In Summary
  • Already, Dawood has won the Jubilee nomination in North Imenti. Another Jubilee nominee is the Kesses parliamentary candidate Swarup Mishra.
  • In Kiambu, Kalpesh Shah won the Juja Ward nomination on a Jubilee ticket too and many others could emerge as the nominations season comes to a close.
  • In the current parliament we have Embakasi South’s Irshad Ali Sumra, Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir Ahmed, and North Imenti’s Abdul Rahim Dawood bringing to seven the number of Asian MPs in Kenya’s post-independent parliament.

In 1979, Nairobi lawyer the Mombasa-born Krishna Gautama surprised many when he won the Parklands parliamentary seat against Wachira Waweru.

It was a time when many thought the Kenyan Asian community would never make it back to parliament.

In 1963, those holding British passports had been asked to either take Kenya citizenship or leave.

While the British were eager to compensate their ilk — the white settlers — the Indians were given little space for that.

The February 1965 assassination of nominated MP Pio Gama Pinto, the most promising Kenyan Asian politician, had left the community in limbo, frightened and disoriented.

More than 50 years later, the number of Asians seeking electoral positions is an indicator of how far the country has progressed politically.

KNOW THEIR ORIGINS

But still some laws that were passed to make life hard for the Asians are still in place – only that we hardly known their origins.

Ostracised and discriminated in the 60s and 70s, the community had been forced out of limelight as the country passed laws targeting them and forcing them out of business.

This was made worse by Uganda’s Idi Amin’s expulsion of Uganda Asians — and the political fate of the community looked like it had been sealed.

Ten years earlier in 1969, Dr Fitz de Souza – a veteran lawyer of the Kapenguria Six had lost the Westlands seat to lawyer Samuel Kivuitu – the man who set history by losing his seat in 1974 by a mere five votes. (Kivuitu is the man who would later bungle Kenya’s 2007 elections triggering the post-election violence).

De Souza was in parliament during troubled times. He was the sole voice that defended the community in the House at a time when the Kenyatta government started passing anti-Asian laws camouflaged under the Africanisation policy.

COMMONWEALTH IMMIGRANTS ACT

In 1968, the British Queen Elizabeth had made things worse for the Kenya Asians when she signed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act that was aimed at Asians left in Kenya after independence.

The new law ended the automatic right of all British passport holders from entering and living in Britain thus leaving thousands stateless.

This followed a debate in British House of Lords, which took a record 19-hours, and which was described by Rev Lord Beaumont as “shameful and disastrous”.

“We have ruined our relationship with the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the human rights movement,” said Rev Lord Beaumont, a liberal church minister who had also become the president of the Liberal party.

In Kenya, the Asian community had found themselves between a rock and a hard place.

PASSING NEW LAWS

As the Jomo Kenyatta government was passing new laws to restrict the community’s business acumen and restricting their employment in the civil service through the Africanisation policy, many youths found themselves jobless and with no place to go.

Many had never been to India, where their grandfathers had left more than 80 years earlier to either build the Kenya Uganda railway or with the promise of setting up businesses.

At that time when the British were locking doors on them, there were an estimated 200,000 Kenya Asians who were entitled to British passports but Britain and Kenyatta had agreed to a quota system that only allowed a maximum of 1,500 a year — mostly the highly qualified.

While the balance was supposed to stay in Kenya, the 1967 Immigration Act required all foreigners living in Kenya to either apply for Kenya citizenship or for a work permit.

When Former British High Commissioner Malcolm MacDonald tried to intervene with the Kenyan Government over some stranded Asians in London airports, Vice-President Daniel arap Moi told him: “They are Britain’s responsibility,” he said. “Why should they come back here? They can go to India.”

NOT GUARANTEED JOBS

But even the Asians who took the Kenyan citizenship were not guaranteed jobs within the civil service. More so, a Kenyanisation Bureau had been set up to remove all foreigners — and quietly all Indians — within the civil service doing jobs “which could be done by a Kenyan”.

From the fall of de Souza in 1969, it took another 23 years before casino-owner Amin Walji won the Westlands seat in 1992 on a Kanu ticket. But after holding the seat for only two years, Mr Walji died giving way to Fred Gumo’s rise in Nairobi politics.

Things appear to have changed since the promulgation of a new constitution. In the current parliament we have Embakasi South’s Irshad Ali Sumra, Kisumu East MP Shakeel Shabbir Ahmed, and North Imenti’s Abdul Rahim Dawood bringing to seven the number of Asian MPs in Kenya’s post-independent parliament.

There is also nominated MP Sunjeev ‘Sonia’ Kaur Birdi, the first Asian-Kenyan woman lawmaker who was running for Westland’s seat during the nomination on a Jubilee ticket.

JUJA WARD

While the previous three MPs came from Parklands, then inhabited mostly by Asians, the current crop of politicians are elected in constituencies that are far-flung.

Already, Dawood has won the Jubilee nomination in North Imenti. Another Jubilee nominee is the Kesses parliamentary candidate Swarup Mishra.

In Kiambu, Kalpesh Shah won the Juja Ward nomination on a Jubilee ticket too and many others could emerge as the nominations season comes to a close.

While this has been a long walk into politics for a community that has faced myriads of challenges — the story of their struggles has been lost.

While they had been invited to Kenya to pioneer business in the colony and open up the rural areas, where they set up trading centres, these efforts and struggles are not yet captured in Kenya’s history and were often dismissed as exploiters — though the frugal habits of the dukawallahs (the shopkeeper) that led to their survival has faded with time.

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