This Weeks ‘CNN’ Inside Africa explores the roots and influence of Kenyan Asians



Host Soni Methu travels to Fort Jesus and Old Port Mombasa – where the family lines of most Kenyan Asians began in East Africa

They came to build a great railway between Uganda and Kenya, and as as the line moved through Kenya, so did their communities.

This week on ‘Inside Africa’, host Soni Methu travels from Mombasa to Kisumu, discovering the roots of Kenya’s Asians, and the legacy of the Ugandan railway.

The British Government, which in effect ran Mombasa in the late 1800s, decided to build a railway to open up trade to Kenya and Uganda. Nearly 50 years earlier, they had started building railways in India, so Punjabi engineers and laborers already had the necessary skills. More than thirty thousand workers were brought over to Africa.

Suddenly, Mombasa had a large Asian community and a variety of shops opened in order to service them, and this where Methu’s journey on ‘Inside Africa’ begins.

At a local Asian ladies lunch club, Methu asks a patron what businesses her family is involved in.

“We have commodities, transport and various other things. Indians have been traders, and economically they play a very big role in the Kenyan economy. Because most of the big industries in Kenya are either family-owned by Asians or top management are Asians”, the patron tells Methu.

As the railway expanded to the western districts of Nairobi, many Indians also settled there.  Methu meets Asian descendants who are still contributing to the cultural richness of modern Nairobi, where Indian shops and temples line the streets alongside signs for yoga and Indian dance schools.

Komal Shah is one of the many Kenyan Asians who run their own business, teaching yoga. Methu comments that the Asian community contributes greatly to the Kenyan economy. Shah agrees, telling the programme: “Firstly, we have a lot of family support and secondly, we have discipline. My grandfather started his own business with his cousins and immediately my father finished his education, he joined the business. There is the grooming that if there is a family business and man power is required, that we work in the family business.”

Methu asks Shah whether she, her relatives and friends consider themselves to be more Kenyan or Asian.

“I proudly say that I am a Kenyan. I would not like to be distinguished as a Kenyan from a different region of the world. I am born here and a third generation Asian Kenyan and I proudly call myself Kenyan!” Shah replies conclusively.

Join CNN ‘Inside Africa’ host Soni Methu on a journey from Mombasa to Kisumu, only on CNN International today (5th December) at 2030.

You can find CNN on DStv channel 401 and will air this on: Saturday at 1430 and 2130, Sunday at 0730, Tuesday at 1230