New Books Network

Sana Aiyar

Indians in Kenya

The Politics of Diaspora

Harvard University Press 2015

New Books in African StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books in the Indian Ocean WorldNew Books in World Affairs September 10, 2020 Micheal Rumore and Ahmed AlMaazmi

In Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora (Harvard University Press, 2015), Sana Aiyer investigates how Indian diasporic actors influenced the course of Kenya’s political...

In Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora (Harvard University Press, 2015), Sana Aiyer investigates how Indian diasporic actors influenced the course of Kenya’s political history, from partnering with Europeans in their colonial mission in East Africa to political solidarity with Africans in their anticolonial struggles. Working as merchants, skilled tradesmen, clerks, lawyers, and journalists, Indians formed the economic and administrative middle class in colonial Kenya. In general, they were wealthier than Africans, but were denied the political and economic privileges that Europeans enjoyed. Moreover, despite their relative prosperity, Indians were precariously positioned in Kenya. Africans usually viewed them as outsiders, and Europeans largely considered them subservient. Indians demanded recognition on their own terms. Thus, Indians in Kenya chronicles the competing, often contradictory, strategies by which the South Asian diaspora sought a political voice in Kenya from the beginning of colonial rule in the late 1890s to independence in the 1960s.

Indians in Kenya also explores how the hierarchical structures of colonial governance, the material inequities between Indians and Africans, and the racialized political discourses in both colonial and postcolonial Kenya limited the possibilities for solidarities across race and class lines. Aiyar demonstrates that only by examining the ties that bound Indians to worlds on both sides of the Indian Ocean can we understand how Kenya came to terms with its South Asian minority.

Sana Aiyar is an associate professor of history at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Micheal Rumore is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. His work focuses on the Indian Ocean as an African diasporic site. He can be reached at mrumore@gradcenter.cuny.edu.

Ahmed Yaqoub AlMaazmi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University. His research focuses on the intersection of law and the environment across the western Indian Ocean. He can be reached by email at almaazmi@princeton.edu or on Twitter @Ahmed_Yaqoub. Listeners’ feedback, questions, and book suggestions are most welcome.