Why Kenyan Asians flee the country each election cycle

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcoming Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta at Hyderabad House in New Delhi in 2017

In a survey along Nairobi’s Biashara street which used to be lined up with Asian owned shops selling exotic spices cereals, and jewellery, only a handful of Asians were spotted

By The Weekly Vision Online

Kenyans of Asian origin once controlled most retail shops within Nairobi’s CBD but are now a vanishing breed, a spot check by The Weekly Vision online can reveal. Asians originally from the Indian sub-continent- India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh owned most of the shops, manufacturing plants, fast food outlets, motor spare parts, and supermarkets many of which have been closing down at an alarming frequency, with owners fleeing to Europe and North America.

The exodus to Europe and North America has been slow but steady, an in-house survey conducted by The Weekly Vision indicates that a high number of Asian traders have boarded planes and left. The majority of these people are descendants of Indian coolies shipped here by the colonial Britain government to build the Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Kampala, on completion they remained here and became citizens.


Asians were expelled from Uganda in 1972 by dictator Idi Amin

Others were expelled from Uganda in 1972 by dictator Idi Amin, they came to Kenya for a while some flew to Europe where they set up businesses that have since flourished. When asked what their secret to success in business is many of the Asians in London said “discipline” and “diligence” with unrelenting tenacity.

In a survey along Nairobi’s Biashara street which used to be lined up with Asian owned shops selling exotic spices cereals, and jewellery, a handful of Asians were spotted. Many told our writer that while in Kenya part of their families continued with businesses in London, Mumbai, Ontario and New Delhi.

On River Road which once was dominated by Asian wholesale and retail shops, tailors, and supermarkets, the story is the same, they have long packed and left for “greener” or “safer” pastures

Once things became tough like the “indiscriminate” expulsion from Kampala by Amin, many who left barehanded relied on families to bail them out. They have since picked up and are doing roaring business. Some returned to Uganda to reclaim their multi-billion shillings assets after the fall of Amin in 1979. Amin and his goons had grabbed prime properties that included the multi-billion-shilling Lugazi and Kakira sugar mills that are now doing a booming business, even exporting sugar to Kenya.

On River Road which once was dominated by Asian wholesale and retail shops, tailors, and supermarkets, the story is the same, they have long packed and left for “greener” or “safer” pastures. The Asian community in Kenya while still vibrant in the economy with prominent Hindu and Sikh temples left when the country started experiencing political instability with the return of multi-party elections in 1992. As Kenyan heads for yet another key transition election next year, many Asian traders are said to have already booked flights out of the country. Few may return after the election dust settles down.

The Asian traders believe that “once bitten twice shy” and are always quick to act once they smell any political trouble in the offing. They are said to have learnt a bitter lesson from Uganda’s brutal military ruler of the 1970s who threw them out, only giving them only 72 hours to leave the landlocked country whose then-thriving economy depended on Asian owned industries and factories.

Many of the Asian traders fleeing Uganda sneaked into Kenya with a few possessions through Sio Port and Sigalame in the border points of Busia county. Once in Nairobi their relatives pooled resources and set them up in business and soon, they recovered and even prospered while Amin and his clownish government ran down the economy reducing the Uganda shilling to worthless pieces of paper.

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