Diaspora in India-East Africa Relations: Nurturing Multiple Bonds for Soft Power

Author Name

Sourav Kumar


Diaspora, Soft Power, India-East Africa Relations


Indians have held a fair share of maritime trade in the Indian Ocean for over two thousand years. References from the Periplus of the Erythraen Sea have indicated flourishing trade between the western coast of India and the eastern coast of Africa in the 1st millennium CE. At the same time, researchers like Thomas Vernet (2000) have argued that even Swahilis from east Africa frequented the Indian coasts as sailors and traders. The East African presence in India became pronounced with the rising demand for African slaves in the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. This two-way interaction and numerous waves of migration over the years have resulted in the establishment of multiple bonds. Indians have a significant presence in East Africa, and people of East African origin (Siddis) have a substantial presence in Gujarat and Karnataka in India. These people-to-people connections and the resulting cultural bonds became the foundation of India’s foreign policy towards east African countries post-independence.

Joseph Nye, in 1990, argued that such cultural interactions could be used as a tool of soft power, i.e. a means to influence through attraction rather than coercion. India was quick to catch on, and the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) became its workhorse for nurturing soft power. ICCR has organised various bilateral cultural exchanges, including the Siddi dance troupe’s performances in east Africa. It also engages with its sizeable diaspora in East Africa through cultural events like the ‘Festival of India’. Such historical connections, efforts at cultural diplomacy, and India’s efforts to nurture its sizeable diaspora in East Africa indicate that India has found eastern Africa as a natural zone of influence. This paper studies these two-way diasporic connections as a tool of cultural diplomacy and soft power in India-East Africa relations.


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