©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.
Africans are very quick to recognise, accept and serve others. All in the name of good-will and promoting humanity. Nowhere on the surface of this earth are others as quick to extend this same level of goodwill to Africans. Idi Amin was a nasty piece of work but many Ugandans agreed with him when he said Asian migrants were occupying too many prominent positions in Uganda’s civil service, taking influential jobs, hoarding wealth and sabotaging the economy. Till this day, there are influential voices in African nationalist circles who laud Amin’s decision to strip migrant Asians of indigenous African wealth. They may disagree on the means through which the end was achieved – a total purge of Asians from the economy and land. They may also unequivocally fault the way that most of the seized firms, agricultural estates, ranches, cars, homes and other household goods were reallocated to a horde of Uganda’s middle class and Amin’s close aides. They however do agree that indigenisation was and ever will remain the native’s right. One must not make the mistake of sanitising Idi Amin. As mentioned already, he was a nasty piece of work who not only expelled a minority of migrant Asians from Uganda in a most brutal fashion, encouraging his soldiers to engage in widespread thefts and rapes; but he also expelled fellow Africans – Kenyans. Further, he was equally brutal at home to his own people.
The pages of history cannot be ignored. They are to be viewed upon, to chart a sagacious path for the morrow. The systematic disenfranchisement of East Africans by migrant Asians is rooted in the policies of the British colonial era. In essence, it was a form of British economic colonialism, upon which an Indian face became the agency. In all of Britain’s former colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa, a de-indigenisation policy was put in place by the British Empire, whereby South Asians (Pakistanis and Indians specifically) were brought in from British India to do clerical work and semi-skilled manual labour (i.e farming, construction work, etc) in imperial service. Britain cocooned Asians in elitist and coveted power spheres such as sartorial and banking businesses. In the 1890s, a good 32,000 labourers were brought in from South Asia to work on the construction of the Uganda Railway, under indentured labour contracts. Although most of them returned home after the railway’s completion, some 6,724 of them decided to remain in East Africa where they continued to occupy higher statuses over the vast majority of natives. They used their influence to acquire more agricultural estates and to further concentrate their presence in spheres of economic power. In Uganda for example, the tariff system was historically skewed in favour of the economic interests of Asian traders. Also, as already mentioned, Asian representation was visibly high in sartorial and banking businesses. It was thus easy to stereotype them as bankers and ‘controllers of wealth’. It was also easy to paternalistically envy them as the ‘dealers of style’. Further, although they constituted 1% of the population, they also received one-fifth of the overall national income. They were called dukawallahs, which was an occupational term at first but soon degenerated into an anti-Indian slur that meant ‘the traders’. They were quite influential in other sectors in Uganda and often provided elite healthcare and schooling to ‘their own’ in gated ethnic communities. Indophobia was so high during Idi Amin’s reign although it did predate Idi Amin and existed in the previous Milton Obote government. It is safe to say that Indophobia was the native’s direct reaction to a British colonial system of indirect economic exploitation in which the British took power from the natives and gave it to migrants. Whereas in Zimbabwe, the British visibly administered control over the native’s economy, in Uganda they created an Asian administrative and elitist class. Amin capitalised on stereotypes of Indians as ‘controllers of wealth’, scapegoated them and eventually expelled all Indian migrants from Uganda. The point to this piece is not to chronicle the immigration and eventual expulsion of Indians from Uganda. Acknowledging this aspect of Indian-African history serves only as an introduction. The double edged-point to this piece is to question the de-indigenisation of prestige at the MTV Africa Music Awards and to illuminate the anti-Black racism that till this day remains rife in India. One may not agree with Idi Amin’s choice of policy in rectifying what he considered a visible economic and paternalistic threat against the natives. However, his policy at the time was supported by many Ugandan natives who felt power was being snatched from them by migrants who weren’t even indigenous to the continental abode. Many of the natives felt that the exaltation of the migrants was a slap in the face of hardworking and skilled natives who already existed in ample supply. Ugandans were systematically de-skilled by Britain’s de-indegenization policy on Ugandan land. Suffice to say, they resented the British but took their umbrage out on the 1% Indians whom the British imposed on them.
Recently, what could be described as a similar de-indigenisation debacle was staged at the MTV MAMAs 2014 ceremony. They prepared a category for Leadership Award presumably to celebrate indigenous leadership from amongst the African people. After pitting the names of five acts (the others from Uganda, South Africa (2) and Nigeria), four of which were indigenous Africans, they awarded the prize to Ashish J. Thakkar an Indian! An Indian awarded a continental leadership prize at an award ceremony said to produce the best Africa has to offer? Why, in what way is he an indigenous product? When does the reverse ever happen in India?
The winner Thakkar describes himself as “a native son of the [African] soil, with Indian roots and British nationality”. Unfortunately, these are no longer the days when anyone can simply be a bit of everything, add something-African to the mix and violá, qualify to be a symbol of African prestige. When NGO’s are promoting poverty porn out of Africa, hardly does anyone ever argue about who the acceptable representational figure should be. It is patronising to the indigenous people of Africa to award a non-indigene with continental leadership award, on a platform as far-reaching and identity-branded as the MTV MAMAs. Again, it is insulting to the indigenous people of Africa to award a non-indigene with continental leadership award, on a platform as far-reaching and identity-branded as the MTV Africa Music Awards! No African, no matter his achievement, investments potential in India or anywhere else, will ever be recognised in any way remotely close. In the U.S where Blacks have garnered significant prestige for themselves on a land that is not native to Blacks, they still don’t have a Black person for president. What they have is a mixed-race man appointed to lead the nation. In the entertainment sector, it was their own alternative platforms (the likes of BET, Motown) not those of the establishment, that truly chauffeured African American brilliance to visibility. Their subjugation was sealed in the fact that they were the visible descendants of African natives. Coming back to Thakkar, one cannot be a native son of the African soil when one is not native-lly African. What Thakkar is, is an adopted son of the soil who at best defends and promotes the native culture, but he cannot be “native” whilst being rooted elsewhere. Are African Americans native Americans? Are Black Brits native Europeans? No and no. It may seem a somewhat trivial issue to some, but the native debate is very important where Africa and India are concerned. First of all, there are no prominent African figures in India. Not in her government, civil service, media, entertainment industry or any other note-worthy sector. MTV certainly does not award native Africans with anything prestigious on the MTV India platform. Why then are there different standards in Africa? Is Africa a free bus ride to anyone with money? Or is it the scrawny pottage of money and lightskin that the African ancestral inheritance is so readily sold to?
India’s Anti-African Racism
Rather than clap as non-natives like Thakkar are awarded prominent leadership awards meant for natives, a question should be posed as to why Blacks don’t receive such awards in India. Bollywood has no prominent Black figure, in an industry that constantly indoctrinates Indians to utterly despise the dark skinned. By “Black”, one is not here expecting Bollywood to go shopping for actresses in Africa, one is expecting Bollywood to recognise its own dark skinned fellow countryfolk! The very dark skinned Indians who look like indigenous Africans rocking a cool perm! Or does human talent exist on the basis of melanin? Don’t dark-skinned actors/actresses thrive in the U.S where Jim Crow laws were once the norm? Racial profiling that works against the dusky is the bedrock of Bollywood’s casting. It’s even caused some to ask: ‘why Bollywood does not have a single Dalit superstar – lack of talent or selective rejection’? Dalits are the predominantly dark-skinned lower caste strata of the Indian society. There are approximately 167 million of them, constituting more than 16% of India’s total population with tens of millions in other South Asian countries. They fall outside the traditional four-tiered Indian caste system. They truly are the lowest of all lows and face discrimination at almost every level in the Indian society and industry! When it comes to access to education, employment, representation in spheres of influence, Dalits are the utmost last to be considered. National-award winning actress Usha Jadhav who is much lighter-skinned than most Dalits aptly lamented during an interview that “many producers refused to cast me because of the colour of my skin. They’d say that they want a fair girl to play the heroine”. And she isn’t even Dalit! Jadhav is merely lower middle class! Compare Bollywood’s overall mentality to that of MTV MAMAs leadership recognition and one is left with the whitewashing of melanin in both coveted categories.
It is the mindset of the self-hating African and the racist anti-African apologist to argue that there is nothing wrong with Thakkar being awarded with indigenous African prestige. ‘Why shouldn’t he be awarded the title, they say?’ ‘Who is to decide that he is not native to the land?’ ‘Oh but he’s an extremely influential and successful business man who has made a lot of investments in Africa – Isn’t that leadership?’ Well, why aren’t Africans reaching influential positions in India? Is it because Africans are lazy as is the stereotype African migrant students in India often have to fight against? Is it because Africans just don’t have the same business savvy as Hindus? Of course the answer to those are no. It has nothing to do with being lazy or lacking ingenuity. Even if said African(s) worked overtime in India, invested heart and soul and praised the native ancestral culture incessantly, they would still not rise to a similar level of prominence or prestige. There are systems in India designed to decollate and usurp any such non-native upward mobility. The argument in India’s academia used to justify this native favouritism is ‘India first’ which often also translates to ‘Hindu first’. In India where Thakkar is native to, ideally, African Thakkars would be told that leadership jobs should go to the higher Brahmin caste, the natives, Hindus – not the African son who promotes and defends the Indian ancestral heritage. In India, the African Thakkars would invest and make profits from their investments but they would not ascend to any prominent leadership positions! The extent to which the African would even be allowed to invest is also debatable as the glass ceilings systematically put in place are there to guarantee economic opportunities for the Indian first. To be very clear, the purpose of this writing is not to fault native-centric outlook in India. Native favouritism is a beautiful and grounded ideal. Native-centric idealism is the antidote to foreign economic exploitation and other agencies of colonialism. The purpose of this writing however is to contrast India’s native-centrism with the lack of native-centric idealism in Africa – and particularly on a continental native-heralding platform such as the MAMAs.
For an African Thakkar to spring out from India, he would firstly have to be Hindu (not in the religious sense but ancestrally, which could be a Muslim Indian). He would have become Hindu through an African-Hindu inter-marriage somewhere in his ancestral line. Or he would have to marry a Hindu himself and then wait for his second or third generation offspring to become the native Indian flag bearer. This is the simple reason why there are no prestigious or prominent Blacks in India – Blacks in India are visible descendants of native Africans, not Native Hindus. India’s dark-skinned predominantly occupy her lower caste strata. The caste stratification in turn plays a vital role in power allocation. Black-centered news websites frequently compile multiple reports of anti-Black racism prevalent in India. Black people targeted and punished for no other reason than the fact they are Black! In some even more horrid cases, Black and African migrant. Firstly, dark-skinned Indians are stratified to a lower status. Then Black migrants from Africa are profiled as prostitutes, drug dealers, lazy, a stain and other appellations worthy of abuse. Anti-Black racism in India often goes beyond mere abuse and manifests itself in rapes and fatal mob violence. What’s more unacceptable and shocking is that India’s police has often been complicit in perpetuating these anti-African racist onslaughts. In the case of a 24-year old Rwandese woman who was gang-raped, her attacker was ‘well-connected’ and the police reportedly tried to suppress the incident from being reported in the media. Did diplomatic sanctions from Africa follow? No. Blacks in India often have to protest on the streets, deliberately creating road blocks, in order to force the police to take action when racism is perpetuated against them. By so doing, they undoubtedly end up inciting more annoyance from Indian pedestrians and drivers. India’s Dalits don’t seem to be in an uproar about continuous attacks on African migrants. Dark-skinned Indian activists who have spoken out in the past have been labelled ‘Nigerian’ – as though it were meant to be an insult. What’s more, in spite of the numerous cases of racial stereotyping and racist attacks prevalent in India, the country has no anti-racist law. There are laws criminalising discrimination on different grounds but none on the grounds of racism. The good news is that a number of campaigners in india are currently clamouring to introduce anti-racism legislation. It is questionable how successful they will be considering that the racist Bollywood itself is an influential lobby, powerful enough to contest policies that will drastically undermine its casting regiment.
African institutions must be mindful to award prestige and privileges to non-natives with a pinch of salt. There are mutual benefits boundaries that must be recognised. If on this account of de-indigenising prestige at the MAMAs, MTV merely made a mistake, then MTV should be mindful to not repeat the same mistake in the future. MTV shouldn’t even dare to! If on the other hand, MTV merely sought to amplify the African’s failure to be as native-centric as other nationalists are, point taken! India to Indian natives, Africa to African natives. Possessing a desire to promote good-will, charity and equality on a pan-racial scale is no excuse to shamelessly exalt self-hate on a continental platform.
©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.