- Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West by Mansoor Ladha
Muhindi, Calgary-based journalist Mansoor Ladha explains in his new memoir, is a Swahili word for members of the Indian diaspora (16). For Ladha, it is also an apt identity for those who were born in East Africa, but departed postcolonial societies for North America. Due to the brown colour of their skin, he argues, they faced discrimination and struggled to belong in either place. Race and racism strongly influenced their lives. Ladha brings this thesis to bear in engaging fashion–tracing his childhood in colonial Tanzania, his experiences as a young man in the decade after independence, and his life and career following his immigration to Canada. But the narrative does not turn on race alone. Perhaps unintentionally, Ladha has written an autobiographical account revealing a complex historical interplay between race and class.
The opening two-thirds of the book discuss Ladha's formative years and early career. A third-generation Tanzanian, Ladha was born in 1943 and grew up in smalltown Lindi. Colonial racial distinctions had sharp class consequences. British elites exercised indirect rule over the rural black majority. If a few black subjects became ethnic leaders or government clerks, the middle class was largely made up of a small Indo-Tanzanian minority engaged in local commerce or employed as civil servants. Suggesting that racial segregation was "an accepted way of life" (8-11), Ladha notably deploys colonial descriptors: European, Asian, African. His childhood was strikingly insular. Both of his parents were involved in the shipping, retail, and wholesale trades. Their social ties were rooted in the bonds of the Ismaili Muslim community. And his school peers were all part of the Indian diaspora. Life was comfortable. Ladha is frank about colonial race relations: "I had no relationship with Africans outside the master-servant dichotomy" (59). He also underscores the ambivalence of most Indo-Tanzanians to the anti-colonial cause. Independence and a black-majority government were "unthinkable" until their achievement on the mainland in 1961 prompted fears over the security of one's property (75-77). That same year, an 18-year-old Ladha moved to Dar es Salaam to pursue his studies alongside black students. Unlike some "hard-core" Indo-Tanzanians, he became a supporter of President Julius Nyerere's vision of a progressive, multi-racial country. By the time he entered university in 1964, he felt that personal friendships across racial and cultural lines were the best way to foster mutual understanding and a new society. [End Page 151] Ladha expresses frustration that most students make little effort to build such ties (13, 61-69).
Ladha claims that independence merely resulted in a new racial hierarchy, with black citizens benefitting to the detriment of those of Indian descent (15). More subtly, the book reveals how little society was initially transformed. Inequalities remained. Ladha was a nationalist, part of a well-educated, youthful cohort aspiring to lead Tanzanian progress as well-paid civil servants. In 1966, these young people mounted one of the defining protests of the postcolonial years. University students in Dar, disputing the extent of their pay in a proposed two-year national service program, demonstrated against the government. Ladha, a member of the student union's executive, participated out of a sense of duty. He declares that his family was comfortably middle-class and, personally, he had no need of a slightly larger salary. Ladha repeats the point several times, emphasizing his social distance from his peers–largely black students from rural backgrounds. Nyerere responded by expelling the students. Rightly, Ladha notes that the action was characteristic of the authoritarian exercise of power in the one-party state. When the students were re-admitted the following year, Ladha and his fellow executive members were excluded from the reprieve. Without a degree, Ladha could not pursue the diplomatic career he had envisioned. However, the consequences were otherwise few. He easily transitioned into journalism and soon became a copy editor (109-134).