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Trade between India and Africa has a long and distinguished history. It goes back thousands of years to the days when Indian traders, using the seasonal monsoon winds, sailed to the East coast of Africa in search of mangrove poles, elephant tusks, and gold and gemstones that made their way up from what is now Zimbabwe. This intensified with the establishment of Omani suzerainty in the 17th century over Zanzibar and its hinterland. The island of Pemba produced a copious variety of sought-after spices such as cardamom, cloves, cin­namon and black pepper. A number of Indian merchants, some of whose descendents live in East Africa to this day, trace their presence in East Africa to this period. There was also the large immigration of Indian labour during the colonial period, brought over to work on the railways in East Africa, and on sugar and other plantations in Mauritius, Madagascar and Southern Africa. Many descendents form the bulk of the Indian diaspora in Africa today. As the population of the diaspora grew, so did trade between their original homeland and their new-found habitat. Indians became critical links in the export of African commodities such as tea, coffee and cotton and the import of manufactured goods and grains such as rice, pulses and textiles.

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