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Indians in Kenya

population of indians in kenya, job opportunities for indians in kenya
Indians in Kenya also referred to as Kenyan Asians are citizens and residents of Kenya with ancestral roots in the Indian subcontinent Most are found in the major urban areas of Nairobi and Mombasa, with others living in rural areas


  • 1 Terminology
  • 2 History
    • 21 Early history
    • 22 East Africa Protectorate
    • 23 Kenya Colony
  • 3 Independence
  • 4 Present day
  • 5 Demography and religion
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links
    • 81 Further reading


In Kenya, the word Asian usually refers specifically to people of South Asian ancestry Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans1 Prior to the partition of India those of south Asian ancestry were referred to as Indians; however after 1947 the term Asian also started being used2


Early historyedit

Vasco da Gama recorded encountering Indian merchants along the coast of east Africa in the late 15th century In Malindi he obtained the service of a Gujarati speaking sailor to navigate ships across the Indian ocean to Calicut3 The Portuguese soon came to monopolise trade across the Indian ocean and displace the existing Arab commercial dominance in the region Although this affected India's commerce with East Africa, some Indians succeeded in becoming accountants and bankers for the Portuguese as they had been for the Arabs4

By the early part of the 19th century, small numbers of Indian merchants could be found settled across the trading posts of East Africa Their interests were enhanced when Said bin Sultan the Sultan of Muscat and Oman, subjected to the emergence of British naval supremacy in the Indian ocean and direct British political support for Indian merchants along the East African coast, adopted a series of favourable policies towards Indians in the region5

In 1887 the British East Africa Association was founded with its base in Bombay The following year the Association was given a royal charter, becoming the Imperial British East Africa Company and moving its base to Mombasa Although now based in Africa, the company had a strong Indian orientation, employing guards, police officers, clerks and accountants from Bombay6

East Africa Protectorateedit

Significant Indian migration to modern day Kenya began following the creation of the East Africa Protectorate in 1895 The Protectorate took over the assets and personnel of the Imperial British East Africa Company and hence its Indian orientation The rupee was instituted as the currency of the Protectorate and the legal system became an extension of Indian law Among the local Indian ethnic populace, the vast majority of administrative roles were filled by Konkani Catholic Goans, Parsis as well as Muslim, Jain and Hindu Gujaratis whilst police and military recurits mainly consisted of Sikh Punjabis7

Between 1896 and 1901, some 32,000 indentured labourers were recruited from India to construct the Uganda railway8 Construction of the railway was a remarkable engineering feat; however, approximately 2,500 labourers died during construction about four deaths for each mile of track laid and the project was notorious for the Tsavo maneaters8 Once the railway was completed, some of these labourers voluntarily settled in the Protectorate and brought family from India The railway had opened the interior to trade, and many soon began migrating away from the coastal cities Over the following years large numbers of Gujaratis and Punjabis migrated freely seeking to utilise new economic possibilities in the Protectorate These migrants often came with family members or members of the same village or caste9

Many Asians settled in the new town of Nairobi, which had been the capital of the British protectorate since 1905 Unlike black Africans, Asians were permitted to reside legally in Nairobi in what was then a burgeoning white settler town10 One of the most significant early pioneers was A M Jeevanjee In 1890 his company AM Jeevanjee of Karachi was awarded the contract to supply labour for the building of the Uganda railway, and he subsequently went on to establish himself as the pre-eminent Asian businessman in the new colony He established Kenya's first newspaper now known as The Standard in 1901 and was the first non-white to be elected to the Legislative Council in 1910 Such was his success that in 1904 it was estimated that he owned half of Mombassa and the greater part of Nairobi11

Kenya Colonyedit

By the 1920s, there was a sizeable Asian population who demanded a greater role in the developing political life of what became Kenya Colony Racial hostilities gradually intensified in the 1920s; however, Indians, who enjoyed significantly greater economic strength than black Africans, had greater bargaining power with the colonial government As early as 1920, they turned down the offer of two seats on the legislative council as this was not representative of the size of their community Tensions with Europeans remained high until 1927 when Indians won the right to five seats on the council, compared to eleven reserved for the Europeans Both parties prevented any African representation

After the Second World War, Asians were found in all occupations in Nairobi and the townships: in business, the police force, bureaucracy, and the professions12 Their commercial skills contributed to the economic development and prosperity of Kenya and the rest of East Africa13

The 1950s saw increased sentiment against the inequalities of colonial rule, and many Asians were at the forefront of the push for increased rights These included: Pio Gama Pinto founder of the Kenya African National Union newspaper, Makhan Singh who is regarded as laying the foundations of Kenyan trade unionism, and AR Kapila and Fitz de Souza renowned in the legal profession for their representation of those accused of Mau Mau links

By 1962, the Asian community had firmly established their dominance within the urban economy Despite accounting for only 2 percent of the overall population, they constituted one-third of the population of Nairobi, where their businesses dominated the main street14 Prior to independence Asians owned nearly three quarters of the private non-agricultural assets in the country15


Kenya achieved independence from Britain in 1963, and thereafter followed a period of volatility in African and Asian relations Asians, along with Europeans, were given two years to acquire Kenyan citizenship which in turn would renounce their British passports Out of approximately 180,000 Asians and 42,000 Europeans in Kenya at the time, fewer than 20,000 had submitted their applications by the deadline16 This in turn led to growing animosity and distrust from Africans, and those who failed to take up Kenyan citizenship were deemed disloyal by their fellow countrymen17

Those without Kenyan citizenship soon became subject to increasing discrimination by the ruling government Despite the entrepreneurial success of the community, in 1970, 70% of the economically active Asian population consisted of wage and salary earners, and 30% worked for the civil service A policy of Africanisation meant many were sacked in favour of black Africans18 The Kenyan Immigration Act 1967 required Asians to acquire work permits, whilst a Trade Licensing Act passed in the same year limited the areas of the country in which non-Kenyans could engage in trade19 In the late 1960s and early 1970s, faced with a dim future in Africa, many Asians choose to utilise their British passport and settle in the United Kingdom There are now sizeable communities of Kenyan Asians in London and Leicester

Present dayedit

Visiting Kenya in the 1970s, the Indo-Trinidadian writer Shiva Naipaul referring to the inward focus of the Asian community, commented that "the Indian in East Africa brought India with him and kept it inviolate"20 Those who remained saw a gradual improvement in their legal status, however the Asian community continued to be cautiously inward and self-reliant Despite varying degrees of acculturation, most have retained their strong Indian ties and traditions, and are a close-knit, endogamous community21

Demography and religionedit

The 2009 Kenyan Census recorded 46,782 Kenyan citizens of Asian origin, while Asians without Kenyan citizenship numbered 35,009 individuals22

Asian ethnic groups mostly originate from a few select places in South Asia The vast majority of Asians trace their ancestry to the regions of Gujarat and the Punjab23 There are also large numbers who originate from Bombay, Odisha, Goa and Tamil Nadu Traditional languages spoken by Asians include Gujarati, Hindustani, Konkani, Kutchi, Odia, Punjabi, Sindhi and Tamil

The majority of Asians are Hindu The leading caste-based subgroups within Kenyan Hinduism include Lohanas, Lohars, Rajput, Patels and Mehtas among others24 Their largest concentration is in Nairobi city where mandirs can be found in most neighbourhoods25 The next largest community are Muslims; the majority being Sunni Muslims, however there is a significant Shia minority, including Ismailis, Bohras and Ithnā'ashariyyah26 There are also sizeable communities of Sikhs and Jains, and smaller numbers of Roman Catholics

Pop ±% pa
1911 11,787 —    
1921 25,253 +792%
1931 43,623 +562%
1948 97,687 +486%
1962 176,613 +432%
Pop ±% pa
1969 139,037 −336%
1979 78,600 −554%
1989 89,185 +127%
1999 89,310 +001%
2009 81,791 −088%
Post 1947 figures include those born in either India or Pakistan
Source: 2728

See alsoedit

  • Kenya portal
  • India portal
  • List of Kenyan Asian people
  • Demographics of Kenya
  • Expulsion of Asians in Uganda in 1972
  • Indian diaspora in East Africa


  1. ^ Vandenberg, Paul, The African-Asian Divide: Analyzing Institutions and Accumulation in Kenya, Routledge, 2013, page 227
  2. ^ Sahoo, Ajaya Kumar and Sheffer, Gabriel, Diaspora and Identity: Perspectives on South Asian Diaspora, Routledge, 2006, page 95
  3. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 10
  4. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 11
  5. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 11
  6. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 13
  7. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 13
  8. ^ a b http://newsbbccouk/1/hi/world/africa/762515stm
  9. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 15
  10. ^ Hake, Andrew 1977 African Metropolis: Nairobi’s Self-Help City London: Sussex University Press
  11. ^ Patel, Zarina, Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, East African Publishers, 2002, Page 13
  12. ^ J Murray-Brown, Kenyatta London, 1972, p 83
  13. ^ A history of the Asians in East Africa Oxford, 1969, ch 1
  14. ^ Sowell, Thomas 1996 Migrations and Cultures: A World View, BasicBooks, pp323-328 ISBN 0465045898
  15. ^ Leys, Colin, Underdevelopment in Kenya: The Political Economy of Neo-Colonialism, 1964-71, London, Heinemann, 1975, p45
  16. ^ Donald Rothchild, Racial bargaining in independent Kenya London, 1973, p 188
  17. ^ Donald Rothchild, `Citizenship and national integration: the non-African crisis in Kenya', in Studies in race and nations Center on International Race Relations, University of Denver working papers, 13 1969±70, p 1
  18. ^ Dharam P Ghai, 'An Economic Survey' in Dharam P Ghai, ed, Portrait of a Minority: Asians in East Africa, Nairobi, 1965, p94
  19. ^ Quest for equality New Delhi, 1993, p 99
  20. ^ Naipaul, S 1990India: A million mutinies now London: William Heinemann Ltd
  21. ^ Mwakikagile, Godfrey 2007 Kenya: identity of a nation Godfrey Mwakikagile pp 100–102 ISBN 0-9802587-9-0 
  22. ^ "Population and Housing Census – Ethnic Affiliation" Kenya National Bureau of Statistics Archived from the original on 21 November 2013 Retrieved 16 December 2013 
  23. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 1
  24. ^ Kinanga, Dr Moywaywa Charles, 'The Origins and Settlement of Hindus in Nairobi, Kenya' International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol 4 No 8 October, 2015, Page 119
  25. ^ Kinanga, Dr Moywaywa Charles, 'The Origins and Settlement of Hindus in Nairobi, Kenya' International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol 4 No 8 October, 2015, Page 119
  26. ^ Oded, Arye, Islam and Politics in Kenya, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000, page 15
  27. ^ Herzig, Pascale, South Asians in Kenya: Gender, Generation and Changing Identities in Diaspora, LIT Verlag Münster, 2006, page 28
  28. ^ Adam, Michael, Indian Africa: Minorities of Indian-Pakistani Origin in Eastern Africa, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, 2015, page 170
  • Indians of Africa, Rudy Brueggemann, 2000
  • A New View of Kenya's 'Asians', Washington Post 15 March 2000
  • More Kenyan Asians flee to Britain: BBC, 4 February 1968 Reprinted by BBCcouk, "On this Date", nd
  • The Lost Indians of Kenya, Salim Lone, New York Times Review of Books, Volume 17, Number 5 · 7 October 1971
  • 'We're all Kenyans here', Shashi Tharoor, The Hindu, 7 November 2004
  • The Indian Diaspora in Africa, Ruth DeSouza
  • Vincent Cable The Asians of Kenya, African Affairs, Vol 68, No 272 Jul 1969, pp 218–231
  • Randall Hansen THE KENYAN ASIANS, BRITISH POLITICS, AND THE COMMONWEALTH IMMIGRANTS ACT, 1968 The Historical Journal 1999, 42: 809–834
  • Unfree Labour: Family History Sources for Indian Indentured Labour Research Guide from The British National Archives, 2006

External linksedit

  • Asian African Heritage Trust
  • KENYA, One Hundred Years of Political History in a Flash Part II Imperialism, Richard Peck, Lewis and Clark College, 2006
  • Immigration Department of Kenya, abstract history of nationality laws
  • http://namaskar-africanacom

Further readingedit

  • Adam, Michel "A microcosmic minority: The Indo-Kenyans of Nairobi" In: Charton-Bigot, Hélène and Deyssi Rodriguez-Torres editors Nairobi Today: The Paradox of a Fragmented City African Books Collective, 2010 start page 216 ISBN 9987080936, 9789987080939 The source edition is an English translation, published by Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in association with the French Institute for Research in Africa IFRA of Nairobi The book was originally published in French as Nairobi contemporain: Les paradoxes d'une ville fragmentée, Karthala Editions Hommes et sociétés, ISSN 0993-4294 French version article is "Une minorité microcosmique : les Indo-Kenyans de Nairobi", p 285-358 ISBN 2845867875, 9782845867871
  • Robert Granville Gregory, India and East Africa: a history of race relations within the British Empire, 1890–1939 Oxford, 1971
  • J S Mangat, A history of the Asians in East Africa, c 1886 to 1945 Oxford, 1969

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