Next Chapters

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!

Rajiv Golla is a T’17 Alum.

All posts by