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Forget about China, India is the place to be

NAIROBIAN SHOP
By | May 19th 2009

By XN Iraki

India and China are both nuclear powers each with a population of more than 1 billion. Economists will quickly point out that these are huge markets, only ignored by the economically naÔve.

But in our discourse and plans, India has been ignored, all roads lead to China. Yet, Indians have been here for more than a century, and trade across the Indian Ocean flourished from ancient times.

Why have we focused all our attention on China, which is further and newer? Doesn't the gravity theory in trade show closer countries are likely to trade more?

Why have we ignored India, nearer home and with a big market? Could it be the other way round that India has ignored us?

Think of it, Chinese, not Hindi is being taught at the University of Nairobi. The two huge nations seem to have their own ways of engaging with Kenya.

For India, it seems to be through commerce and trade. There seems to have been no concerted efforts to extend the Indian influence to the rest of Kenya, the way Britons came with their religion, legal system, language and culture.

Have you met any Black Kenyan converted into Hinduism? How many cross marriages are there between Africans and Indians?

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While we look for the slightest opportunity to boast of how we schooled in UK or US universities, not to the Indian Universities though unknowingly some Indians go to Ivy League universities only after failing to get admission to top Indian Universities such as India Institute of Technology.

Lately, India has shifted gears investing big through firms such as Tata and Essar. But few Indian firms have made impressions in Kenya that can rival Microsoft, IBM or Coca Cola.

Our image of India is still dominated by small scale traders, dukawalla. China on the contrary is investing big through roads.

Some observers think Chinese approach is novel; they are endearing themselves to the masses, who use roads every day.

mega projects

Others boldly suggest roads need big money and decisions on such mega projects are decided at the highest level of government, giving Chinese strategists a chance to get into the heart of the government without raising any eyebrows.

Lately, India seems to have adopted the British Model, of going beyond the economics into some culture.

Indian movies have lately gained popularity and so are their dances. Has India finally realised it is time to reach into the heart and soul of Kenyans?

The Chinese and Indian Strategies to penetrate Kenya and Africa in general appear timid compared with UK or USA. Is it accidental that British Missionaries came before settlers?

When Cold War ended, waves of US missionaries landed in former Soviet Republics, while many students from these countries flew in the opposite direction, to study.

USA and UK seem to realise that economic success is about influencing the way people think, either through education or religion. Both India and China seems to have failed to grasp that simple fact, though both countries are encouraging Kenyans to study there.

While we can argue that Chinese are later arrivals and give them the benefit of doubt, not for the Indians who have been here for a long time. Why are Indians unmotivated to expand their economic influence? Why are there no Indian TV or radio Channels like CNN or Aljazeera? Perhaps they see the Kenyan market as too small.

Or maybe we are the problem, too tied to the West that we cannot see opportunities at our door steps.

We fail to see the Indian market that is three times the US market or 20 times the UK market. We have failed to learn from Indians who are nearer home. Yet, there is so much we can learn from our giant neighbour, in addition being a market for our goods and services.

science and technology

India is a leader in science and technology. Ever met an Indian historian? Interestingly, I was taught maths, physics and chemistry by Indian teachers just the other day — I narrowly missed 8-4-4.

Indians are now reaping the fruits of their investment in science and technology. It boasts a number of Nobel Prize winners in sciences including Venkata Raman (1930), Subramaniam Chandrasekar (1983) both in physics, and Hargobind Khorana(1968) in medicine. Add Amartya Sen (1998) in Economic and Rabindranath Tagore (1913) in literature.

Indian scientists drive Silicon Valley while medicine has been turned into tourism India is a superpower in computer science, one of the few countries with supercomputers.

May be our deeply ingrained view of Indians as traders have failed us in seeing the potential of India as partner in progress.

We talk of Asian tigers’ but forget the Asian elephant, India. Other countries have not failed to see the Indian potential; USA even signed a nuclear co-operation pact with India, a clear indication that India can no longer be ignored.

Indian economy

India’s economic growth driven by reforms has worked miracles; yet Indian economy was once as controlled as Kanu’s Kenya.

We also can learn about self-reliance; India does not accept foreign aid in case of a disaster. Interestingly, both India and China despite having vast interests in Kenya rarely comment on Kenyan politics, they probably prefer quiet diplomacy unlike European Union (EU) and the USA.

May be unlike Kenyans they long realised that politics without a strong economic base will not take you far.

Economic and political strategists have boldly suggested that the Pacific Century dominated by China, will not last indefinitely; the next theater of economic activity will be the Indian Ocean.

Engaging more closely with India will give us a head start in this theater. Truthfully, India is the place to be, we could gain a huge competitive advantage if we moved there before the rest-now.

The writer is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, School of Business. [email protected]

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