Ever wondered why Kenyan-Asians seem to be so successful in their respective fields?
I have too. A couple of times already!
Kenyans of Asian origin are proprietors of large successful companies, 5 star hotels, thriving retail and wholesale shops, travel agencies, hospitals and schools (most of which attribute their existence to foundations spearheaded by Kenyan-Asians), well known supermarket chains, media publications…and the list goes on.
So when you see a Muhindi (Indian) driving the latest car model in Nairobi and residing in the affluent Westlands or Lavington or Karen area, you are sure to attribute his or her wealth, to a highly successful, business venture.
But why is this so?
Asian migration to modern day Kenya, began with the construction of the Uganda railway between 1896 and 1901 when some 32,000 indentured laborers were recruited from British India. (Wikipedia)
Although many of the Indian coolies as they were referred to then, lost their lives during the construction of the railway line, as a result of the harsh conditions and the vicious lions from the Tsavo, otherwise referred to as the Tsavo maneaters, once it was complete, quite a number chose to stay.
Their families from India would later join them. According to the description given by Wikipedia, the early Indian settlers were mainly from Gujarat and Punjab provinces of India.
Unlike black Africans, Asians were permitted to reside legally in Nairobi in what was then a burgeoning white settler town. (Wikipedia)
By the 1920s, Indian settlers in Kenya, were more economically stable as compared to the Kenyans of African origin. After World War II, they were already active in several fields in Nairobi. Their entrepreneurial skills further praised for its contribution to the Kenyan economy.
It is quite interesting to note that in modern day Kenya, many of these highly successful Asian owned businesses are family run. According to an article by Pravin K R on workehow.com, titled INDIA, A CULTURAL LENSE;
Indians have a strong family bonding, they live together as large families and don’t have a concept of moving out of the house at 18 and for them the strangest thing is calling parents for an appointment. This strong bonding comes from the courage of their parents to sacrifice everything for the future of kids.
Perhaps this could explain why the Kenyan-Asians prefer running their businesses as a family. It could also be the reason why the money stays within the family unit and ends up serving the future generations of the same family, who equally carry the mantle of their patriarch, in ensuring that the business continues to thrive. It is not uncommon, to walk into an Indian owned business in my country and to see a photo of the patriarch of the family, who is credited with starting the business, proudly hanging somewhere overhead.
I was surprised to read an article, THE HINDU WORK ETHIC, by a guest writer simply identified as Dota, on the blog http://www.robertlindsay.wordpress.com where he (i believe it’s a he) goes on to critic the Indian work ethic. According to the article, Indians are poor time keepers and cannot seem to work without supervision when compared to the West. He goes on to state that India’s skilled labor is lacking in training thus lagging behind in infrastructure development.
Kenyans might echo in my surprise of this revelation, because the Indians in my country are known to be the best time keepers. If an Indian shop selling something as simple as spices is supposed to be opened at 7 am, then you are sure to find the owner at his desk at 7 am in the morning! He/she will equally expect his workers to be at the shop by 7 sharp.
Kenyans of African descent in the past have been known to complain about Indian employers, as a result of the crude nature they tend to treat their employees with. Indian employers are known to be quite strict bordering on harshness. A simple work related mistake can quickly earn you a sacking. They also never seem to be understanding of their workers’ needs and may often times, not even bother forging an amicable rapport with their employees most being of African origin.
It is quite interesting and refreshing to see this writer Dota, touch on the caste system in India and how this perspective by Indians, seems to be working against India’s economy. If the lower caste in Indian society has always been associated with darker skinned individuals and jobs considered useless for eons, then you are sure to find a section of close minded modern day Indians, still stuck with this misplaced notion. And this therefore, explains why some Indian employers have been known to look down upon their African employees with dark skin. The colonialists further stamping this belief that Asians were considered of a higher class than Africans.
However, not all Asian employers in Kenya possess this kind of reasoning. There are Kenyans of Asian origin who would gladly work with an African anytime! Who would even consider partnering with a Kenyan of African descent in business! It should be noted that the caste system is equally fading in India and especially in urban areas. One thing that Dota touches on that I find very important is that loyalty to one’s employer in contemporary India is considered virtuous.
No wonder an Indian would not tolerate an employee stealing from the company. Those who have worked for Indian bosses in the past can attest to this fact that Indians value loyalty. They value honesty in work dealings. Dishonesty is hardly ever tolerated by an Indian boss and many who have thought of stealing from an Asian entity, have ended up being fired or in police custody.
I tend to attribute the success of Asian owned businesses to the kind of dedication they put into their ventures. For an Indian, a business is not only a solo venture but something intended to benefit the whole family. We cannot confidently state that families do not have squabbles. All families do but the Asians have over time developed a way of dealing silently with these squabbles, without letting their family ventures suffer gravely.
Indians are highly industrious. They will keep on trying business ventures until they find one which works for them. If a Muhindi opens a fabric shop which a few months down the line, starts to show signs of recording more losses than profits, then you are sure to find the shop closed. In a couple of weeks, you will find a hardware shop replacing the fabric shop with the same owner. In short, they are not at all afraid of taking business risks all in a quest to find that which will be highly beneficial to them.
Indians will instill a work ethic in their children early on. It is not uncommon to find high school going Asian children helping out in the shop on school holidays. In time, these children exposed to their fathers’ businesses will develop a deep understanding of the need to be useful in society in future. It does not matter if their parents take them abroad to study an engineering course, over the holidays if they get a chance to fly back home, you will find them in that sweet shop helping their parents.
Other than the secret superiority wars between Kenyans of Asian and African descent, we can’t really fail to acknowledge that without the input of the Indians in our midst, our economy wouldn’t have been where it is at the moment.