Indian Diaspora Role In African Politics Grows … So Does Resentment
Far from the heated electoral battle in America, a debate over campaign financing and the proximity of political leaders to big business is also brewing in Africa.
The Gupta saga (in South Africa) reflects the dramatic rise in influence of the Indian diaspora on the continent, as well as the challenges they face — particularly allegations that they finance corrupt despots from South Africa to Uganda.
Calling out influence peddling by Indian businessmen isn’t new. Nor are the prospects of a backlash — often fueled by xenophobia and economic woes.
But today’s worries signal a revival of concern that had receded significantly since attacks against Indians in Uganda in the ’70s, Fiji in the ’80s and Kenya in the ’90s.
“Businesspeople finance politicians everywhere, so campaign financing is natural,” Sudhir Ruparelia, founder of one of Uganda’s largest conglomerates and the country’s richest man, says, pointing out that it’s entirely legal to do so. “We’re fully above board,” he adds.
Many Ugandan Indians see President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, as a long-term ally. Museveni, after all, apologized for predecessor Idi Amin’s 1972 eviction of 70,000 South Asians, invited Indian business leaders to return and helped get them back stolen property.
But critics of Museveni — who won another five-year term in April — feel that the prosperous Indian community funds only the president, skewing elections.
“The Indian community is supporting Museveni big time,” says Henry Mugazi, head of the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, a Kampala-based election watchdog in Uganda. “Some contribute publicly, others discreetly. But they all support the party in power.”
Worries of a broader backlash against the Indian community in both Uganda and South Africa are fed by signals that it’s already begun.
In February, ahead of the Ugandan presidential election, for example, the Indian high commission in Kampala cautioned Indians against attending political rallies after a member of the community was attacked.
And in South Africa, home to a 1.3-million-strong Indian diaspora, the extremist Economic Freedom Fighters Party, led by Julius Malema, accused Zuma of selling the country “over a plate of curry.”
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