Ambiguous Belongings: Anxiety and Potentiality among People of Indian Origin in Tanzania

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesisResearch

Since the middle of the 19th century, people of Indian origin have lived in East
Africa where they have formed isolated and endogamous communities. The
Indians came from Gujarat, which at that time was tormented by draught and
famine. They utilized the potentials of an undeveloped market and settled as
traders and brokers. In the colonial period, when society was divided into
segregated racial groups, the Indians came to form a middleman minority inbetween
British citizens and African subjects, and thus served as a buffer between
the elite and the masses. At the time of Tanzania’s independence, the Indian
minority were by Africans seen as the face of exploitation and thereby the negation
of Uhuru (freedom), Ujamaa (familyhood) and the growing nativism. Having
secured themselves through strategic citizenship practices and strong transnational
networks, thousands of Indians left the country in the years following the
Independence, and particularly after the nationalizations in 1971 that were targeted
specifically on the economically privileged minority. Those who stayed back, made
sure to ‘keep the doors open’ to a life abroad.
In this dissertation, which is based on 11 months of ethnographic fieldwork
in Moshi, Tanzania, and in London, UK, I explore and analyze intersections of
local and transnational belonging, purity, citizenship strategies, networks, and claims
for recognition as ‘good citizens’. Arguing that the uncertainty, which has been a
fundamental condition for the Indians in Tanzania since the Independence, should
be viewed not only as generating anxiety but also potentiality, I suggest that there is
a need for new metaphors to think with in the examination of certain kinds of
migrant minorities. Ambiguous Belongings denotes a way of being in the world.
Throughout the thesis, I examine the ambiguities by approaching the Indians’ sense
of belonging and non-belonging in Tanzania from different angles and perspectives.
Using the strawberry plant, Fragaria, as a metaphor, I propose the concept
of ‘fragarian minorities’ to describe how the strategies and existential conditions of
the Indians in East Africa resemble the nature of the strawberry plant: They send
out ‘runners’ that settle and put down roots in new places while maintaining a
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connection to the place they left; however, they make sure that the roots are planted
deeply enough for them to be able to live and work in the new place and at the
same time shallowly enough for them to be able to move on. Not least do they
secure that ‘the crown’, which may signify ‘the culture’ or ‘Indianness’, is not buried
underneath the soil. Fragarian practices allow the Indians to live transnationally
while at the same time belonging locally. Yet, from the perspective of the nationstate,
the ambiguous sense of belonging of the fragarian minorities is problematic
and viewed as disloyal with the result that Indians in Tanzania are perceived as
illegitimate and improper citizens. In this way the ambiguity spurs anxiety at the
same time as providing potentiality. Fundamentally, my analyses offer an account of
how migration, colonialism, and post-colonialism have shaped a ‘fragarian’ minority
that at one and the same time does not fit anywhere and fits in everywhere. And it
shows how intensifying nationalism and the rising of borders and walls in the
contemporary world leave no space for people whose life worlds are stretched
across nation-states.
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationÅrhus
PublisherAarhus Universitet
Number of pages254
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2017

Bibliographical note

Ph.d. grad tildelt 8. december 2017

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