I was having a conversation with a friend recently and we got to talking about India and why it’s managed to rejuvinate it’s economy while many African countries have been unable to do so. His/her explanation was that Indians are simply genetically superior, especially when it comes to math and science. This is the second time this person has said this so I’m sure they believe it. Additionally, by making this statement, this person was essentially implying that Africans do not possess this special gene and thus, no amount of hard work on their part will ever make a difference.
The evidence for this statement was based on his/her observation that “all” the Indian students he/she remembered from Kenya, seemed to do well in math and science. I am going to attempt to debunk this subjective theory because I don’t think it’s true at all.
The Indians in Kenya are wealthier than their African counter-parts. Why? because at the time of colonization, Africans were ranked lower than Indians at all levels. As a result of this racial ranking, Indians were given more opportunities to engage in trade and commerce –opportunities which were largely denied to the majority of Africans. After independence, this head-start that the Indians received, allowed them to make further economic gains way after the British had left. The Africans were still trying to play catch-up.
My analysis on why Indians tended to excel academically, is not because of genes, but rather, it was because of economics. Their families were able to provide better educational opportunities for them because they had more money. This economic imbalance was created during colonization. If you go to India today, I’m sure they are many poor Indians who would not do well in school simply because their families don’t have the money. The Indians in East Africa were operating under more favorable economic circumstances.
Let’s move on to the Indians in India. Why are they so good at math and science? At the time of independence, Jawaharla Nehru, India’s first prime minister made the decision that India would remain a non-aligned nation. What did that mean? it meant that India would not take sides in the on-going cold war politics. It would neither support America nor support Russia. This decision by Nehru meant that India became ineligible for the billions of dollars in foreign aid that would pour in from either America or Russia.
Nehru recognized this dilemma and came to the conclusion that India would have to become self-sufficient in the absence of foreign aid. To ensure India’s economic independence, Nehru created the now famous ITT’s (Indian Institute’s of Technology) — these institutions were created to train Indians in subjects that would enable them to develop their own industries –many of these subjects were math and science based.
After Nehru’s death, India still had a very closed economy. The mentality of self-sufficiency and insularity was still prevelant. However, in the early 1990′s, Indian realized that it could not remain closed from the rest of the world. The current prime minister, Manmohan Singh was hired as the finance minister and was put in charge of spearheading India’s economic reforms. However, before this reforms were initiated, many Indians who had received a very good education at these ITT’s, were forced to leave the country in search of better economic opportunities (India was just not producing enough jobs at the time) For many of them, the easiest way to get to America was to apply to graduate school and come in on a student visa. It was perfect timing. Many graduate schools in America were having a hard time finding native born citizens who could do the math and science at that level. So, the Indians who applied were able to get in. However, once they were in, they did very well –the training at these ITT’s was very good (I’m sure the mzungu’s were stunned)
Anyway, the process then evolved to it’s next natural stage. When the Indians were done with grad school, they started looking for jobs. American companies would go to these universities looking for young scientists to hire and they started noticing that most of these scientists were from India! So, naturally, they started wondering how India was able to produce so many people with such solid technical skills. It was then that they began to realize what Nehru had done – he had created an educational system that produced millions of English speaking scientists — scientists who were willing to work for far less than an American, especially if you could re-locate to India!
In conclusion: When Manmohan Singh starting his economic reform program, the seeds of success had already been planted by Jawarahal Nehru. Mobutu Sese Seko also planted his seeds. He got billions of dollars in foreign aid for supporting America during the cold war. Do a google search on Congo and tell me how it’s doing.