Recollections of India-Tanzania connections, long time friendship

President John Pombe Magufuli and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi


THE Indian migrants to Tanzania were inspired by entrepreneurship and a burning desire to improve the living standards of their family members. Most of these Indians came from the States of Gujarat and Maharashtra and a few from Punjab.

They were all engaged in trade. In 1930 an Indian Trade Commissioner for East Africa was appointed. It may be recalled that a group of British Indians working individually and through the Asian Association supported the then Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) which succeeded the Tanganyika African Association (TAA).

Besides helping to work towards self-government, this group provided financial assistance for the late Julius Nyerere, father of the nation to enable him to put up the case for self governance before the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations in New York.

Furthermore, one Randhir Thakar who published a Swahili daily titled ‘Ngurumo’ played a huge excellent role in promoting the objective of TANU, of fighting for the independence of the country.

Besides Nyerere, Randhir was assisted on a regular basis by the late Stephen Mhando and Bhoke Munanka both Nyerere’s close colleagues and confidants. It is interesting to note that during the approach to the Trusteeship Council, Mwalimu Nyerere had in his mind a period of 20 years before Tanganyika becoming independent.

During the self-government era, the British had introduced a formula under which representatives of three races (Africans, Indians and Europeans) were to stand for election for their respective seats in the Legislative Council.

With the help of Capricorn Society, the United Tanganyika Party was established during this period, headed by Tom Tyrell and supported by Greek and British plantation owners like Ivor Bayldon and Dutch merchants.

Very few Indians joined this Party. Several Indians were active members of TANU during the struggle for independence. Following Tanzania’s independence, political leadership promoted the bilateral relationship.

Mwalimu Nyerere visited India on ten occasions – four of which were after he retired as President, President Mwinyi, his successor, visited twice, President Kikwete - three times and President Mkapa once. Additionally, three Prime Ministers have visited India on different occasions as official guests.

In return, Presidents V. V. Giri, R Venkataraman and Abdul Kalam paid official visits to Tanzania. Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, I. K. Gujral, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi also visited Tanzania on different occasions.

It is worth noting here that Mwalimu Nyerere had close relationship with Indira Gandhi and during her official visit, he hosted her at the State House and he himself too moved to the State House for the duration.

And at the time, when Mrs Gandhi nationalised domestic Banks, Nyerere sent to her on the next day a personal message which was conveyed by Permanent Secretary in the President’s Office the late - Dickson Nkembo.

On the economic front, India is among Tanzania’s largest trading partners and one of the leading sources of foreign investment in this country. Groups such as Tata (Landrover, Jaguar and Tata trucks), Mahindra and Bharati Airtel are amongst the leading investors from India.

In order to facilitate financial transactions the State Bank of India and ICICI Bank are co-operating with CRDB Bank in Tanzania and are offering a wide range of financial services to cater for business needs.

Export Credit Insurance of India regularly supports Tanzania’s requirements and in 2002 the Government of India wrote-off US$32 million debt as a part of its contribution to the HIPC initiative.

I am told two leading hospital groups are considering installing modern diagnostic centres and hospitals in the country.

*The author of this article is the Founder Trustee of the Tanzania-India Friendship Association

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