by Ben Taylor
Rishi Sunak’s Tanzanian connections
The United Kingdom’s latest Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has roots in Tanzania. His maternal grandparents lived in Tanzania before moving to Britain in the 1960s, reportedly in response to post-independence rules that required non-citizens to either take citizenship or leave the country.
In his book, Going For Broke: The Rise of Rishi Sunak, published in 2020, Lord Michael Ashcroft described Sunak’s maternal grandmother, Sraksha, as someone with extraordinary courage and vision: “a remarkable woman who grew up in rural Africa and gambled everything she held dear to give her children a better life”.
Sraksha was born to Hindu Punjabi parents in Tanzania. She learned Swahili as a child and considered Africa her home, although her family retained close ties with India. At the age of 16, she entered an arranged marriage with Rishi’s grandfather, Raghubir Berry, a railway engineer from Punjab then working in Tanzania, according to the biography.
She persuaded her new husband to build a new life in Africa, and Raghubir found a job as a tax official in Tanzania, where they raised three children: Rishi’s mother, Usha, and her two younger brothers.
In 1966, Rishi’s grandmother sold all of her wedding jewellery and bought a one-way ticket to the UK, leaving her husband and three children behind in Tanzania in the hope that they would one day be able to join her. There were no family or friends to greet her, but Sraksha made her way to Leicester and rented a room as a paying guest of a distant acquaintance.
She found a job as a bookkeeper with an estate agent, where she started saving every penny, and a year later was finally able to pay for her husband and children, including Usha, then 15, to join her.
Usha went on to study pharmacology at Aston University, where she was introduced by mutual friends to Yashvir Sunak. Sunak was a medical student who had recently graduated from Liverpool University and whose upper-middle-class Punjabi family had moved to Britain from Nairobi during his young adulthood.
When Sunak became Prime Minister, some citizens in Kenya and Tanzania, especially those of Indian descent were proud to see a man whose parents were born and raised in their territory take up the UK’s top political office. “It’s another Obama moment for us,” said one resident of Kisumu, Kenya.
Patel Suri, a Tanzanian investor of Indian descent based in Dar es Salaam told Quartz online magazine, “Indians are smart people. You will find them playing the role of CEO in many big tech companies across the world. Rishi Sunak is no different. He is intelligent and the right choice for prime minister at this point of the country’s political and economic challenges.”