It was never a question of whether but rather of one when a British of Indian extraction would lead Britain.
How did that happen, and could Kenya be next? At the height of the British Empire, India was the jewel of the British crown, demonstrating how important it was to its agenda.
It was by then a combination of principalities, including what’s now Bangladesh and Pakistan, a vast country by all standards. Like other “complicated” colonies, Britons used indirect rule to govern the country.
It was cheaper and easier. There is even a joke that 1,000 British civil servants run India, a country of 1.6 billion people. Remember how Britons used chiefs in Kenya and in West Africa? Britons were in India for about 300 years, much longer than 68 years in Kenya.
But they seem to have changed Kenya more than India, which largely retained its religion and culture.
By 1947, the empire exhausted by World War II let India go, setting off an avalanche of independence among its former colonies, including Kenya.
The British influence remained in ordinary life, business, governance and mannerism. In an interesting twist of events, Indians were brought to Kenya to build the railway line. They settled here.
It is not clear whether it was by choice or by design. Some argue Britons played the long game. They realised that in days to come, Asians would be a buffer between them and the hoi polloi.
The coolies, as Indian labourers who came to build the railway in Kenya were known, probably saw business opportunities that were not available in their motherland. Remember it was easy to move from one British colony to another. Fast forward to the end of World War II. The labour shortage in the UK sucked workers from the colonies.
After Kenya’s independence, some Indians immigrated to the UK as part of the Commonwealth. Many of them were well educated or saw the opportunities in the UK, just like coolies half a century earlier.
In this group were the newly installed British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s parents. The Indians too played the long game.
They realised that socio-cultural systems in the UK are more advanced and leveraged these by educating their children in the best schools. They could afford it, and it was an investment with high returns. Sunak’s parents were well-educated. His father was a medical doctor. They took their son through private education, culminating in Oxford, the citadel of British education and elitism.
To demonstrate how Sunak became British, he studied philosophy, politics and economics.
Have you met any Indian studying such courses in a Kenyan university? To confirm his place in the western world, he also studied at Stanford, another elite US university. There he met his wife, the daughter of the founder of Infosys.
Sunak would probably never have become the British Prime Minister without going through the elite schools, which muted his cultural background from religion to accent.
He understood the western economic system and the thinking that would be handy in leadership.
His Hindu religion is even more fascinating. With Sunak, we can confidently say that British multiculturalism has finally flowered, more like in the US. That is good for the UK; conservatism has finally run its course.
By the same token, retired US President Barack Obama could never have ascended to office without going through Harvard which diluted his race and colour. Does Kenya have elite institutions that spawn leaders like Oxford or Harvard? Or do we let our leaders come from any school? Didn’t we reject degree requirements? Without elite institutions, how do we “filter” our leaders?
We should learn from the UK and US and benefit from multiculturalism and its benefits like spawning innovation and new thinking.
Paradoxically, Africa is blessed with multiculturalism through tribes. But we think that’s a problem; it is an asset and keeps off uniformity of thought.
Can we be bold like the Britons and have a president of Indian extraction? The descendants of coolies and newcomers have been around for more than a century.
They are more Kenyan than Kenyans. Some pundits, however, suggest a Somali president will rule first. The Indian rise to the top of British society is driven by another factor - money.
Political leadership and money go hand in hand even here in Kenya. Money can easily make us predict the next president. Let’s congratulate Rishi Sunak. By rising to the pinnacle of the British leadership, the empire has finally accepted all its children.
It marks the start of a new Britain, albeit not necessarily Great!