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Unheralded, Indians in Africa make good money

December 26, 2013 / by Kul Bhushan

Indians are quietly making good money in Africa. Unlike the Indians in Britain and the US, they go quietly about it. As individuals or corporations, Indians rake in the moolah, contribute to the local economies and national progress. All these achievements hardly ever make news in India.

The big investors from India are doing very well indeed, thank you. Competing against global MNCs, the Indian investors have established themselves in traditional industries, agriculture and new ones like IT.

Once in a while, the Indian media carries news about Airtel or Tata on their expansion drives or forays into new avenues/countries. The profits they rake in are kept under wraps.

One gets a peek at the Indian settlement and contribution in a new book, "Indians in Emerging Africa" by K. Sital (published by 'The Indian' magazine in Hong Kong) who covers Indian involvement in nine African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Rwanda and Burundi. A successful businessman in Hong Kong, Sital has published and edited an NRI magazine for over 40 years.

Why only these African countries? Because Sital travelled to these countries where he has good contacts and met the leading Indian entrepreneurs and industrialists, and wrote their profiles with an overview of Indian contribution. This personal effort is commendable instead of researching in New Delhi or even worse, surfing the Internet.

Indians are not settled in large numbers in all 52 African countries as some have a few hundred or even less. But in some countries like Zambia, they have a key presence. However, the inclusion of Rwanda and Burundi is laudable because very little is known about Indian activities in these two small countries west of Uganda.

Rwanda has flourished with over seven percent economic growth since 2004 and hailed as the fastest reformer of business regulations globally by the World Bank. The opportunities for profit could not be ignored. In May 2013, a delegation of Indian investors visited Kigali to explore the potential. A top Indian real estate developer has bagged a $135m township development project. The small 2,500 Indian community in Kigali is active in many industries, construction, education and IT.

Burundi is rich in high value minerals like nickel, cobalt, copper, gold and uranium. Burundi also needs assistance in farming. How can these opportunities be ignored? The local Indians, originally from Uganda, are doing what they can and prospering but major Indian investments could reap rich rewards. Both these countries have their embassies in New Delhi.

With a population of 1.3 million Indians, South Africa is the most well-known African nation in India. Since South Africa makes constant news with cricket, flying there to watch the big matches followed by safaris comes naturally. Plus, South Africa's aggressive tourism promotion has made it a top safari destination for Indians, never mind that Kenya has far better and more extensive safari attractions. But Kenya does not have the huge funds for massive promotion in India to tap the outbound tourist market.

Nigeria with 50,000 Indians, mostly Sindhis, shows how traders have become industrialists. Kenya, with a population of 100,000, largely Gujaratis, also shows the same trend. After its independence in 1963, Indians traders were given quit notices to make way for Africans; so they started factories to provide jobs for Africans and earn profits. Indian companies have invested in Kenyan horticulture, tea plantations and agriculture in addition to industries.

The Indian story in Uganda is well known. When dictator Idi Amin kicked out the Indians, thousands fled to Britain and other countries. Uganda under President Moseweni started to woo them back in the 1990s. Forty years later, Indians have notched up great successes in Britain. Now with about 30,000 Indians, Uganda has substantial investments from India.

In neighbouring Tanzania, about 40,000 Indians are quietly working as traders in urban areas while some have ventured in industries. India is a top trading partner for Tanzania.

Under President Robert Mugabe's rule, Zimbabwe still has a community of about 10,000 Indians, mostly traders and small scale industrialists. Most interesting is the minute Indian presence in Zimbabwe's government and public life as given in this book that contains profiles and addresses of major Indian businesses in these countries.

India has sponsored two major India-Africa Forum Summits in 2008 and 2011 to further boost its bilateral ties. The Indian entrepreneurs in Africa profiled in this book are probably doing more than the efforts at the government to government level.

(The views expressed above are the personal views of the author)

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Unheralded, Indians in Africa make good money