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All Work and No Play for Indians Living in Dakar


The small group of Indians living in Dakar say they came to the city to make money. Because they work long hours and do not intend to remain in Dakar, the Indians, unlike those in many other expatriate communities, have not formed a cohesive community within the city. Selah Hennessy reports from Dakar.

Two shop assistants at a grocery store in Dakar are speaking together in Hindi. Along with their boss, they are three of only around 200 Indians who have immigrated to the bustling Senegalese capital.

In their shop you can hear Hindi pop playing in the background, and on the shelves you can find anything from Chicken Darbari to a wide selection of saris and Punjabi suits and dresses.

Hareesh Chugani, who owns the store and has been living in Dakar for five years, says most of his customers are European. He says few Indians want to come to Senegal, partly because French is spoken here, not English.

"Most of the Indians, they prefer Anglophone," he noted. "And apart from that there is too much bureaucracy in the French colonies, so it takes a lot of time for them to understand it and get into the system."

Chugani spends most days at another shop he owns in central Dakar before working evenings at this store. He says many Indians in Dakar work equally hard and that with such a strong focus on business most remain isolated from Senegalese cultural life.

"Most of the time we are busy in our businesses," he added. "We actually do not find so much time to get around."

Lalith Kumar, who moved to Dakar with his brother just over a year ago, says that Indians living in Dakar have not formed a strong community.

"Everyone is busy in their own business, they don't want to meet each other," he explained. "That's all."

But he says more Indians are now coming to Dakar to do business because competition is low compared to other countries at the same level of development.

"Some people are doing import export. There are many people starting business here. It's very successful here, they are making money," he said.

But business is not the focus for every Indian living in Dakar. Kumar's brother, Dharam Bhojwani, says he likes Dakar, because he loves the Senegalese music, and spends most of his free time listening to local groups play.

"Senegal's music is for me like a hobby. I like a lot of music, but Senegal's music is very different. And it will leave me happy in my heart," he noted.

But Bhojwani, like most Indians here, says he will go home after he has earned money.

"Until my [time is done here here I will do my] job," he said. " After I [finish] I will go back to India, I will settle there with my business and I will be happy with my parents."

A strong political bond once united Africa and India. Following India's emancipation from British rule, the country championed the cause of colonial freedom in Africa and on that basis ties with the continent ran deep.

Forty years on, the relationship between Senegal and India has remained strong, with a new focus on investment and trade that has seen India become one of Senegal's most important trading partners.

Recently, the Indian government has begun sending money for the development of Indian companies in West Africa, and its effects are already being seen in Senegal, where there has been a steady growth in the number of Indians moving into the country. The Indians here hope this may one day lead to a more cohesive community within Dakar.

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