After over a month of violence and unrest, Kenyan Indians desperately want to sing the famous song Hakuna Matata - 'no worries' or 'no problems'. This hit number from Disney's blockbuster The Lion King became a global sensation in 1994 and has been very much alive on stage in the Broadway musical playing in London since 1999.
Even before the Disney animation saga on Kenyan wildlife, this popular phrase has always been worn with pride by all Kenyans - African, Indian or European - emblazoned across T-shirts, for Kenya was a land renowned for peace, smiles and holidays after it became independent in 1962. But not now.
Following the general election in December, news of ethnic strife that killed almost 900 people, injured thousands and made 300,000 homeless have made NRIs in Britain, Canada, the US and India very worried because thousands of them have relatives and friends among the 100,000 Kenyan Indians. Up to now, no Kenyan Indian has been killed in the crossfire of these tribal clashes that have occurred mostly in western Kenya and in the slums of Nairobi.
Frantic e-mails and phone calls about their safety have been going on and here are some of the responses from Kenyan Indians. "We are very safe in the cities and towns," say most of them. "We are able to go to work in spite of the chaos. When the highway is blocked by police, we use other roads," says Liladhar Bharadia, a news photographer. "The supermarket is open 24 hours these days, so groceries are available. In Nairobi, no Asian property or shop has been looted or burned."
A finance company executive writes, "The recent events in Kenya have been a major eye-opener for most people, including me, who have had blind faith in this country. It has suddenly dawned upon me how fickle existence can be here and the wisdom of spreading one's eggs; hence there is the enquiry and the desire to invest in India now. I am visiting India next month to purchase an apartment or two. We are also looking to invest in India but the worldwide stock market crash doesn't really whet the appetite. Meantime, we shall continue here with the hope and prayer that the situation improves and life returns to normal."
Building contractor Surinder Singh Dhillon has children settled in Britain and the US. In a phone call, he said he has valid visas for himself and his wife for both these countries and also for India. If the situation worsens, he will take the flight to any of these countries.
Amrit Shah was very worried as his son was stuck in the Masai Mara National Park where he manages a game lodge. The son could not come home to Nairobi by car due to the violence en route and so arrangements were made to get him back on a small plane that plies the tourist circuits. Kenya's multimillion-dollar tourism industry has come to a standstill at the height of the tourist season that lasts until Easter.
Chartered accountant Navin Patel writes, "We are all safe, going to work as usual, taking each day as it comes, taking care, keeping safe. The town is a problem if there are demos planned - the police then ask shopkeepers to close and go home, people are saying there's been no business since X'mas. It's a real pity about what is happening here."
Kantilal Maniyar who runs a garment shop in downtown Nairobi says he closes very early these days and if he hears any shots or disturbances, the shutters come down at once. Sales are very low but he hopes things will improve gradually.
The real problem for Kenyan Indians is the poor among them numbering around 30,000. As Kenya citizens, they have no country to go to except India and also lack funds to pay for their tickets. So Asian community organisations are working out emergency plans to assist them if the need arises. Kenyan Asians are not oblivious to the sufferings of the homeless 300,000 Africans who need assistance. The Asian Foundation, the Hindu Council of Kenya and the Kenya Sikh Supreme Council, among other Asian organisations, are helping the homeless by donating food, clothes, blankets and medicines through the International Red Cross who distribute these in the affected areas.
Awaaz, a Kenyan magazine for Asians, believes only dialogue and an independent election review will dispel the crisis by reinforcing the efforts of mediators like former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and refusing to recognise any government not legitimately established. It has launched a global signature campaign on the net signed by over 50,000 to many governments to urge Kenyan leaders to engage honestly in mediation.
Once peace is restored, Kenya Indians will be among the first to sing Hakuna Matata.
(Kul Bhushan previously worked in Nairobi as a newspaper editor. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org )