Beyond Peacekeeping – Exploring Pak Africa Ties

Published in Pakistan Politico (February 2019)

In the age of imperialism, the British colonist took a lot of Indian labour with them to Africa for developing infrastructure and settling the areas under the control of their empire. In the process, many businessmen and government contractors from the area that now constitutes Pakistan made Africa their home. These people migrated with their families to places like Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, and Tanzania. They mostly resided and still live in main cities of East Africa particularly Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Mombasa, Kampala. They can also be found in smaller urban centres and in the remotest of rural townships, playing leading social and economic roles in businesses, manufacturing and the service industry, and make up a large proportion of the liberal professions. South Africa also has a significant South Asian population.

The migrants from South Asia took their culture and cuisine to remote corners of Africa, where it took roots and still flourishes at some places. Many expatriates in South Africa run spaza or barber shops. Johannesburg’s Fordsburgg is said to be among the best places to find Pakistani food. The influx of people arriving from Pakistan has increased significantly in the last ten years. Most of them are in grocery, electronics and cell phone businesses. They are also importing Japanese cars and selling them in Durban. Many Pakistanis are working in the field of medicine throughout the country. Unfortunately, it is sometimes alleged that various Indian and Pakistani crime syndicates are involved in drug smuggling. South Asians are also sometimes scapegoated by the local population, who find it difficult to compete with them in the domestic market e.g. in February 2010, a crowd of angry rioters protesting unemployment issues burnt tyres and barricaded roads in a northern township in Johannesburg. Local media reported that Pakistani shopkeepers were among those whose premises were looted. To protect their interests, Pakistanis have established the Pakistan South Africa Association. This is a very effective organisation and represents Pakistanis all over South Africa. It has 16 units which operate its offices from all provinces and has the central executive office in Pretoria.

When Pakistan became independent, Africa was also coming out of the colonial yoke. There was hope and promise and many enterprising young people moved to Africa in search of new and possibly better lives. The Europeans were departing and educated people from Asia and elsewhere were stepping into the space created by their departure. This trend to move to Africa, however, never achieved the momentum of the mass exodus that would later symbolise the ‘Dubai Chalo’ phenomenon.

Africa is a vast continent with lots of mineral resources and huge potential for business. In fact one of the reasons for conflict in Africa today is because many countries, for instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have lots of resources. Minerals extracted in conflict zones are known as ‘conflict minerals.’ The four most commonly mined conflict minerals in DRC are tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold ore or 3TG. These are extracted in eastern Congo, and passed through a variety of intermediaries before being purchased sometimes by unscrupulous buyers.

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