Letter from New Delhi — Kenya’s Indian Diaspora Readies to Welcome PM Modi

Kenya’s Indian Diaspora has been urged not to miss the historic welcome event for Indian Prime Minister Narendera Modi on 10 July 2016 by Dr Manu Chandaria, the Convener of the Advisory Committee of the Karibu (Welcome in Swahili) Kenya Modiji Planning and Coordination Committee.

“We have played a significant role in Kenya’s development and want to create an image as builders of this nation. We are in our fifth generation in Kenya and yet some sections of the indigenous population are not aware of our role in the development of this nation – we must address that.”

“PM Modi’s visit to Kenya will improve our prestige as people. We need him to create a face for us, better than what we have right now. And if we want to continue our presence in this region for another century, we must remain united as an Asian community and continue to contribute to development…that will open the door for the progress of our communities.”

Dr Manu Chandaria appealed to the Indian community to register themselves and motivate at least 10 of their friends and relatives as well. “Let our numbers show our strength,” said Dr Chandaria who is a leading industrialist, community leader, and philanthropist honoured with numerous awards, including the Pravasi Bharitiya Samman.

Launching a registration portal, www.kenyawelcomesmodi.org, for this landmark event on 6 June, Dr Chandaria said the turnout would go a long way in repositioning the image of Indians in the minds of the Kenyan people. All forms are verified by the relevant community organisations as submission does not guarantee free admission. The application deadline is 18 June 2016 and about 10,000 have reportedly applied for the expected 20,000 strong audience. The venue in Nairobi has not been disclosed yet due to security reasons as Kenya has suffered terror attacks in the past.

Kenya hosts one of Africa’s larger Indian Diaspora that waits in anticipation. Indian Diaspora members from neighbouring countries are expected to attend this event. Kenya has an estimated 80,000 Indians with 50,000 in Tanzania, around 20,000 in Uganda and 13,000 in Zambia.

Karibu Kenya Modiji brings together the Indian community in Kenya from diverse religious and social backgrounds, generations and regions. Although Indians have sailed to East Africa for 2000 years and established shops on this coast, the modern migration started with the building of the Uganda Railways in 1896 with around ,500 workers. More joined them over the years. The vast majority of Kenyan Indians came from Gujarat with strong links with India. Punjabis came next followed by other communities. The Indian Diaspora in Kenya is diverse and there are several associations representing different communities, which run places of worship and schools. The Hindu Council of Kenya is an umbrella body with organisations of other groups of Ismailis, Bohras and Goans among others.

Indians are also expected from neighbouring countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Congo and Zambia. The event is billed as ‘a must attend’ spectacle with a cultural show featuring the best of Indian and Kenyan African talent. Of course, the highlight will be a landmark speech by Prime Minister Modi.

Karibu Kenya Modiji pays tribute to the deep ties between India and Kenya, highlighting the important contribution made by members of the Indian Diaspora in all walks of Kenyan life. “Karibu Kenya Modiji is honoured to host this new global visionary who will give us a glimpse of India in the years to come as it forges new paradigms of growth and success for not just Asia but also the rest of the world,” according to the organisers.

The ‘Karibu Kenya Modiji Organising Committee’ is an organisation promoting Kenya-India relations for communities, by communities. The committee “pays tribute to the deep ties between India and Kenya, highlighting the formidable contribution made by members of the Indian Diaspora in all walks of life in Kenya.”

The Modi speech on 10 July has been billed as Nairobi’s Diwali event of this year.

* * *

A Close Encounter with Muhammad Ali

In 1980, the greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali visited Nairobi, Kenya, where I met him. He came for a very peculiar reason.

US President Jimmy Carter had announced that the US would boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics, but feared the US would be embarrassed if other countries failed to follow their lead. As a major sporting nation and winner of so many Olympic medals in athletics, Kenya’s support in this ban was crucial.

To ensure that Kenya boycotted these Olympics, President Carter enlisted the support of three time heavyweight world champion, Muhammad Ali, who was a superhero in Africa. Enlisting the boxer’s support was quite easy since he himself was not in good terms with the Russians. Muhammad Ali received a grand reception in Kenya, and met President Moi who announced the boycott. Later, he went into the boxing ring for a bout with a Kenyan boxer and amazed the crowd with his lightening moves; so it was no wonder that the crowd shouted, ‘Ali! Ali!’ instead of encouraging the Kenyan boxer.

During this visit, I covered his press conference where he said getting Kenya to boycott the Moscow Olympics was a big victory as Kenya was number one nation in track and field events. He answered many questions including why he changed his religion after his chucked his Olympic gold medal in the river after he was denied service in a restaurant and harassed by a gang of whites because he was coloured.

He also explained why he did not join the army to fight in Vietnam War claiming conscientious objector status and lost his title when he was at the top of his career. He never went to prison while his case was under appeal and in 1971 the US Supreme Court overturned the conviction.

He met world leaders but he was a very simple man who connected with everyone he met. When I requested him to autograph his photo, he readily agreed much to my delight.

“Who’s this guy?” asked Muhammad Ali when he saw Osho in a locket in my mala (rosary) as I bent to shake his hand at a reception by the American ambassador in Nairobi, Kenya.

“He’s the greatest,” I replied.

Ali was not amused. Did I spot him clenching his fist? Explaining why I thought my guru was the greatest to the greatest boxer did not seem a prudent course of action just then. Diplomatically, I told him he was my guru or master. Giving him a brief lecture on my guru Osho would be out of context but he was intrigued with the colour of all my clothes, all in orange.

This incident sprung to my mind with the passing away of the greatest boxer of all time. He will remain an inspiration for all who fight for human rights and justice.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

* Published in print edition on 17 June 2016

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