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Kenya's Asians fear renewed persecution

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The always tinder-dry issue of the wealthy Asian community in Kenya has started to burn actively again. President Moi has warned that Asians will be deported if found to be flouting foreign exchange regulations, or other currency laws.

Asian businessmen (many of Indian descent) had hoped repeated campaigns against them had ceased. They expected that Kenya's new economic and industrial friendship with India, which is bringing Indian investments and skills into Kenya, would help their situation. But now the estimated 80,000 Asians living and working in the country -- a large proportion being Kenyan citizens -- are worried.

It has since been pointed out that President Moi's statement in Swahili was widely misunderstood. He meant that all offenders, be they Asian, European, or African, would be tracked down and punished.

Nevertheless, the Asian question in Kenya has always been a delicate one, and many have chosen to see the President's statement as an attack on Asians.

One big problem is that the Asian community has a powerful economic position in Kenya. Almost all industries are owned or managed by Asians. The export and import business is largely in Asian hands. Most large shops and stores are Asian-owned. Without Asian management and technological skills much of Kenya's economic life would suffer seriously.

Prominent Asians say they know of currency fiddling, but are afraid that a few bad apples may hurt the whole community, most of whom are committed to Kenya as home.

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