Indians Kicked out of Uganda by Idi Amin: History of Ugandan Asians
On August 4, 1972, as later amended, President Idi Amin issued an order that all the Israelis, British, other Europeans, and Asians who were living in Uganda had to leave the country within 90 days. Most of these Asians who were ousted from Uganda were people of Indian and Pakistani descent who had been living in the country for decades. Disobeying the order could mean imprisonment or even death.
In researching their story, several questions came to mind:
Why were the Asians living in Uganda, and where did they go?
What has happened to them in the more than forty years since they were ousted from Uganda?
What happened to Uganda after the Asians left?
Why were Indians in Uganda?
Once upon a time, both India and Uganda were ruled by the British Empire. When Britain decided to build railroads in the British colony of Uganda at the turn of the century, they needed experienced people to build them. They asked the experienced Indians to move to Uganda to help build these railroads. These Indians, in turn, brought their families and settled in Uganda. The railroad workers needed services, such as stores, entertainment, schools and hospitals. Over time, more and more Indians moved to thriving Indian communities of Uganda. Even though the video below states that the Indians came in the 1950s, by that time some Indians had already been there for fifty years.
What was life like for the Indians living in Uganda?
Uganda is a third world country. Being on the equator, Uganda has a warm climate, but most people did not have air conditioning. There were screens in all of the windows to keep out the mosquitoes. There was no running water in the rural areas, and these people used outhouses. Many places also did not have electricity. Many Indians became farmers, growing coffee and sugar cane. Labor was cheap, so many Indians employed African in their businesses and in their homes as servants to fetch the water, clean, and look after the children while they went to work. The Indians generally did not sit idly while the Africans did all the work. The Indians participated actively in the labor intensive work.
The cities did have running water, electricity, and indoor plumbing. The Indians made up most of the middle class, mostly working in the retail fields, and owned many of the businesses. Because of the lack of good public education, their children went to private schools. They had acquired enough wealth to send money to their relatives in India and could afford education for their children. They had places of worship, which became places where they could gather with other people like themselves. They tried very hard to retain their Indian culture, but had to adapt their cooking to the food products that were available in Uganda.
The Asians were part of the middle class, feeling less than the British upper class, and were trying to work hard and advance themselves and their community. They were minorities in the community and were not liked by the Ugandans who were resentful to be the working class.
Who is Idi Amin Dada?
Idi Amin seized power of Uganda during a military coup on 25 January 1971, becoming the third president of Uganda. President Idi Amin ordered the killing of many Africans, including supporters of former president Milton Obote, people of rival tribes, and many other groups he decided he did not like, mostly due to ethnic, political and financial factors. The number of people killed during Idi Amin's eight year reign is unknown, but estimates range from 80,000 to 500,000.
On 4 August 1972, Idi Amin ordered 60,000 of the Indians to leave the country. These were people who continued to hold British passports. This was later amended to include all 80,000 Asians, except professionals such as lawyers, doctors, and teachers.
After fighting a war against Tanzania under President Julius Nyerere, President Idi Amin was exiled from Uganda in 11 April 1979 and fled to Libya. He died on 16 August 2003 of kidney failure in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Resources about History of Uganda
Chaos and Corruption
The Asians were given only ninety days in which to leave the country. They were required to leave all their belongings and property in Uganda. What ensued was chaos. At first, the Indians who did not have Ugandan passports tried to obtain them, so they could stay in what was now their homeland.
But then the president announced that even people with Ugandan passports would have to leave. India announced that they would not be able to take the refugees. Since it was the British who took them to Uganda, it was a British responsibility. This made the Ugandan Asians even more homeless. They had to search for new, unfamiliar places in which to live.
Indians tried to ship some of their valuables to their friends in other countries in order to preserve some of their wealth, but the post office was very rough with their mail,. Of the things that did get delivered, many things arrived broken and unusable.
Some Ugandans were not kind to the refugees. They threw stones at the Indians and vandalized their property. Others kidnapped wealthy Indians in order to get ransom.
When they arrived at the Ugandan airport with the amount of luggage and belongings that was allowed, the soldiers would decide to keep a suitcase or two, stating that it was over the weight limit. Sometimes begging helped them keep a blanket for their children, but most of the valuable property was taken away.
Many of the Asians stayed in refugee camps until more permanent solutions could be established for them. Some of these camps had poor living conditions, and some communities had difficulty assimilating the Asians due to resistance from the local community members.
What is Uganda Like Now?
After the Asians left, the property and business was distributed to cronies of the regime. Unfortunately, because these people did not have any business experience, most of the businesses failed and the country was in a state of despair until it could stabilize.
This blog post, How Amin Destroyed Uganda shows the effects of Idi Amin's decision to oust the Asians.
This news article was written about a family's recent journey back to Uganda to remember and to visit their old property. It explains how race relations are now in Uganda.
Where are they now?
The expulsion of Ugandan Asians caused them to move to many different parts of the world. It is called the Indian diaspora because the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland has been widespread throughout the world. Since many of them had British passports, about 30,000 moved to Britain. The other refugees went to whatever country would admit them, including Australia, Canada, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Sweden, and the United States.
Some communities were more welcoming than others. In Leicester, England, for example, the locals put an ad in the newspaper urging the Asians, "Please do not move to Leicester" and picketed the Asians who did come, urging them to go elsewhere.
Since then, some have moved to other countries or cities to be closer to their relatives or friends, while others have assimilated to their new country, either with or isolated from the other Ugandan Asians.
How Are They Now?
What is life like for the Ugandan Asians around the world today? The information below is generalized, and will not apply to each and every Ugandan Asian, but does provide a glimpse at their social history.
Because most of their wealth had been taken away from them, they were forced to start again, relying on the kindness of strangers. Most of the adults did not have high school diplomas and took on menial jobs. They did, however, bring with them, their business skills and a propensity to work hard. Those that had managed to hide their wealth were able to own hotels, gas stations, and convenience stores.
It was not the homes and the jobs or businesses that they missed the most. Those things could be replaced, even if it did take quite some effort. It was the loss of their hopes and dreams, their identities, relationships, and most of all, their old community.
Experience of Adults
The people who were adults in 1972 continue to hold tight to their culture, and want to maintain the morals, values, language, community and religion, just as they did in Uganda. When you visit them, they will feed you with a large variety of Indian dishes complete with chapatti, chutney, sweets and lassi. They have adapted to their new country and will provide you with a spoon and fork, and some local fruit or food will also be provided, but otherwise the meal is pretty much the same as it was in Uganda.
Experience of Elderly
The people who were elderly in 1972 faced great challenges with this move. They felt they were too old to learn a new language or find a job. They faced decreased mobility and felt it was too cold to venture outside much. They lost much of the support systems they had established in Uganda.
Experience of Children
The people who were children in 1972 were more adaptable. They felt that the move was more of an adventure. They have become more assimilated in the country in which they live. The adults continued to place value on education for the children, and over time, the children became educated. They are now in careers in technology and medicine. They learned the language, with just a remnant of their Indian accents, and picked up many of the new values. This generation probably felt the most culture shock, being straddled between the Indian and African cultures, as well as the culture of their new country. This generation probably also feels the brunt of the prejudice given to Indians, since they have chosen vocations that will make money, and the locals may feel like good jobs are being taken away from them. Many of them married people from their new country. When you visit their house, you are as likely to receive an Indian dish as you are a dish from another country. You will likely get a main dish, a couple of side dishes. The drink might be a soft drink, and the dessert might be cheesecake.
The people who were children in 1972 have grown to have their own children, who are even more ingrained in the new country. The people of this generation rarely have accents of their parent's homeland, and are more likely to take you out to eat than they are to cook for you. This generation continues to value education, and most of them have college degrees. They enjoy traveling and have just started establishing their families and homes.
Ugandan Asians of all generations work on retaining their pride in their heritage and maintaining the values of the culture. They also work on learning as much as they can about their country, and becoming assimilated and adopting it as their new homeland.
Welcome Back to Uganda
Uganda is welcoming back the Asians, sometimes letting them take back their property, most of which is in poor condition, and occupied by Ugandans. Some people have moved back to Uganda, but most have become established in their homelands and choose not to move yet again. Uganda held a 40th anniversary homecoming for the Ugandan Asians and other ousted citizens in 2012.
We can learn a great deal from the Indian diaspora. Their social history can teach us about the effect of immigration, both voluntary and involuntary, of any culture, and the timing and effect of assimilation to a new country. By studying how the Ugandan Asians became acclimated to their new environments and comparing the effects in the different countries in which they moved, we can learn about changes of cultures in general. We can consider the importance of retaining a heritage as compared with the importance of assimilating to a new culture.
By remembering their plight, we can also see them as human beings who are trying to make their way in the world, just like anyone else.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Shasta Matova