People of Indian Origin have played very important role in Kenyan pharmaceutical industry

Published Date:   Friday, Apr 08, 2016

The Kenyan pharmaceutical industry is quite developed today and the Indian diaspora has played an important role in it. What I discussed in this talk is the « racialization » or ethnicisation of one profession and of one business sector in Kenya. Speaking at the GRFDT seminar on 7th April 2017 at Bharati College, Delhi University, Dr. Mathieu Quet, a researcher at CEPED-IRD (France) and CSSP-JNU said that Indians have contributed to the Kenyan Pharmaceutical industry since its inception in 1950s. In a post-colonial context still inhabited by history, how can we understand the connections between India, pharmacy and Kenya? What has been the role of the Indian community in the pharmaceutical capacity building? What are the representations attached to the pharmaceutical activity in Kenya and what is the influence of the Indian presence on the public framing of pharmaceutical issues? Dr. Quet tried to answer these queries in his presentation in the seminar.

Dr. Quet said that the pharmaceutical society of east Africa was created in 1950 and became the Pharmaceutical Society of Kenya in 1964. This society played a major role in the formulation of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act adopted in 1957 which laid the foundations of the Kenyan pharmaceutical policy: it set up regulatory authorities (the Pharmacy and Poison Board) and established rules regarding the production and distribution of medicines. A few years later, in 1974, the Department of Pharmacy was created at the university of Nairobi within the Faculty of Medicine and started delivering a degree course, since all pharmacists until that date were trained outside the country. In the 1960s/1970s, the first local production units were set up.  During the following years, the Federation of Kenyan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (FKPM) was created in the early 1980s. Already at that time, the federation gathered about 20 local manufacturers, whose main goal was to be heard on the materials price issue. This industry slowly grew up in the 1980s, and in the mid-1990s the growth became more dynamic. New firms got production units, taxes were reduced and pharma production became more profitable. From the early 2000s, some firms had even acquired the ability to produce Anti-Retroviral medicines.  Today, the Kenyan pharmaceutical industry is the biggest in East Africa and one of the most dynamic in sub-Saharan Africa. Even if qualified workforce is still lacking, more and more Kenyan firms sell their products at a regional scale and some of them have set up their own Research and Development units. They are often family firms and the Indian diaspora is much present in the management, either as Kenyan Indians or as expatriates. The relationship with India is complex: India is both seen as a model and as a tough competitor – its prices being much cheaper and its production capacity much more important. The Kenyan manufacturers are often involved in networks related to India regarding the structuration of their activity: overseas relations play a role in the circulation of persons within the industry. But market mechanisms, prices and competition also determine how and to whom Kenyan firms will buy their raw material.

Of course, this situation does not go without tensions. The first issue is about “who” can be a pharmacist. At the retail level, many people in Kenya consider that selling medicines, or more precisely owning a pharmacy, is an Indian profession. This stereotype is frequent since a lot of retail pharmacies bear Indian names. This becomes more problematic in the industrial sector. In the manufacturing sector, there is sometimes a strong gap between the management team and the employees. This gap is not only expressed in socio-professional terms or in class terms, but also in religious and ethnic terms attached to geographical origins. The critiques bear mostly upon the supposed exclusivity of the relationship between people involved in the business: one often hears that in Kenya, pharmacy is an “Indian business” and that it is difficult when one is not Indian to get involved. Of course these remarks about the Indianity of the business do not take into account the national identity of people, but underline their color, name and religious practices.

The second important point regarding this stereotype of pharmaceutical Indianity is the entanglement of representations of people and things. There is a whole history of Dukan wallahs in Kenya (see for instance Aiyar 2015), and in this story the goods that were sold by Indian people to the Kenyans were somehow “Indianized”. 

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