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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 09:30 GMT
Identity: Who do you think you are?
Composite of pictures showing a zebra, men drinking from a gourde, a woman carrying oranges, Kwame Nkrumah, Somali passports, an Egyptian football fan and Ethiopian veteran soldiers.

With the 50th anniversary of Ghana's independence coming up in March - an event that symbolised the beginning of the end of colonialism in Africa - the BBC's new competition for Africa explores the continent's identity.

Here, Rasna Warah, a writer and journalist based in Nairobi describes who she is.

Rasna Warah
I am a product of my ancestors' passports. When my great grandfather arrived in Kenya more than a century ago, he held a British Indian passport.

Issued in his hometown of Lahore, which is now in Pakistan, the passport entitled him to travel to just one other territory - what was then known as the Kenya Colony of the British Empire, where he was brought in to help the British extend their colonial tentacles into East Africa.

My grandfather was born in Nairobi in 1910, but held a British passport issued by what was then known as the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya.

At airports, my passport elicits the same curious look from immigration officers the world over

My father was also born in Nairobi and was a British subject until 1964 when he opted for Kenyan citizenship after the country attained independence from Britain in 1963 and became the Republic of Kenya.

I am Kenyan by birth. I hold a Kenyan passport but I am not what they call indigenous African.

I am that hybrid known as the Kenyan-Asian.


Some call me a Kenyan of Indian origin, but independent India is not where my roots lie.

Ancestral mugshot

More recently, a new politically correct phrase has been developed to describe people like me. I am now an Asian-African.

My Kenyan passport allows me to live and work in this country but when I apply for international jobs, I am not African enough for the United Nations and other international organisations looking to promote marginalised African women.

At airports, my passport elicits the same curious look from immigration officers the world over.

How is it that I am Kenyan and not black, they ask?

When I want to travel to the UK, the country whose passports three generations in my family held, I am fingerprinted, then asked to produce tuberculosis clearance certificates, bank statements, letters from my employer and a letter from my husband.

All proof that I will come back to this land that was never mine to begin with and to which I now hold allegiance because once, a long time ago, a Sikh from Lahore, which is now in Pakistan, took his British-Indian passport and boarded a ship to Africa.

So who am I? Indian, Pakistani, Asian, African or Kenyan?

Take your pick.


This week the BBC is focusing on India and its role as a leading industrial nation in the world. If you are of Asian origin living in Africa, let us know how you identify yourself.

Do you identify first and foremost with your ancestral roots, your family, your nationality or your continent? How does that affect the way you behave and the way you see the world?

I am an Asian-African. My great grandmother was born in Kijabe, on the lip of the Great African Rift Valley in Kenya. At the moment I am studying in London. As a minority, you are always asked who you are. I feel, the term Asian-African describes me perfectly. I should state my basis - I am the co-ordinator/secretary of the Asian-African Heritage Exhibition: Heritage and Identity, which was held in the Nairobi Museum from 2000 - 2005. The curator of the exhibition Kenyan ethnographer, Sultan Somjee, coined the term Asian-African. I don't call myself an Asian-African because it is a politically correct term, but because it is the term I am most comfortable with. It says that I am an African who is proud of my Asian roots. My Asian roots define many aspects of my life - especially my religion and my food. But, just like all foreigners, I am scared of falling sick when I go to India, and yes, I need a visa to enter India. At the end of the day, I am first a Kenyan national. And one African of many social identities and in between identities forged over migrations over land and water. I too get asked. "You're from Kenya, then why are you not black?" When I say I'm an Asian-African people understand. Kenya is home. We scattered my late father's ashes in the Indian Ocean. When I fly home I always take a window seat and hope to get a glimpse of Mt Kenya in the sunrise. And what I miss most when I'm in London is eating roast maize, with chilli and lemon, by the roadside everyday.
Ms Radha Upadhyaya, London, UK & Nairobi, Kenya

I left Tanzania in 1972 and first stop was London England. Except for Indian movies and music, I had no connection with India, from where my forefathers came. I learnt more about curries at Bangali restaurant in England than in Africa. At age of 65 years, I have not yet visited India. I married a Western woman, adopted many Western ways but still cannot let my Tanzanian passport go and my wife tells me I talk Swahili, in my sleep! Who am I?
Ash Bharmal, Calgary Alberta Canada

I am 100% Zambian and 100% Indian. The issue is not my origins, but my knowledge and practice of my culture. There are 72 languages and dozens of tribes in Zambia, so what is it to be Zambian? After all, Zambia's borders were not marked by the notion of which tribe is Zambian, they were marked by what the British drew up as Northern Rhodesia. My mother's grandfather moved from India to Southern Rhodesia and my father's father moved from India to Northern Rhodesia. So I am at least three generations African. I have always said, you have to earn your right to be African. My ancestors, Indians, have sacrificed a lot for Africa. We helped with independence, we inspired countries like mine to choose the path of non-violence, and even to this day and forever more, we will continue to help our countries and continent to strive for peace and prosperity. I have represented Zambia at international level in golf tournaments, and whenever I played, I played for Zambia. Zambia is a nation with so many different cultures. Within the blacks, Indians and whites there are different cultures. What makes Zambia so special is our 'One Zambia, One Nation' policy, which makes us Zambian, no matter where our ancestors came from. Black-Americans are not African-Americans because they have not earned the right to be called African. I can say that I am Indian because to this day after so many generations, I still practise my Indian culture in Africa and that is what makes an African. Whenever I meet an African no matter what colour skin anywhere in the world, the first words that come out of their mouth is, "Hello my African Brother." So when you look at me, I hope you think I am of Indian origin and practice my Indian culture, but when you ask me where I am from and I say Zambia, I hope you will see me as an African, an Indian-African, or preferably a Zambian.
Dil Vashi, Ndola, Zambia

1860 my great grandfather boarded a ship from India and landed with the blessing of the British in Durban.We are called South African Indians.Many of us believe that we are South Africans first and then Indians. I have never been to India and when an Indian from India meets me I am a foreigner.I look like them but my culture, my way of life and even my behaviour and attitide is a mixture of Africa ,Europe ,Asia.I am a person of many cultures.My first alliance is to South Africa .No matter how the people look at me , my ties are African .The passport during the apartheid era was an unwelcome passport to many countries but my love for Africa would not let me give up my passport or look for a new citizenship.
Thomas C Kantha, Osaka Japan

I am a former Asian-African, by virtue of the fact that I now reside in the USA. I still visit Kenya regularly, where my family and roots still reside. There are many Asian-Africans in England, USA and Canada, who proudly consider themselves Asian-Africans. When at a very conservative southern college in the USA, I joined a "white" fraternity. When the university pushed for more integration between blacks and whites, my fraternity claimed they had met the standard since I was "African!"
Hiten, Los Angeles, USA

I was born in South Africa to "Indian" parents. My parents and their parents were also born and raised and still live in South Africa. A country where we weren't white enough to count and now aren't black enough to matter. Now I have American citizenship, but I have stopped wondering whether I am Indian, African, South African Indian, American, South African Indian American. I am a human being like everyone else, and I think that is all that should matter.
, Ga, USA

Here we go again. I am not sure why BBC is obsessed with highlighting Indians and Indian culture under the African section. Give me a break. These people are first and foremost Indian or Asian, not African. Publicly they will say they are African just so that they can exploit the tremendous economic growth opportunities that exist now that belong to Africans. Why don't you go to India and see how black people are treated there. India has a community of Africans that have lived many generations in a certain part of India, and believe me, Indians themselves don't consider them Indian, nor do these blacks even have close to the same economic power that Indians have in East Africa. Indians in Africa exploit blacks, they practice Indian culture, they speak Indian languages at home, they stick to themselves, they don't do community outreach in African communities, etc. What about this sounds African to you?
Chika, USA/West Africa/East Africa

I think you are whom you opt to be. In the long run, even Kenya is a hybrid created by the British. I am Gikuyu but opt to be Kenyan. It's probably because there is no Gikuyu passport, because if there were one, you would really not have a basis to lay any claim or it may be because like Kenyatta and most of the Gikuyu I suppose, I feel there is more to life, than being Gikuyu.
Kenneth, Thika, Kenya

Rasna, You are surely an African by birth, but not by race as many people classify Africans. World has the wrong assumption of African to be black, which is totally wrong and primitive. In the world we live in today, we a person should be classified by his/her country and not race. Look at America, it's full of many races, but no one can deny them the right to be American. They are American of different origins. I think we as citizens of the world should take the stand for all governments to racial discriminations. In contrast, most governments preach against racial discrimination but they are the ones that actually practice it. I would classify you as African by birth and by race because I know Africa to be a land of all races, not just black.
Lam, Nashville, TN USA

I wonder if in today's world nationality really matters. I was born in India, raised in the USA and now I am married to a Spaniard with American Indian heritage. In today's society we are citizens of the world not nations. Boundaries should not define us.
Divya, USA

Your nationality is Kenyan, and your ethnicity is Asian, Indian-African. Many people in the world have mixed origin, hence, where you were born is where you belong. People of African descent are still called African-American in America, yet history has it that they have lived here longer than some of their counter-Ethnicities, such Italian, Irish and so forth. Your confusion about your defined identity stems from the fact that we live in a world where people are image-conscious.
Baguoot, Chelsea, MA

You're African without a doubt. You don't need others to affirm your identity. It is something that ought to come from within.
Richard, Dakar, Senegal

i am firsty and foremost african. i was born in africa, as was my father, as was my grandfather, and so on for 6 generations.i am of indian origin, but the culture has faded with time, as has ties. the water that hydrates me, the food that sustains me, the land that cradles me, all are from my birthplace, all are from mother africa. what are you, but a product of your surroundings. i am african.
jai kumar shah, mombasa, kenya

I am a Sikh born in Kenya and hold Kenyan Citizenship. I am 40 years old and the first time I visisted India was 2002, and I felt that I did not belong there. I classify myself not as an Indian, but as a Kenyan, and I sometimes get the same curious looks from immigration officers when they see my Passport.
parminder hunjan, wexham, england

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