News & Conflicts

Pakistan is getting its first lawmaker of African descent

39-year-old Tanzeela Qambrani was nominated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to a women’s reserved seat in the regional parliament of southern Sindh province – a small and mostly poor community that has been in the region for centuries. Her nomination as a lawmaker will bring the group more respect and reduce the stigma they have faced, putting her in history books as Pakistan’s first lawmaker of African descent.

The Sidis dominate the Lyari district of Karachi and have been staunch supporters of the PPP, now chaired by Benazir Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto. However, no Sidi had ever made it to parliament until Zardari nominated Ms. Qambrani for the reserved seat.

“As a tiny minority lost in the midst of local populations, we have struggled to preserve our African roots and cultural expression, but I look forward to the day when the name Sidi will evoke respect, not contempt,” Ms Qambrani, whose ancestors came from Tanzania, told the BBC.


They are believed to have first been brought to India and Pakistan by Arab and Portuguese slavers but despite living in both countries for centuries, Sidis are still often derided in local communities for their physical features and have faced racial discrimination in both countries. Estimates put their population in Pakistan in the tens of thousands. They are well-integrated but keep alive some traditions, including an annual festival that blends Islamic mysticism, crocodiles and singing in a blend of Swahili and a local language called Baluchi.

 

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