What's new about Muslim Ismaili transnationalism

Comparing business practices in British East Africa, colonial Mozambique and contemporary Angola

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The way in which the history of colonialism might link up with the formation of postcolonial migrant identities remains insufficiently examined. Through a comparison between transnational business practices of Khoja Ismaili Muslim settled in the British and Portuguese colonial territories of East Africa and in contemporary Angola, the present paper aims to discuss the impact of colonial experiences in the configuration of postcolonial business cultures. Articulating several guiding empirical questions, we will attempt to show that the continuing centrality of the nation-states in which Ismaili transnational economic activities are embedded, the notion of a disadvantageous network closure, concomitant with the importance of face-to-face contacts, the mutual trust and understanding sustained through personal relations, and the tendency for national loyalty to prevail over religious belonging (whenever any potential conflict between the two exists) constitute crucial dimensions of an accumulated colonial knowledge which is significant in the analysis of the Ismaili competitive advantage in postcolonial Africa. This argument will be developed on the basis of a multi-sited ethnographic research. The U.K. and Portugal emerged as a strategic passage for our encounters with East African Ismailis from former British and Portuguese colonial territories. The current Angolan context, absent from the available literature, was selected as a postcolonial term of comparison.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-244
Number of pages29
JournalAfrican And Asian Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013



  • Ismaili transnationalism
  • Colonial and contemporary Africa
  • Trade and entrepreneurship

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