Why isn’t India part of Tanzanian, or even African public discourse?

Monday October 16 2023

President Samia Suluhu Hassan addresses business leaders and investors at an India-Tanzania business forum in New Delhi, India October 10, 2023. PHOTO | IKULU TANZANIA


India. President Samia Suluhu Hassan just travelled there to strengthen the ties that bind us. I have to hold on to the belief that Tanzanian presidents just happen to get awarded honorary degrees when they travel overseas because they are deserving statesmen from a copacetic country, and no other reason.

Back here in the not-capital of Dar es Salaam, I am being made aware as I never was before about the sub-continent that sits large to the northeast of here.

I have been taking India for granted in the same way that I take Nigeria for granted: It is there, it is big, I can safely ignore it because of it smacks of mutual interest rather than imperial predation.

Part of what I consider the blessing of living on the Swahili Coast is the cosmopolitan society. When it comes to food, the Lake Zone of Africa might have some of the most beautiful produce that this green earth has ever yielded, but the people who know how to cook it best live on the coast. The samosas and bhajias of Dar are staple, as are any institutions and influences on our communal life. So why is it that India as a topic and destination has been so “small” in our public conversations?

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It seems weird, for example, that we have more conversations about China in Africa than about India. And yet India has been here directly since the days of the British Empire. Is that the problem, that slight colonial tang? I hope not because we also have a heavy Arab influence and that encounter was not bloodless either. Post-colonial life demands an acceptance of unsavoury beginnings if one is to move ahead in a reasonable manner anyways.


It’s just that India really doesn’t come up much in conversation about it being a superpower. And I find myself admiring the country for it. My favourite flavour of benevolent imperial impulse, if such a thing exists, is subtlety and cultural infiltration. It took browsing through some economic data some years back to stumble on the fact that India is a major trading partner. Seems obvious doesn’t it? What with the historic Indian Ocean trade and all that?

And more recently India is open to trading internationally in the rupee and the local currency, side-stepping the need for the US dollar. The Anglo-American media decided, quite narcissistically, that this had to do with Brics and the war in Ukraine and some kind of power move. Maybe they’re right, the timing sure was interesting. But maybe it was more than that, the slow occupation of India in the space it has grown itself organically on the international stage.

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What drove this home for me, more than the globe’s reliance on Indian excellence in all things computer programming, was the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission, which made India the fourth country to land on the moon. I find this infinitely more encouraging for humanity than any other space news I have heard of late. Such an achievement by fellow eaters of plantain who brought over chai, yoga and Bollywood feels accessible. I can dig it. But it does leave me with a question in the wake of my Head of State’s trip. Why aren’t they more frequent? Why, indeed, isn’t India a bigger part of the Tanzanian public discourse and the African one at large?

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]