A Short Welcome Letter from Prof. Dilip Menon

Prof. Dilip Menon

Prof. Dilip Menon

The Centre for Indian Studies in Africa was set up in 2007 with an attempt to study the emerging political and economic alignments in the contemporary world. Existing categories for studying the world (the ‘West’, area studies, third worldism, south-south relations, postcolonialism) had been brought into question.

As an arena in which these developments intersected, the Indian Ocean offered a privileged vantage point from which to track a changing world order. Sino-Indo-US competition plays itself out in both Africa – most prominently over hydro-carbons and other minerals – as well as in the Indian Ocean. The Centre has focused on issues within the social science, humanities and international relations and over a two year period held several international workshops and conferences and produced a significant body of work (see http://www.cisa-wits.org.za/publications.htm).

In recognition of the outstanding and prescient work done by the Centre the Mellon Foundation in late 2009 gave a grant of USD 1 million towards funding a Chair and attendant activities for five years. Professor Dilip Menon from the University of Delhi was appointed as the Mellon Chair in Indian Studies and Director of CISA and since then the Centre has expanded to include four post doctoral Fellows (working on Sri Lanka, South Africa, the island of Reunion and themes of black modernity) and a doctoral fellow (researching on Dubai as a global city that is a magnet for both capital and labour). We shall be moving to a new building with the expanding of the Centre in 2012 with a grant from the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Government of India. We shall have an Associate Professor, a Lecturer, two PhD students and two Master students (per annum for four years) from July 2012.

The programme of the Centre for Indian Studies has now been expanded to include the Global South. From being the first and only Centre for Indian Studies on the African continent, it has now also become one of the few institutions anywhere in the world with a focus on the emerging powerhouses of the Global South.

The Centre is poised at a critical stage in its trajectory to emerge as a leading intellectual centre positioned in the Global South that works with the emerging signs of the future. We shall now move to the second and critical stage where we look beyond our focus on social sciences and the humanities (theory from and theory in the Global South) to a more urgent engagement with questions of political economy and the dispositions of capital and labour.

While there has been a theoretical engagement with the idea of territories as constituted by the movement of people, capital and ideas towards the writing of transnational, even post-national narratives, what is urgently needed is a more intensive empirical engagement and the systematic creation of data. We have been given funding of USD 1.4 million for a project on Capital and Labour migration from India

to Africa and emerging ideas of global responsibility. We shall focus on

  1. Capital investment and business activity: we wish to establish a wide ranging and reliable data base on three areas: direct investment by Indian companies in Africa and the Middle East; entrepreneurial activity by mercantile groups and individual (immigrant) business people; and the economic activities of local Indian communities that have settled in Africa in the modern historical period. Since no reliable data base and comprehensive data exists on such activity the initial research would focus on constructing such a data base which will be cost and labour intensive. This would involve accessing and verifying information from the internet on an ongoing basis (daily or weekly); the trawling through publications by governments, private agencies and world organizations like the IMF and World Bank; detailed on-the-ground interviews and ethnography; as well as establishing connections with local institutions in east and north Africa and the Middle East.
  2. Labour migration: one of the significant characteristics of the 20th century which has accelerated at present is the transnational movement of labour (both professional as well as labouring classes) and the emergence of nodes like Dubai which attract workers from all over the world, and India in particular. Here again, while numbers of immigrants/emigrants are available there is a paucity of quantitative and qualitative data relating to migration (from where, for what reasons, rates of return etc); conditions of work; regimes of law and contract; conduits of labour supply and so on. Creating a data base of this kind would be crucial given India’s significant interests and presence in the region, both for academic output as much as government policy. The question of the vast Indian diaspora needs grounding in hard statistical data as much as qualitative research.
  3. Global responsibility: As India emerges as a significant power with a voice not only in global economic and political affairs but also as a key player in the debates about the future environmental and social security of the planet we need a consideration of the ethical and political responsibilities involved in relation to the above themes. What exactly is the role that IBSA or the BRIC as a bloc can play? What are the responsibilities entailed in the emerging world order where the new powers of the Global South have become significant players? And what are the prospects for co-operation rather than conflict to create security in and around the Indian Ocean?