Why Idi Amin Expelled The Asians

Seawall

Registered User
Read this last year in an African magazine. This is from a Ugandan perspective, which one never sees.


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.”


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.”

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.

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.

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. The segregation was not supported by law but it was observed in practice. Africans were not expected to go to the Imperial Hotel (The Grand Imperial Hotel in downtown Kampala). There was a sign outside the hotel that stayed there until 1952. It read: “Africans and dogs not allowed”. The waiters were Asians.

“Come independence in 1962,” Ambassador Etiang explains, “one significant provision in the independence constitution was an article which stated that those people who were not Ugandans as at Uganda’s independence on 9 October 1962, had two years to make up their minds, whether to become citizens of the new Uganda or adopt the status of British-protected persons, in which case the latter would have a British passport.”


Many Asians at the time applied for British citizenship but because business was good in Uganda with no competition from the locals, many did not leave.

In 1969, Britain tabled a revised version of its Immigration Act, the Patriot’s Act. Commonwealth passport holders would need a visa to enter Britain. Britain was compelled to pass that Act as a condition for its entry into the European Economic Commission (EEC). Now, it was only citizens of member states of the EEC that had the right to travel to Britain without a visa.

“Commonwealth members reacted to it very strongly,” Ambassador Etiang recalls. “This is what brought about the immigration discussion in Uganda.”

The Ugandan government, then under President Milton Obote, started asking: “How do we deal with all these Asians? If Britain was making rules barring us from opportunities in Britain, then we also have the right to have our own rules to regulate those who are coming here.”

That was when Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania realised that they needed their own Immigration Acts, and the first Immigration Acts were subsequent passed that year in reaction to the British Patriot’s Act. By 1971, the issue of Asians being Ugandans or not, remained unaddressed beyond the provision in the 1962 Constitution. “But this is what I believe triggered the expulsion under Amin,” says Ambassador Etiang.

The spark

The head of the Religious Services at the time, Col Khamis Safi, was from the Nubian tribe and a Muslim like Amin. Safi was the son of a man believed to have walked to Mecca, on pilgrimage, in 1917. It is a popular Nubian story. Because he survived the treacherous journey by land, he was deemed to have been a holy man. And because he was holy even his children must be holy. Khamis Safi was therefore an obvious choice to be head of Religious Services.

“By 1972,” Ambassador Etiang recalls, “Khamis Safi was usually the last person to visit Amin every day at State House. On 4 July 1972, I happened to be among the last three to leave. There was Khamis Safi and Mustafa Ramathan, who was the minister for cooperatives. We were having a light chat when Amin came in.

“Khamis posed a question to Amin: ‘Afande, have you ever asked yourself why God made you a president?’ Amin replied by asking Khamis: ‘What do you mean?’

“‘God appointed you president,’ Khamis repeated. ‘There are many injustices in this country. Each tribe has a place they call home. Even Etiang here, the Itesots have a place. But have you ever asked yourself, where do the Nubians come from? As far as I know God made you president to rectify the wrongs that have been handed to Nubians in this country. We are the ones who brought Captain Baker here, we are the ones who founded Kampala. Kampala is Nubian territory.’
 

Seawall

Registered User

“Amin was listening. You should have been there when this supposedly holy man was talking to Amin, he would be docile,” said Etiang.

Amin said, maybe it is true. But Mustafa Ramathan challenged the argument that Kampala was Nubian territory.

But Khamis insisted that Nubians too needed a place. “We brought the Muzungu (white man) here on our backs. He set up camp at Old Kampala. This place is ours.”
Amin said, “OK, we’ll think about it.”

Three weeks later, Amin left for Karamoja by helicopter. There, he revealed that he had had a dream that what Khamis had said was true. That God had revealed to him that unless he obeyed the advice of the holy son, Uganda risked being taken over by the imperialists.

“I believe that was the origin of the expulsion,” Ambassador Etiang says. “Once you told Amin something and he liked it, he would keep it to himself and then later put it in his own way like it was his idea.”

When Amin told the cabinet about the expulsion, it was greeted with scepticism. The civil service received the implementation orders as a cabinet directive. The attorney general was directed to draft an expulsion order. Amin was later told he could not expel all the Asians because some were Ugandans.

“I met Khamis at State House again,” Ambassador Etiang remembers. “He told Amin in Kiswahili that what you have done is very good but if you want to remove this tree from here, you don’t just cut off the branches. The idea of only non-citizens leaving is like a branch. Remove the whole tree. An Indian is an Indian. He can have three passports at a time. All of them could be with two or more passports. Amin said okay.

“The Asians who suffered a lot are those who professed to be Ugandan because while the other ones had three months’ notice, the Ugandan-Asians had less than a month to leave.”

They had to abandon the property given to them by their departing relatives and friends. Says Etiang: “This man Khamis Safi is the single individual who brought all this up.”


The British foreign secretary at the time, James Callaghan, came to plead for the Asians, but Amin refused to change his mind. The harsh impact was felt by the native Africans. The Asians were importers, and most of the imported goods they had imported got stuck in Mombasa, the Kenyan seaport. Nobody claimed the goods and Kenyans got them for peanuts.

Uganda was hit by an acute shortage of essential goods. What saved the country was that coffee had the highest value ever at the time. One wagon of coffee was $1.8m.

“I remember 22 August 1977,” recalls Etiang, “that time we were acutely short of paraffin. Iraq gave us paraffin – from one Muslim brother to another – but Kenyans refused to allow it to transit. ‘This is very bad indeed,’ said Amin. Then he told me: ‘Go to your boss and see if he can allow it to transit through Dar es Salaam [Tanzania]’.”

Etiang, now the foreign minister, went to see President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania who agreed that the paraffin should transit through Mutukula – all two million litres. Amin’s government distributed the Asian businesses to Ugandans. Many of them collapsed in no time. One lucky recipient was the former Kampala City mayor, Hajj Nasser Ntege Ssebagala, who believes that Ugandans failed to run the shops because of lack of experience. Some sold the shirts by collar size where size seven would be sold at seven shillings.

“The point was to get Africans to start doing business,” says Ssebagala. “Out of the many failures, there were a handful of success stories. That’s how a middle class is created. Amin wanted people to get used to money, to learn to run a business. The idea was to give a chance to Africans to come up,”

Ssebagala says Amin demonstrated that he cared about Ugandans. “I don’t think we shall get another Ugandan with the kind of nationalism like Amin’s,” Ssebagala says, without blinking an eyelid.

In 1973, Amin’s government issued the Properties and Businesses (Acquisition) Decree. Under it, Asian properties were expropriated by the government and sold.

Amin agreed to pay the Asians who lost their property, and indeed set up a fund at the central bank, the Bank of Uganda.

The Asians who left for Canada and England were paid through the Uganda High Commission for the value of their properties and 30% as disturbance allowance. However, in 1983, under a new president, Milton Obote, the Expropriated Properties Act was instituted to provide for the transfer of expropriated properties to their former owners. Then long after President Yoweri Museveni had taken power (he came into office in January 1986 after chasing out Obote’s second government), he returned the properties to their original Asian owners.

“That’s how some Asians came back and repossessed their properties, for which they had already been compensated,” explains Ssebagala.
 

Buhbayduss

change is up to us...
I enjoy reading that... what is mess up claiming what they were compensated for... what I don't like governments treating foreign businesses better than local businesses...
 

jamaicangirl

Boonoonoonoos
I have never had any problems with what Idi Amin did. I know very little about politics but I know a lot about racism and class.

I don't understand why this was not done in South Africa. Everytime I say that people tell me that I am crazy and that the country would have collapsed but every time I see that there are still whites in SA living well while Africans live in townships, it confuses me.

:confused
 

Oneshot

where de crix
nah.. there were a million ways he could have enabled ordinary Ugandans to engage in the real economy. Amin chose the populist manner.
 

VINCYPOWA

Registered Member
nah.. there were a million ways he could have enabled ordinary Ugandans to engage in the real economy. Amin chose the populist manner.
SMH

Since there were a MILLION WAYS he could have enabled ORDINARY Ugandans to engage in the ECONOMY, why don't you give us TEN of those way.
 

Oneshot

where de crix
SMH

Since there were a MILLION WAYS he could have enabled ORDINARY Ugandans to engage in the ECONOMY, why don't you give us TEN of those way.
1) Apprenticeships
2) Small business funding
3) Vocational programs
4) Promote the formation of cooperatives
5) Housing grants (arm people with the tools to build their homes or communities)
6) Recognize African innovators/ entrepreneurs
7) Infrastructure spending (General road building for example)
8) Nationalize key industries (rail etc)
9) Change ownership rules for key industries (foreigners can only on a minority stake - 49%)
10) Most importantly not rampantly kill people,
builds a military complex
 

jamaicangirl

Boonoonoonoos
1) Apprenticeships
2) Small business funding
3) Vocational programs
4) Promote the formation of cooperatives
5) Housing grants (arm people with the tools to build their homes or communities)
6) Recognize African innovators/ entrepreneurs
7) Infrastructure spending (General road building for example)
8) Nationalize key industries (rail etc)
9) Change ownership rules for key industries (foreigners can only on a minority stake - 49%)
10) Most importantly not rampantly kill people,
builds a military complex
LOL

Killing is never okay.

But it was still right to remove them. No matter what is done, the racial hierarchy would still exist and no programs can ever replace social perceptions. Look at the United States fifty years after the civil rights movement. Blacks who try hard will succeed but no one can deny that it is harder and that people are shocked when they see a Black person in a top position. I am speaking from personal experience.
 

Seawall

Registered User
LOL

Killing is never okay.

But it was still right to remove them. No matter what is done, the racial hierarchy would still exist and no programs can ever replace social perceptions. Look at the United States fifty years after the civil rights movement. Blacks who try hard will succeed but no one can deny that it is harder and that people are shocked when they see a Black person in a top position. I am speaking from personal experience.
An Ethiopian friend has told me that Indians controls most of the businesses in kenya.
 

Seawall

Registered User
The comments on the article below are real interesting.

Has the line between caricaturing and relying on racist tropes been blurred in cartoonist Zapiro’s recent work?
FEBRUARY 25, 2013 BY NEELIKA JAYAWARDANE

Ah, greasy, beak-nosed men with unsavoury, five-o-clock shadows darkening swarthy jawlines, proffering gifts and currying favours. Good to see that the illustrious history that connects the stereotyping of Jewish people and Indians (particularly Indians in Africa) is continuing, at the hands of cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, better known as Zapiro. Shapiro’s work is beyond well-known in South Africa and abroad; he’s beloved for drawing Mandela as a figure of humility and humour large enough to love the caricatures Shapiro drew of him. Shapiro is also famous for lambasting political leaders who capitalised on Mandela’s (and the ANC’s former) glory to garner private fortunes, via under-cover deals. Enter Ajay, Atol and Rajesh Gupta, who journeyed to South Africa from Saharanpur, India during the 1990s to explore possible business opportunities in the country. And they found plenty of business with members of the ANC.
Among the rumours swirling around the Guptas: that they brokered a deal that benefits them and Duduzane Zuma (the son of Jacob Zuma), becoming co-shareholders in a deal with China Railway Construction Corporation, and another “R9-billion empowerment deal” with Indian-Swiss megacorporation ArcelorMittal. (The Gupta family has set up a WordPress blog to establish the facts and address what they call “this ‘perception-mongering’” by the South African media here.) Given all this, it’s no wonder that the Three Brothers Gupta would become Zapiro subjects.
However, it’s the direction that the satirist’s pen took, when depicting Ajay, Atol and Rajesh’s features, to which we want to draw attention; whether that direction was taken inadvertently or not, the similarities between how Jewish people were/are depicted in anti-Semitic cartoons and Zapiro’s depiction of the Guptas are hard to ignore. The history of stereotyping Indians as the ‘Jews’ of East and Southern Africa is a long one. It’s a trope that is reflected in Drum writing in the 1950s and earlier, as well as in the writing of the brothers Naipaul. In North of South, Shiva Naipaul wrote, after visiting East Africa in the 1970s, ”the Asian is the eternal ‘other’” in Africa (readers: please feel free to supply us with details from V.S. and Shiva Naipaul). Making this odd linkage actually goes back as far as the 19th century, when missionaries like David Livingstone et al conveniently saw ‘Indians’ and ‘Arabs’ as exploitative forces preying on naive-yet-untrusting natives, thereby necessitating white intervention.
Paul Theroux, the travel writer, is also famous for detailed vignettes in which the persecution of Indians in East Africa is paralleled to the stereotyping (and eventual persecution) of Jews in Europe, even though he doesn’t explicitly say so (read this blog entry for a blow-by-blow comparison). In Dark Star Safari, there are multiple stories about Indians being spoken of in a denigrating manner, highlighting their propensity to be good shopkeepers who live a “rather secluded life–all numbers and money and goods on shelves.” Others are more crazy-ugly, such as a gem recounted by a man named Karsten on a dugout canoe ride, concerning the reason why Indians are so rich: they catch the biggest fish on the mighty Zambezi by using the chopped up parts of the heart of young Zambian maidens to bait their fishing lines, luring fish with diamonds in them. Each of Theroux’s narratives involving Indians have linkages to older myths about blood-libels, told about the Jews of Europe.
The comparisons have had enough impact that Asians in Africa sometimes refer to themselves as a group who experience the same dilemmas as German-Jewish people did, circa 1930s (see the National Museums of Kenya ethnographer, Sultan H. Somjee’s comments here). When I first read Theroux’s comparisons as a grad student, I thought, “Oh, right. That makes a sort of racist sense, masquerading as a sympathetic gesture of solidarity,” and left it at that. For the uninitiated, it may seem like a bit of leap between Zapiro’s Guptas and the figure of the Jew (men, ususally) in anti-Semitic cartoons. If you have doubts about the resonances to which I’m referring, have a look at some of these.
First, a woodcut from Pierre Boaistuau’s Histoires Prodigieuses (above). Dated around 1569, depicting a Jewish man poisoning a well into which the Devil is urinating. The image here isn’t clear enough to show the features, but you may get the drift.
Second, cartoons from the Nazi era certainly make the linkages between Shapiro’s Guptas and theirs clear: see here (Polish cartoon depicting Jewish people as fat/well off while blaming the poor for their poverty), and the one left, promoting the Nazi claim that the Jews were behind World War II, having orchestrated it to destroy Nazi Germany (The caption: “One eats the other and the Jew devours them all…”). Source: Lustige Blätter, a weekly German humor magazine; issue #29/1943.


Then there are more modern versions of this type of depiction of Jewish people, propelled by the state of Israel’s unconscionable actions against the Palestinians:

And finally some food to complicate your thoughts: in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming adaption of F. Scott Fitgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Bollywood patriarch Amitabh Bachchan (below) is set to play the Jewish character of Meyer Wolfsheim, whom Fitzgerald portrayed as a money-grubbing, crude, corrupt, hairy man with a pronounced Yiddish accent who continually insinuates himself into acceptable society via his business “goneggtions”:

We’re no apologists for the underhanded tactics of industrialists like the Guptas – and by all means, Zapiro, poke fun, expose, critique. But if you want to create Golliwog referenced-drawings when you critique black leaders or as stand-ins for black people (even as you mean to critique the very problem of such residual views in racist societies — a methodology of social critique employed by Anton Kannemeyer’s camp of cartooning), or keep getting endless laughs with, say, a president-with-a-shower-head, nose broader than a table top, or outlandishly pouty lips, I hope there’s space for us to point out that the line between caricaturing a public figure’s specific traits and a tendency towards relying on racist tropes might have been blurred.
* Thanks to Dan Magaziner for the reminder on Livingstone and the Naipauls’ references to the trope.
 

triniochun

Registered User
So by this logic Indigenous/First Nations People should expel everyone who is NOT from North, South and Central America?
 

VINCYPOWA

Registered Member
1) Apprenticeships
2) Small business funding
3) Vocational programs
4) Promote the formation of cooperatives
5) Housing grants (arm people with the tools to build their homes or communities)
6) Recognize African innovators/ entrepreneurs
7) Infrastructure spending (General road building for example)
8) Nationalize key industries (rail etc)
9) Change ownership rules for key industries (foreigners can only on a minority stake - 49%)
10) Most importantly not rampantly kill people,
builds a military complex
SMH

Dude, we're TALKING about the EARLY 1970's when this EVENT took place...that is what I am referencing.
 

Seawall

Registered User
So by this logic Indigenous/First Nations People should expel everyone who is NOT from North, South and Central America?
Idi Amin had the power to do so and he did. I don't agree with his decision, but I am more in favor of Mugabe's reclaiming of the land in Zimbabwe. However, similar issues with land ownership and who controls the resources exists all over Africa. The move the sanction Zimbabwe (by the Western powers) for their actions against the white farmers was meant to send a message to other African states.
 

Oneshot

where de crix
Idi Amin had the power to do so and he did. I don't agree with his decision, but I am more in favor of Mugabe's reclaiming of the land in Zimbabwe. However, similar issues with land ownership and who controls the resources exists all over Africa. The move the sanction Zimbabwe (by the Western powers) for their actions against the white farmers was meant to send a message to other African states.
I agree with Mugabe's action also, but i dont trust Mugabe's intention either. You wait 30+ years to do so??

To tell you the truth I dont think the santions are because the farmlans but because of the new ownership rules he is setting into place. 51% ownership rules and the likes,
 
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