New UK prime minister Sishi Sunak is African. Not by birth but through his roots which historians trace to east Africa.
Sunak’s father, Yashvir Sunak, was born and raised in colonial Kenya while his mother, Usha Sunak, was born in mainland Tanzania, then called Tanganyika. They migrated from east Africa with their families to the UK in the 1960s. His grandparents were born in Punjab, India.
According to London-based historian Levin Opiyo, Sunak’s grandfather Ram Dass married Suhag Rani in the 1930s and began making plans to migrate to Kenya at a time when the colonial government needed skilled workers in a country where most Africans lacked formal education to be hired.
“As the government strived to address the situation by encouraging Africans to attend mission schools, it sought a temporary solution—encouraging skilled Indians to migrate to Kenya to fill the gap,” Opiyo writes. Indians would later dominate Kenya’s middle class, with their number rising to 150,000 by the end of World War l.
Sunak’s grandfather sailed to east Africa in search of new opportunities
Dass, Opiyo writes, bought a one way ticket to Kenya, boarded a ship which set sail for Mombasa. He then took a train to Nairobi, over 400 kms away, where he began working as a casual laborer while studying accounting.
“Soon he got a job in the office of chief secretary in Nairobi as a clerk. Two years later, in 1937, as soon as he was settled, Dass invited his wife to join him in Nairobi. They were blessed with six children three girls and three boys. One of the boys was Yashvir (Sunak’s father),” Opiyo writes.
While Yashvir’s sisters went to advance their education in India, he and his male siblings were sent to study in the UK. Yashvir started his O-level studies in 1966 in Liverpool before “proceeding to do medicine and graduating in 1974” and becoming a general practitioner.
In 1972, Sunak’s mother Usha, who was born in Tanzania “to a tax official from Punjab” graduated with a degree in pharmacy from Aston University. “The two were introduced to each other by friends and married in 1977 in Leicester. They were blessed with three children among them Sunak, the new British prime minister,” Opiyo writes. Sunak was born in Southampton in 1980.
Another Obama moment
When he became prime minister on Oct. 25, some citizens in Kenya and Tanzania, especially those of Indian descent were proud to see a man whose parents were born and raised in their territory take over UK’s top political office. Their hope is that he will strengthen diplomatic ties and advocate for minorities, but this optimism should be tempered by the fact that he is part of the conservative party whose policies have not always favored these groups. Enthusiasm remains nonetheless.
“It’s another Obama moment for us. We pride ourselves in seeing him steering UK’s rocky boat back to stability,” Julia Onyango, a fishmonger based in Kisumu, a city located 58 kms from former US president Barack Obama’s K’Ogalo village where his father was born, tells Quartz. However, none of Sunak’s relatives live in Kenya currently.
Facebook user Abdi Yufuf wondered, “So Kenya is the River Jordan where world leaders should cross to reach the promised land?”
Patel Suri, a Tanzanian investor of Indian descent based in Dar es Salaam tells Quartz, “Indians are smart people. You will find them playing the role of CEO in many Big Tech companies across the world. Rishi Sunak is no different. He is intelligent and the right choice for prime minister at this point of the political and economic challenges.”
( curtesy Yahoo finance)