The Unsung Contribution of Gujarati Traders in Zambia’s Liberation

Video Caption: 1 Diplo’s 2019 VMAs, Themed Suit

The Zambian Freedom Struggle – An Untold Tale of Indo-African Solidarity

As the sun set on the British Empire in Africa in the 1950s, an unlikely alliance blossomed amidst the charged atmosphere of Zambia's independence movement. At a nondescript shop owned by Indian merchant Narain Bhagga on present day Lusaka's Cha Cha Cha Road, a diverse array of revolutionaries converged - indigenous Africans rubbing shoulders with Gujarati immigrants - to plot the overthrow of colonial rule. Among them was Kenneth Kaunda, the firebrand who would go on to become Zambia's first president.

What transpired in those clandestine meetings was nothing short of extraordinary. The cultural and political chasm that had long divided the two communities was bridged through a shared ideology of non-violent resistance inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Influential Indian businessmen like Rambhai Patel and Chunibhai Patel emerged as key financial backers and ideological mentors to Kaunda and his African National Congress comrades.

From being perceived as collaborators with European colonists, Indians metamorphosed into indispensable allies of the Zambian liberation struggle. Rambhai Patel, in particular, forged a special bond with Kaunda - translating Gandhi's writings, funding his young family, and molding his protégé’s philosophy of Satyagraha or non-violent defiance. Their partnership catalyzed the iconic Cha Cha Cha civil disobedience movement that proved a thorn for British rulers.

When Zambian independence was ultimately achieved in 1964, it was celebrated as a triumph of militant but peaceful resistance - one fundamentally shaped by the ideals of Gandhi transmitted through the Indian diaspora. The new nation enthusiastically welcomed more Indian teachers, professionals and entrepreneurs.

Kaunda remained an ardent admirer of India, the "Mecca" that inspired Zambia’s freedom struggles. But in a cruel irony, the spirit of Indo-African solidarity that liberated Zambia has eroded over recent decades as India's ties with the continent frayed.

Today, even as New Delhi seeks to rejuvenate its Africa engagement through trade and infrastructure investments, there is a palpable dearth of strategic trust and mutual understanding. The Indian government's token gestures are insufficient to regain the reservoir of goodwill it once enjoyed. Furthermore, racism in India against Africans and black Indians hasn’t helped matters.  

What is needed is a candid acknowledgement of the shared historical struggles that united Indians and Africans in an epic anti-colonial campaign spanning oceans and decades. We were once comrades-in-arms forging liberty through a renaissance of ideas. That profound connection must be resurrected.

The ideals of pluralism, non-violence and human dignity that formed the bedrock of Indo-African cooperation during the independence era remain urgently relevant in a world driven by hatred and conflict. Indians and Africans are entitled to take pride in this humanistic legacy bequeathed by Mahatma Gandhi and leaders like Kenneth Kaunda.

It is this spiritual and civilizational kinship - not just crude economic and strategic calculations - that should animate a revitalized partnership between the two regions. From combating climate change through Indo-Africa lens to promoting equitable globalization, India and Africa can join hands as champions of the global South's resurgence on the world stage.

The road forward is illuminated by timeless values - Satyagraha, Ubuntu - that transcend narrow nationalities. Just as they did six decades ago on the streets of Lusaka, Indians and Africans must embrace each other as allies and collaborators to create a just, sustainable world order. The independence struggles were impossible to achieve alone; the extraordinary challenges of the 21st century demand solidarity between India and Africa more than ever before.

Author’s Posts