Millennium Post

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36-year-old Ulteme Sunday had quit his job as a bank official in Oceanic Bank at Lagos, Nigeria, when he came to India in 2011 looking for a job. But after months of searches yielded nothing, he ended up running a restaurant called Mama Africa in south Delhi.

Though there are several instances of racism faced by Africans in the capital, they, nevertheless, show a keen interest in coming to India for career prospects, business and health advancements.
Sunday, talking to the Millennium Post, said, ‘I spent my savings to open my restaurant and named it Mama Africa. I provide African food in Neb Sarai, which caters  to African people who regularly visit India, but don’t get much home food. Of course, promoting African food in India was also a reason.’
Ulteme said that he couldn’t advertise his business due to lack of money. However, a few months back he struck a business deal from Indraprastha Apollo Hospital to serve native food to people arriving from the various African countries to the hospital for treatment.

Earning enough and running his business was a big deal. Sunday faced a lot of challenges but the biggest one was racial discrimination. ‘Whenever I went out with my family or to the embassy to get my visa renewed, many people viewed me with suspicion. For us it is not easy to be ‘Black’ as people look down upon us with suspicion,’ laments Sunday.

Living in India for the past three years, for him and his Nigerian friends, getting into an argument on the streets with Indians is commonplace. However, now Indians have also started coming to his restaurant. Few have become regular customers.

Oladela David, another Nigerian, said, ‘We face hostile attitude from people around us. Hearing disrespectful comments on roads is part of our life.’ David said that it is true that few of Nigerians are involved in illegal activities but it is wrong to brand all Nigerians as criminals. ‘There might be some people who indulge in illegal activities but to give a bad name to the whole community for the acts of few is not justified.’

In some parts of Delhi, there is a large number of people from African countries, who have started grocery shops and salons to cater to the needs of their community.

 In terms of pure economics, if the conditions here are not favourable for them, then they will not do business here and it will be a loss for both Africa and India. In October 2013, hundreds of Nigerians protested over the murder of their countryman in Mapusa and in January, two Nigerians and two Ugandans, were found not to be carrying drugs.

Following the now infamous raid that was carried out in Khirki Extension, a hard-scrabble quarter of narrow alleys on the southern edge of Delhi, with television cameras glaring, shock waves were sent through the city and among all Africans living here.

 Several senior politicians have described Nigerians in unsavoury terms. Goa’s art and culture minister Dayanand Mandrekar claimed Nigerians were a ‘cancer’ to the society, while parliamentarian Shantaram Naik accused them of indulging in drug trade.

Sunday’s compatriots say, ‘Racism towards Africans in India is a daily routine. If not physical assaults, most of them have had to endure attitudes ranging from curiosity to irrational phobia to being treated unfairly.  Despite good bilateral relations between India and Africa, Nigerians are not allowed to start businesses in India even though Indians run restaurants and shops all over Nigeria.’

‘Regulations to run business here are too stringent even for petty businesses. Nigerians living here are even unable to open an account, so how can they start a business? Most of us are unable to start even small businesses like barber’s or food shops because of local laws. Many Nigerians in India end up overstaying their visas and unable to pay the penalty, fall into the clutches of the law or become easy prey for criminals’, added Sunday.

Following prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Nigeria in 2007, bilateral relations were upgraded to the highest level of a strategic partnership, including defence cooperation, under which Nigerian military personnel are able to train in India’s defence establishments. Despite Nigeria becoming India’s largest trading partner and oil supplier from Africa, with bilateral trade reaching volumes of $16-17 billion per year, there are still no direct air services between the two countries.

But there’s a silver lining. Group of Nigerian enjoying their morning meal in Sunday’s restaurant meal tell  Millennium Post, ‘A lesser known fact is that Indian films are quite popular in Kano, Kaduna and other northern states of Nigeria and local channels regularly telecast Indian films. India will help set up a film city in Kano state of the West African country.’
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