Why naming of Kenya’s 44th tribe should not be trivialised

You could dismiss the idea of proclaiming Kenyan Asians as the country’s 44th tribe as an empty political gesture.

For me, I choose not to trivialise the whole thing because I believe that behind the phenomenon we sometimes describe as the ‘Asian Question’ in Kenya are deep issues touching on minority rights and discrimination.

When we talk about minority rights, Kenya Asians are usually not in that equation.

We have a deeply-ingrained mindset that makes no distinction between kinship and citizenship.

Many years after independence, we are yet to embrace the concept of compatriots in our mindsets.


Even though we are yet to see the list of rights and benefits that the Kenya Asian will enjoy now that the community has been proclaimed as the 44th tribe of Kenya, the gesture by the government should get us thinking about the rights of this minority.

There is a difference between citizens by accident and citizens by choice.

Unlike most of us who did not decide where to be born, the Kenya Asians are from descendants of people who became Kenyan citizens by choice.

Indeed, at independence, you were allowed to choose between being a Kenyan citizen and a citizen of the UK.

The period between 1963 and 1969 will go down in our history as the time when the Kenya Asian businesspeople endured most blatant cases of injustice by the political elite.


In the name of the policy of Africanisation, Asians were given quit notices from their businesses and their shops allocated, by “provincial allocation committees”, chaired by provincial commissioners, to local oligarchs.

Under the 1967 Trade Licensing Act, provincial allocation committees literally banned Asians from operating shops in rural areas and in non-central of major towns.

The populists of the day, the likes of the late Butere MP Martin Shikuku made political careers stoking resentment against a minority they often dismissed as paper citizens.

During the era of price controls, no Budget speech would happen without a major swoop on shops owned by Asians, conducted, ostensibly to flush out greedy merchants and hoarders.

This history is what has over the years turned this minority into a politically docile group of citizens prepared to endure injustice with servility.


Although the minority represents an economically critical segment of the population, you rarely find them represented within the state apparatus, the civil service bureaucracy, the police, the defence forces, parastatals, and Parliament. 

But I will not pen off on a story about the injustices this minority has endured without recounting the tribulations and predicament of a personal friend of mine, Ramesh Gupta, who used to own property around Jeevanjee Gardens within Nairobi’s central business district.

Apparently, many senior citizen Kenya Asians living in Nairobi have recently become the victims of  politically influential land scammers with an eye on very old property leases that are about to expire.

Gupta lived alone in a house in Parklands, having divorced his wife, and after his children migrated to the UK. It came as a shock to me one day when a friend called to inform me that my friend had been killed by robbers in his house.


I subsequently attended his funeral at a Hindu Temple in Parklands where I had an opportunity to interact with many of his friends.

From what I gathered there, there were several harrowing stories of cases of how senior citizens from this community are living in uncertain times over properties whose leases are about to expire.

What is my point in all this? That proclaiming Kenyan Asians as the 44th tribe will only have meaning if we start changing mindsets that regard members of this minority community as paper citizens.

We must ask ourselves the following questions: Now that they have been proclaimed as a Kenyan minority tribe, should we expect them to start being treated as other minorities, especially in terms of equal representation in public appointments?


Should we expect to see appointments of members of the community to the police service, permanent secretaries and teachers?

 And, no community in this country has suffered the consequences of bank failure like the ordinary man and woman from this community.

Now that they have been proclaimed as the 44th tribe of  Kenya, are we likely to see closure and quick disposal of the receiverships of banks owned by members of this community that have collapsed?

Nearly 1,800 depositors of the fallen Trust Bank have been waiting for their cash for 18 years. We should not trivialise the proclamation of Kenya Asians as the country’s 44th tribe. 

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