. No one is quite sure whether the ceasefire will hold or whether this means a return to war. I don’t think the dust will settle here anytime soon, but Indians may prove to be an interesting barometer in the coming months of the development of the security and economic situation in South Sudan.

Not Following the Story–For Now

My original plan for this summer was to split my time between Kampala and Kinshasa, DRC. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had long been a haven for Indians. Their origins in this part of the world had been a bit more of a mystery to me. Kinshasa was on the opposite coast from India, and as we’ve already learned, Africa is for lazy indians. Then, DRC had never been a British colony. The official language was French. Save for a few enclaves such as Pondicherry, India had very little French influence. Finally, Mobutu Sese Seko, the CIA-backed dictator that took over the DRC from the democratically elected leftist Patrice Lumumba, had not fond of foreigners. At least in the form of petty traders, which many of these Indians were.

Upon seizing the throne, Mobutu had set upon a program of recreating a ‘true’ Congo. He changed the name of the country to Zaire, demanded that everyone referred to each other as citoyen or citoyenne and fabricated a national cultural costume complete with his trademark leopard skin pill box hat. Until Mobutu came along, all of these changes were unknown to Congolese. The man had crafted an entire national identity from thin air and along with that national identity came ardent nationalism that sought to push out foreigners, an easy ploy to gain popular support.

V.S. Naipaul, a Trinidadian-born Indian author, wrote the book “Bend in the River” about this specific juncture of Zaire’s history. The novel depicts the life of an Indian man in Kenya whose family is forced out by the Uhuru movements of the times. Uncertain of his ties to his ethnic birth land and his adoptive yet unaccepting homeland, he chooses to venture deeper into the African continent rather than return to India with his family. He takes up his uncles store deep in the Congo and sets about developing his business and lives through the tides of Lumumba, Sese Seko’s rise, and Sese Seko’s nationalism.

In any case, I’ve decided against going to DRC. At least this summer. Let me explain.

First off, there’s an election slated for August. And as we’ve seen before, elections aren’t exactly the best times for a country. In this case we have the incumbent Laurent Kabila who took over after his father was killed in his sleep by one of his guards. This is the dynasty that has ruled the DRC following the second civil war was as close to a continental conflict as Africa has ever seen. He’s had a pretty bad track record with human rights and hasn’t fared much better handling the economy either.

Kabila has been cracking down hard on dissenters, sometimes with deadly force, and has taken every pain to delay the elections for as long as he can. Kabila’s seen just how sour an attempt at a constitutional amendment for a term extension can go — check out Burkina Faso and Burundi. So instead he’s turned to more mundane methods of creating new voter lists, conducting censuses, etc. It’s unclear if the elections will even take place next month.

On the other side we have the billionaire soccer team owning Katumbi who, as most opposition politicians tend to be, is condemned by the DRC courts and sentenced to a prison term in absentia. The courts nailed him for charges of attempting a coup when it was discovered that he had hired American ex-special forces mercenaries as body guards. He’s since fled the country, claimed the charges are bogus, and that he’s still running. We’ve heard it a thousand times.

As I learned from Syed Shah, elections don’t make for the best time to study the behavior of businessmen. Given the instability such an election entails, most investors tend to pull their money out a year or two before and wait until the dust of the election results to settle before reinvesting. It’s why Syed is now packing his bags, shutting down Shadows, and planning on going back home to Pakistan to hunt bats on horseback instead. It will be much the same case in DRC, where things have been known to get very nasty. Many businessmen will likely have left or be too afraid to say much to be of much use to my study.

Perhaps the most significant factor that’s played into my decision to skip the DRC for now is that my initial assessment of the economic of the landscape was a bit misguided. I had planned my trip to Kinshasa to talk to entrepreneurs that had been doing dealings in the East Kivus, on the other end of the country where more than 40 rebel groups have laid claim to different tracts of land to capitalize on the regions rich ethnic divisions and resources. But as it turned out, from my asking around and doing a bit more digging, Kinshasa is almost entirely economically divided from the eastern regions because of the poor infrastructure and high volatility of the region.

The pattern had actually began under Mobutu Sese Seko. While the Cold War raged, Mobutu was on top of the world. He had limitless arms and funding coming in from the United States and was given a hero’s welcome to Washington DC on multiple occasions. Sure he had quite a bit of blood on his hands and didn’t exactly represent anything akin to democracy but he was a valuable asset against Communist backed Angola. He used the patronage to rule the entirety of the country with an iron fist, employing a huge military and secret service to weed out dissidence and ensure conformity. But the system came tumbling down rather quickly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. There was little reason to keep propping up the regime when communism stopped presenting a threat to the world order. Mobutu began scrapping branches of his government and swathes of his civil servants when he could no longer afford to keep up his patronage networks. Bureaucratic capacities were pawned off to war lords and Seko instead focused his efforts on maintaining the central circles of his government, based in Kinshasa. Quite quickly the eastern, resource rich, portions of the country fell out of contact with the seat of power. And after almost 30 years and two civil wars, that’s how it remains.

To study the role of Indian entrepreneurs in the East Kivus would require my going to the East Kivus. Given the incredible fluidity of the situation there, the ongoing violence, the poor infrastructure, my lack of contacts and understanding of the war, and Duke’s restricted regions list, it doesn’t seem to advisable to make the trip. I’ve heard tell of some wealth Indians that have a side gig running precious metals out of the rebel held areas of DRC so I’ll keep follow that. Just one step more sketchy than Kikuubu Market. But in the meantime, following up on South Sudan from Uganda continues to be fruitful and given that the nation seems to be on the brink of returning to war, it seems like this is the place to be.

Business in South Sudan

Earlier this year, I did some reporting around a project for Roads & Kingdoms on some of New York City’s hidden ethnic enclaves. I spent hours flipping through the phone book looking for ethnic names and running around the city following 3 year old blog posts to find ins with hidden communities of Kurdish historians, Sri Lankan porn distributors, Caribbean Voodoo practitioners, and Pacific micro-Islanders. Most of the leads ended up being duds.In the end, I did 3 stories: a Harlem nightclub owned and operated by a collective of revolutionary rappers from Burkina Faso, the last Cambodian temple in Brooklyn, and the hidden history of Somalis in New York.

What I found was the best ‘in’ for these communities were their restaurants and grocery stores. Food binds communities and its the last bit of a culture to be washed away in the tides of Americanization, or whatever adoptive culture have you.. Wherever someone settles away from their home, they’ll always yearn for their mothers cooking. Find the food, and you’ve found your in.

So when I tried to find Indians in Kampala, I took the same tactic. And for the best Indian cuisine in the city, there’s only one contender: Khanna Khazana. And perhaps just as legendary as Khanna Khazana is its proprietor: Aman Kapur

A portly man about 5 feet tall, Kapur is everything an Indian Don Corleone could hope to be. Gold rings on every finger, gold chain, labored speech, a debilitating golf habit, and a commercial empire to boot. His establishment is just as regal, pulled right out of Mughal paintings of palaces. Even the Ugandan staff is decked out in Rajasthani garb.

As per Indian custom, Mr. Kapur’s office behind the restaurant does not betray his immense wealth. The room is bare save for some harsh fluorescent lighting, some plastic chairs, and a desk made of chipboard and vinyl veneer. I had heard Kapur had done a bit of business in Juba, bringing food into the country along the notorious Kampala-Nimule-Juba highway. Mr. Kapur sets the tone for the conversation when he begins citing revenue figures in the millions. Dollars, not shillings.

Kapur enumerated the go-to list of complaints that every businessman has given me about doing work in South Sudan.

*Outside the capital, there’s little infrastructure. Within the capital, you’re at the whim and fancy of government officials and rogue soldiers. You lose a lot of money at every check point, a few hundreds pounds here and few hundred there. Where are the margins?*

*It’s impossible to do business with South Sudanese Pounds. Who the hell wants to deal with it? The currency is in free fall. It’s easy to bring dollars in but requires a miracle to get them out.*

*And don’t get me started on these South Sudanese. Man, they’ve had everything paid for them by the international community for 50 years. They’ve never worked a day in their lives. You’ll set up your business there and work for years to grow it and then one day some South Sudanese will walk in, take a look around, and now all of a sudden, you’re sent packing and this guy owns your baby. And of course he runs it into the ground.*

Needless to say, Kapur no longer does business with South Sudan.

But surely, there must be some Indians that still do?

Kanpur pulled out his iPhone and began scrolling through his contacts. Ah, Tony Gadhoke of Mukwano Industries, one of the largest conglomerates in Uganda.

“Tony? How are you? We haven’t seen you at the golf course! Anyway, I have a kid here asking about Juba. You still work there? Yeah, I thought so. Anyway, let’s get out to the links soon.”

The scene repeated itself for 5 of Kampala’s most prominent businessmen, Indian of course.

Trade to Juba is dead.

But where the formal market fails, the informal flourishes and for businessmen once bitten and twice shy by dealing in South Sudan, there remains one avenue. The open air, one lane, congested, beautiful market that is Kikuubu. Here you can buy just about everything from Dora the Explorer trapper keepers to cheap Indian whiskey, and if you’re savvy, a one way ticket for your product to South Sudan. At Kikuubu Market in downtown Kampala, Uganda, million dollar deals are struck on the street amongst toothpaste salesmen and mattress hawkers. It’s here that essential commodities trade hands from Asian suppliers to Ugandans much more adept at maneuvering the quixotic system of bribes and hand greasing levied on every truck entering South Sudan.

Trucks are loaded before the morning rush that paralyzes Kampala’s streets and take to the Gulu highway which hosts some of Uganda’s most scenic views of rolling hill country and the raging Nile. My own bus ride along the road was accompanied by an all too perfect Kenny Rogers playlist. Though the road has become much more secure in recent years the areas around Gulu, which once played host to Alice Auma’s rebel forces and more recently Kony’s LRA, are still a bit hot. Just last week, a police station in Gulu was overrun by ADF militia forces hoping to free one of their imprisoned inside. After 8 hours — or about 4 Kenny Rogers albums — along that road you arrive at Elegu, where a wrought iron bridge and 2 vastly different police forces are the demarcation between Uganda and South Sudan. Going into South Sudan are a line of trucks and tankers. Coming out of South Sudan are a steady stream of refugees fed up with rising insecurity and a falling South Sudanese Pound.

The road up to Elegu has been a cakewalk. The next 184km of tarmac are some of the most bloody in the region. In a matter of one week last month, 12 people were killed by ‘anonymous gunmen’ who did not even bother to loot their spoils. And don’t sleep on the Arrow Boys who allegedly have 15,000 soldiers roaming through the region. But the largest threat undoubtedly comes from South Sudan’s military itself. Soldiers that haven’t been paid in months fulfill their arrears through frequent checkpoints that impose taxes of whatever cash or cell phones drivers carry in their pockets.

When you finally reach Juba, you are subject to even more checkpoints and hastily drawn paperwork that demand additional taxes paid to ministries you’ve never heard of. By the time you’ve unloaded your truck, the cost of your goods has doubled. I wish I could say that all the trouble was worth it, that you’ll sell your product at healthy margins. But alas, this is a country wracked by war and mismanagement and economies don’t tend to thrive in such situations.

When I was in South Sudan last year, the bank was trading 3 SSP for one dollar but on the street you’d get 12. Now you’re looking at 45-50 pounds to a dollar, but next week you could probably get 60. You’re selling your products at a loss, there’s no way around it unless you’re on contract with NGOs in which case you wouldn’t be going to Kikuubu in the first place. The Indian traders that are buying up these goods in Juba are only here because they’ve invested too much to leave now.

So they’ll stay for now, wishing they were in Kampala dining at Khanna Kazzana, but they also ready to pack their bags if this country goes back to war, which given the current situation, is not such an impossibility.

Diminished Expat Nationalisms

I settle down at a table in Shadows Restaurant overlooking Mukwano Plaza in Old Kampala. Mukwano Industries seems to own this city, the buildings that compose it, the chairs it sits on, the sugar it stirs into its tea, and oh, the tea too. It comes as no surprise that its CEO, Tony Gadhoke, is of Indian descent.

Looking over the menu, its as if my mom is in the kitchen. Chapati, biryani, palau, chicken korma, goat curry, this is my dinner table an ocean apart. The influence is undeniable, made all the more so by the man who comes to take my order. Well, to be specific, he is Pakistani, but here? No one cares.

Or at least that’s how Syed Shah, who, as luck would have it, was once a trader in Juba, sees it. “Here, there’s no India, no Pakistan,” he tells me, drawing up another seat. And that’s exactly what he told the Indian embassy official that had the audacity to ask for his papers in Juba on December 15, 2013.

They had been holed up in the plaza of the Panorama Hotel for two days by then. The bodies were piling up outside and there was no more money to pay off the militias roving the streets outside. It had already taken $20,000 paid to some soldiers to get the group across town to the hotel. The 6 Indians and Syed had been shaken down three time already. Syed had been manning the door day and night, all the while seeing what strings he could pull with his friends at the UN and National Security Office.

Now this Indian officer had the sheer temerity to ask for Syed’s papers. He shouted the officer down. There’s a war outside. There’s no India, no Pakistan here.

A few hours and $600 later, Syed flew to Uganda aboard a plane commissioned by the Indian embassy. He returned to Juba in less than a month. “Contracts are contracts. Someone’s got to fill the order.”

Those days of violence that Syed was lucky to escape descended the world’s newest nation of South Sudan into 2 years of civil war. Forces loyal to President Salva Kiir were turned loose on the capital city of Juba after a political split with his Vice-President over electoral reform and an alleged (unfounded) coup gave Kiir pretense to launch the attack he had been planning for months to solidify his tenuous hold on the South Sudanese government. Over the next 3 days, 20,000 were killed in heated ethnic tensions between Kiir’s Dinka loyalists and Riek’s Nuer ethnicity. Riek escaped Juba with his life and traveled north to set up base camp from where the war was waged for the following 19 months. Despite a peace deal signed in August 2015, violence continues to envelop the country and Riek’s return to Juba last month to form a unity government has done little to assuage the fears of citizens and observers alike.

But to Shah, as he has said before, politics are not his concern. He began life in northern Pakistan, right near the Afghan border before being sent away to Karachi for schooling. The son of a chef, it was only natural that he would find his way into the restaurant business.

Starting off selling paan, a chewable stuffed tobacco leaf, at a local restaurant he worked his way up until he managed the whole place. From there, he and a group of friends created a restaurant management consulting group that would help businessmen open new establishments. When prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in a bombing in TKTK, he knew he couldn’t stay in Pakistan much longer. The subsequent leftist military regime sapped Shah of his will to remain in the uncertain future of Pakistan. He took up a friends offer to come to Kampala, Uganda in 2006. He ran the same racket in the former ‘Pearl of Africa’ before taking up another opportunity to run a restaurant in Juba, South Sudan in mid-2013.

But as he would find out, the evil he knew was not always worse than the evil he did not.

His friend had abandoned him at the last minute and Shah found himself alone in the capital city, no contacts, no prospects. But Shah, always the hustler, found himself a job with India’s Reliance Industries, a subsidiary of Tata Group, to help establish the security and networking systems of South Sudan’s banks. This were looking up, even better when he landed a job with Fontana Auto Parts supplying spare parts to the UN.

Then the war hit and Shah found himself shouting down an Indian official to get a ride out of the country.

Shah has since settled down, the bloodshed and risks of the road becoming too much for him to bear. Now he owns this restaurant in Old Kampala with his wife where he whips up south Asian dishes and regales anyone who will listen with stories of playing soccer for the army, riding horseback to the Afgahn border, and surviving the December 2013 ethnic cleansing of Juba.

Democracy vs Stability

If you, like me, are a casual observer of Ugandan politics, you would have seen over the past few months the ugly head of authoritarianism reared in an otherwise stable and thriving political system. House arrests, street protests, masked vigilantes, media blackouts. That’s right. It was election season. Ah yes, the captivating event that comes along every 4-6 years and sees nations clamber in turmoil over choosing a victor, despite the outcome usually being all but certain.

In this case, our luckless opposition figure was Kizza Besiege (FDC), a retired army hero and previous contender for the heavyweight title of the Ugandan presidency. In the other corner, our reigning champ, Yoweri Museveni (NRM), whose undefeated streak of 30 years is rivaled only by such leaders as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Omar Gullah of Djibouti, or Paul Biya of Cameroon. The sheer length of his administration — institution, rather — prompted Ugandans to take to Twitter behind the #WhenMuseveniBecamePresident hashtag and post photos of their parents in college or themselves in diapers.

Despite what Samuel Huntington and other development thinkers would have you believe, it seems that democratic transition is not yet on the horizon for much of Africa. The continent is being wracked by an epidemic of the “Third term” virus. Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, Chad’s Idriss Debé (actually a 4th term), DRC’s Laurent Kabila, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame are all now campaigning for constitutional reforms to allow a third term and most seem to be well on their way to securing another few years in office, at the least.

Seems that stability and economic growth does not necessarily mean democracy, especially when the Clintons are using the full force of the US State Department and their ‘philanthropic’ organization to keep Kagame in power despite human rights violations and curtailed civil liberties. But hey, check out that GDP growth. Rwanda, a la Singapore and 1970s Chile, is soon to join the growing list of nations that seem to skirt liberal governance for strong economic growth and contradict established development theory which continues to pretend that the United States/ Western Europe and its imperial tendencies — IMF, World Bank, Paris Club — are charitable and apolitical organizations.

In any case, Kizza Besigye is, depending on when you’re reading this, either under house arrest or in prison proper, his list of charges as long as they are vague. The instability his weekly rallies and parallel mock presidential swearing-in have created have the NRM furious, investors pulling their money, and most importantly for us, Indians shaking in their boots. To them, Besigye’s rhetoric and popular support presents a threat to the comfortable and preferential status quo that Museveni carved out for Indians after taking power over from Idi Amin in 1986 (Milton Obote’s second stint as president is actually sandwiched between the two regimes but is largely relegated to the footnotes of history).

Following Idi Amin’s Asian expulsion in 1972, the country fell into economic despair — play by play replays of Jewish expulsion from Spain or the Portuguese expulsion from Angola — only to be saved by Yoweri Museveni, who saw the integral role these foreign traders played in the East African economy. Though Indians are a great bogeyman in electoral politics and do represent something of a threat to organic African sovereignty, they are nevertheless central to the stability of the region. To coax these Indians back, he re-appropriated Indian property taken by Amin’s regime back to their rightful owners, cut tax breaks for foreign money, and instituted a host of other economic policies to entice Indians back to the nation that had once burned them.

My landlady, as luck would have it, was one of the first Indians to return to Uganda in 1986. “There was nothing of what you see on the streets today. It was all shacks and dirt roads,” she tells. She had been married in India and was brought to Mombasa, Kenya, first by her husband who had been an up and coming real estate mogul. There, she enjoyed relative liberty but when they came to Uganda a few years later, she was confined to the walls of her flat in Old Kampala. Tensions still ran high on the streets with Museveni’s young regime and the still simmering fear of Indian economic prowess that Amin had sown in his subjects.

It took another 6-7 years of stability and progress for the Museveni regime to be entrenched enough and maintain its dialogue with the English Indian community for more to return. Now, there are about 20,000 in Kampala alone and the silhouettes of Indian temples define the skyline downtown. Indian names are emblazoned in every crack and crevice of the city, from the tops of shopping malls and office buildings to the stamps on matchboxes and plastic chairs. The time is ripe to capitalize on Indian success once again and Besigye has been the man to do it, forcing my landlady back into hiding whenever his demonstrations come through town.

Foreign traders as a powerful force is nothing new to modern Africa. In West Africa, Lebanese traders have long held the pursestrings to despotic regimes, financing the diamond mines and private security that weak state leaders require to hold their grasp on power. Foreign traders are actually quite a boon for heads of fragile nations. They present a class of people economically powerful but politically impotent because their ethnic background prevents them from becoming citizens and therefore, holding political office.

It benefits these heads of state to transfer much of the governments burden of servicing to this independent class because it lessens the risk of someone within the bureaucracy hijacking the system and turning it against the leader and also means there is a much smaller group of people to satisfy through patronage, meaning more in the pocket for our leader. In addition, foreign traders are removed from the ethnic politics that define much of African systems and can therefore stand alone through regime changes, coups, and ousters, so long as they are not the targets of an incoming administration.

And that’s what Indians in South Sudan present the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling political force of the nation since it coalesced under Dr. John Garang de Mabior as an insurgent group against Khartoum in 1983. At least, that’s what I hope. It’s been tough to really get at that question of what do these traders actually mean for the conflict and political systems of these nations?

I’ve met a few men here who have done and continue to do business illicitly (more on that at a later date) with South Sudan, and they have all gone off listing their grievances of dealing in South Sudan, the government and people alike. They’ve described to me how they find their network and the ins and outs of running a commodity trade. But they, being businessmen, find it difficult to pitch their economic goals against a broader political backdrop.

So that task falls to me.

More coming soon.