restricted access 5 Nomadic Citizenship
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5 Nomadic Citizenship Nomadic Identities / Migrant Histories While creating possibilities for new types of community, many postcolonial states have seen radical disruptions of old ones. In the throes of nationalist struggle, the violent legacy of the colonial encounter transformed local communities into transitory, nomadic, and fraught areas of postcolonial migrancy. Over a single generation, people have lived through cataclysmic dislocations, from the colonial to nationalist then postcolonial state, to transnationally situated communities. For those displaced by these seismic changes, the correlation between national identity and country of citizenship has been shattered irrevocably. Such dramatic reconfigurations of ideas about homeland, nation, and adopted country have created new dilemmas about how communities perform cultural citizenship in conditions of transnational migrancy. The ragged history of East Indian migration is illustrative. The movement of this dispersed and heterogeneous community—at times coerced, at others self-induced—has been a volatile one, tracing a path from colonial India to East Africa, the Caribbean, Panama, Surinam, and British Guiana in the nineteenth century, and later Britain, Canada, and the United States via itinerant sojourns in the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia. Often moving three, even four times in the space of a lifetime, East 5 69 5 Indian migrants have incorporated multilayered relations of belonging into their narratives of individuals and communities in transit. In spite of the complexity of this history, however, immigrant Indian struggles for cultural, legal, and economic citizenship have been subsumed by mercantilist accounts of travel and trade. As a microhistory of both East Indian migration and of nomadic citizenship , the conditions under which many East African Asians came to be defined as undesirable in the 1960s and ’70s offers an opportunity to recover this repressed history. Spurred by policies designed to promote economic decolonization that targeted Asians as the enemy, the migration highlighted the tentative relationship between nation and citizen, as neither passport nor birthright proved to be an adequate qualifier of citizenship . The fate of Asian citizens of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda presumably interlocked with the interests of sojourner East African Asians, many of whom held British passports. However, for Ugandan Asians, the fragility of this connection became apparent when, in September 1972, those who wished to remain in Uganda watched British Asians scramble for flights out of the country under order from Idi Amin to leave within ninety days.1 For Kenyan Asians, the disavowal of rights attached to passports had been staged in 1968 with the passage of the Commonwealth Immigrant Act, under which they were refused entry to Britain on racial grounds. For Tanzanian Asians, who had constructed an uneasy identity as socialist citizens, economic nationalism and anti-Asian sentiment forced them to confront their tenuous purchase on modern African identity.2 In this climate of insecurity and impending crisis bred by official policy and informal mechanisms of delegitimation, East African Asians began to ask searching questions about the nature of citizenship. Who is a citizen? How can citizenship be enacted? By what criteria is citizenship determined ? The early tremors of uncertainty regarding citizenship staged in the exodus of Kenyan Asians under Jomo Kenyatta’s orders had sown the seeds of anxiety. This was aggravated by Britain’s denial of their rights as British subjects. In Uganda, hostility toward Asians, galvanized by Milton Obote’s fiscal strategies and violently concretized by Amin’s antisocialist propaganda, demonstrated that legal citizenship offered no guarantee of authenticity within the imaginative borders of economic nationalism. For many East African Asians who left the region in the 1970s, their abrupt emergence as an undesirable minority catalyzed a dramatic and painful rupture with the past. As a very specific migrant history connecting East Africa to Britain and North America, the trajectory of East African Asians poses certain questions N o m a d i c C i t i z e n s h i p 5 70 5 about the staging of political identities. The multiple migrations of this diaspora over the past fifty years highlight the importance of visibility politics in states of nomadic citizenship. This little known history traverses the discourses of race and specific nationalist struggles linking the Black and South Asian diasporas in the twentieth century. In nineteenth-century Fiji, British Guiana, Mauritius, and Trinidad, for instance, the growing presence of peoples of Indian descent by way of a system of indentured labor greatly fractured conceptions of race, nationalism, and class in the colonies. Although often played off against peoples of African...


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Subject Headings

  • Immigrants -- Political activity.
  • Ethnic groups -- Political activity.
  • Minorities -- Political activity.
  • Political participation.
  • Citizenship.
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