South Asian Nationalism in an East African Context: The Case of Tanganyika, 1914-1956

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An analysis of South Asian nationalism and its overlap with other nationalisms provides an alternative framework to understand the political history of Indians in colonial East Africa and their relations with Africans. South Asian nationalists in East Africa were Janus-faced, playing the role of sub-imperialists as well as anti-colonialists. In the case of Tanganyika, Indian nationalists sought to make German East Africa an Indian colony following World War I, yet also contributed greatly to the nationalist movement for independence in the 1950s. Analyses anchored in anti-colonialism alone flatten these contradictions, and the pervasive framework of African nationalism has obscured the scope and ambition of South Asian nationalists. Before the 1950s, the Indian National Congress and Muslim League inspired the formation of similarly ambitious organizations among East Africa's Indians. Far from being apolitical, South Asians were - excepting Kenya's white settlers - the most politically ambitious community on mainland East Africa until the 1950s. Indian nationalism long preceded African nationalism in East Africa, and it divided as well as united the South Asian community. Discourses of racial paternalism undergirded by occupational and economic differentiation structured political relations between Indians and Africans. South Asian and African nationalisms overlapped in Tanganyika, resulting in something more than anti-colonialism. The ideas and activities of South Asian nationalists influenced African nationalists, but this interaction ultimately constituted a separate political identity for Africans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-38
Number of pages15
JournalComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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