Magazine article New African

Why Idi Amin Expelled the Asians: Agnes Asiimwe Looks Back at Uganda's Expulsion of Its Asian Community 40 Years Ago, under Idi Amin's Government. Brutal as the Expulsion Was, One Beneficiary of the Expropriated Asian Properties, Says: "I Don't Think We Shall Get Another Ugandan with Amin's Kind of Nationalism."

Magazine article New African

Why Idi Amin Expelled the Asians: Agnes Asiimwe Looks Back at Uganda's Expulsion of Its Asian Community 40 Years Ago, under Idi Amin's Government. Brutal as the Expulsion Was, One Beneficiary of the Expropriated Asian Properties, Says: "I Don't Think We Shall Get Another Ugandan with Amin's Kind of Nationalism."

Article excerpt

IDI AMIN, THE FORMER PRESIDENT of Uganda, had a dream in August 1972. "I have dreamt," he told a gathering in Karamoja, northeastern Uganda, "that unless I take action, our economy will be taken over. The people who are not Ugandans should leave."

He left Karamoja by helicopter and stopped at the Tororo airstrip in eastern Uganda. He had sent word that he wanted to address the army. There, he announced the dream again to a hurriedly organised parade by the Rubongi military unit. Some Asians were thrown into a panic. Others thought Amin was bluffing.

P. K. Kuruvilla had just bought a building in Kimathi Avenue in downtown Kampala, the capital. It was a home for his insurance company, United Assurance. He says: "We invested all the money into buying the building. We took a loan from the bank, I had a house in Kololo and I mortgaged it to raise money for the building."

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Then President Amin announced the expulsion. "I thought he was not serious," says Kuruvilla. "I had put all my money plus a loan into the United Assurance property. We had confidence that we were going into a new era.

But Idi Amin meant every word. Ugandan-Asians had to leave in 90 days. Kuruvilla first sent off his family and lingered around just in case Amin changed his mind. But Amin's "economic war" was real.

The Asians had to make arrangements and hand over their business interests to their nominees. The arrangement among most Asian families was that one would be a Ugandan, another Indian, another British. So the non-Ugandans transferred their businesses to the Ugandans.

The British High Commission became a camp. Many of those with Indian passports wanted to go to the UK. The three months' deadline was fast approaching.

Meanwhile many Ugandans celebrated and lined the streets daily to chant, "Go home Bangladeshi! Go home Bangladeshi!"

Colonial Uganda had strongly favoured Asians. Many arrived with the British colonialists to do clerical work or semi-skilled manual labour in farming and construction. They had a salary, which became the capital to start businesses.

Aspiring Ugandan entrepreneurs on the other hand faced many odds. The British colonial government forbade Africans to gin and market cotton. In 1932 when the Uganda Cotton Society tried to obtain high prices by ginning and marketing its own cotton and "eliminate the Indian middleman," it was not allowed.

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The banks--Bank of Baroda, Bank of India, and Standard Bank of South Africa--did not lend to many Africans. As such, the Africans could not participate in wholesale trade because the colonial government issued wholesale licenses only to traders with permanent buildings of stone or concrete. Very few African traders had such buildings. It was clear that the colonial wanted native Ugandans to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water.

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By 1959, when a trade boycott of all foreign-owned stores was pronounced by Augustine Kamya of the Uganda National Movement, Africans handled less than 10% of national trade. Ambassador Paul Etiang served as Amin's minister for five years. He was the permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs in 1972. In an interview with New African, he explained that the expulsion came about partly because of the racial segregation inherited from Uganda's past.

British apartheid

Up till independence in 1962, there was an unwritten but trusted social order in the colonial administration where Europeans were regarded as first class, Asians as second class, and Africans as third class.

For example, in trains there was a first class coach for Europeans and a few Asians, and there were coaches for Asians, and coaches for Africans. Apartheid did not start in South Africa or the US; it started with the "mother country", Great Britain.

The same order prevailed with other facilities such as toilets. …

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