The America of India

by zunguzungu

In the early years of this century, the British had mostly “pacified” the part of East Africa that is now Kenya (then “British East Africa”) and they argued about what to do with it. Although it would eventually be a white settler colony, it was for a while floated as a possible location for the Zionists of British Mandate Palestine and what a different world we’d be living in if that happened (someone should write a counterfactual historical novel about that; maybe me). But mostly the conversation hinged on whether or not BEA should be filled up with Indian laborers (since at that point, East Africa was essentially considered part of the Indian colonial administration), both as a safety valve for India and as a way of creating a population which could mediate between white colonialists and the Africans of the interior.

I’m not sure who coined the term. But in urging Indian settlement of the region “Sir John Kirk, protector of the Arab state of Zanzibar, went even further by calling this region “the America of India.” At the imperial conference held in 1917, the British Minister for India said: “the unrestricted opening up of all territories taken from the enemy in eastern Africa to the spirit of Indian enterprise would help lessen the bitterness aroused among Indian statesmen and journalists by this contraversy…”

On the other hand, Charles Eliot (the architect of the first wave of white settlements in British East Africa) disagreed: “Sir Harry Johnston once expressed the opinion that East Africa ought to be the America of India. I hardly feel able to agree with so broad a statement, for the various districts of East Africa differ so much from one another that generalisations are dangerous, and the  fact seems to be that India does not require an America. The Indian Government do not encourage emigration, and, though Indians are ready to seek new markets, they do not really settle in foreign countries.”