Saturday, September 11, 2010

East African 5 Cent Coin: Relic of India's Kenyan Connexion

For the Gen X, geopolitical entities like East Africa cut no ice, but it was a vital region of economic activity in the nineteenth and twentieth century with the major European powers vying for their share in the precious pie. East Africa comprising of a large tract of land with vital deposits of mineral ore, tea and coffee plantations. The Portuguese were one of the first colonial powers setting up their base in Mozambique in the fifteenth century, while the French set up their trading station at Madagascar; the Germans had their interests in Zanzibar while the British turned to the region only in the late nineteenth century with the forming of East African Protectorate in 1880s roughly comprising of present day Kenya.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Indian immigrants chiefly from Gujarat swarmed the region as indentured labourers initially, battling discriminatory measures like segregation in ghettos, commercial restrictions to pursue a variety of professions like money lending, trading and artistic/manual professions in the protectorate’s cities and towns. Eventually, they outnumbered Europeans by two to one in 1919.

Delving into my collections, I came across a Five Cent coin from East Africa issued in 1941, in the middle of the Second World War when British were busy fighting the Axis Powers to defend their turfs in Asia and Africa desperately. The coin’s obverse has ‘East Africa’ inscribed with the denomination in a staid manner but the reverse has the imperial designations of George V in Latin as ‘GEORGIVS V REX ET IND: IMP:’ meaning ‘George V King and Emperor India’.
Thus, the coin is of dual importance to India, one as its historical context speaks of a lost homeland for many expatriate Indians whose forefathers had to leave East Africa (Kenya) in the 1960s in the wake of blatant racial discrimination practised by the ruling Kenyan government and the coin's statement of George V as Emperor of India. The coin is a vital material evidence of a lost era of colonial domination which was soon challenged all over the globe; escalated by the post-world war confusion faced by the European authorities back home. Thus, these colonial coins are a vital part of our heritage and important tools in recreation of lost historical and geopolitical entities which no longer exist for the younger generations.