The decision to expel Asians was solely taken by Idi Amin. He had harboured grievances against Asians even before we got independence because of the favouritism they were getting from the British. As you may already know, the British have always favoured the Asians over Black Africans, and our PM David Cameron didn’t help matters with his statement this month:

“One day, I want to hear that title Prime Minister followed by a British-Asian name[NOT A SEMUWEMBA].Just not immediately, if that’s OK…….”—-Prime Minister David Cameron in his speech at the annual GG2 Leadership Awards 2014

Its also possible that Obote, like many Ugandans at the time, didn’t like Asians that much for the same reasons as Amin. I actually read a book a long time ago giving the impression that Amin may have picked the idea to expel the Asians through the earlier conversations he had had with Obote. Ya, I’m sure I read it somewhere but I can’t remember where exactly. But the fact is that Amin didn’t like the way Indians conducted themselves in the country and he made this clear to them in his speech on 6 Dec 1971. The speech was an ominous warning to the members of the Asian community. But I guess few Asians thought it would lead to their expulsion from Uganda. It was a fantastic speech and it makes me smile every time I read it basically because I’ve not seen a politician in my adult life making a speech and sounding as honest and blunt as Amin did then. Most of today’s speeches are about what the audience wants to hear and most leaders don’t really mean what they say, …………well, not Idi Amin. Someone tells you:” the problem with African leaders is overstaying in power”, when they really mean ” the problem with leadership is that it is too sweet”.

The part I like most is where Amin pointed out to the Asians that the Uganda govt had been spending a lot of money on them and it was high time it got something concrete in return:

“For instance, between 1962 and 1968, the government of Uganda sponsored as many as 417 Asians for training as engineers. Today,however, only 20 of the 417 Asians work for the government. Within the same period, the govt sponsored 217 Asians to train as doctors, but to date not more than 15 doctors of these are working for the govt. Finally, within the same period, the govt sponsored 96 Asians to undertake law courses, but of these only 18 are now serving in the govt……………..iam further informed that some of these Asians who were sponsored to take courses abroad refused to return to Uganda after thy qualified, which means that thy have contributed absolutely nothing in return for the training benefits which they received from this govt……………………it is painful in that about 70 years have elapsed since the first Asians came to Uganda, but despite that length of time the Asian community has continued to live in a world of its own”

The speech was so long but what makes it interesting is that he was painfully telling the truth, and giving the Asians a warning shot. The speech was published in the “Uganda Gazette 1972”, government printer. Interestingly, the Asian community didn’t take him seriously till when he finally got his famous dream in 1972. The man clearly made it clear in his conclusion that they should self examine and correct of any weaknesses but nobody took him seriously. Well, as the Baganda say: “komanyi enfumita tokalinda galula”!

It is patently unfair to judge Amin’s expulsion of Asians basing on what Nyerere, Obote’s friend, said. As I assume some of you already know, most African leaders refused to come out to publicly condemn it apart from Obote’s friend[Nyerere], president Kenneth Kaunda(another Obote’s friend) and Samora Machel of Mozambique. Actually, Nyerere went ahead to criticise other African leaders for their silence and tolerance, and even admiration of Amin.

This begs the questions:
1-Is there a possibility that Amin was supported by a lot of African leaders for expelling the Asians?

2- Was Nyerere sincere in his criticism of Amin’s actions or he just wanted to make him look bad in front of the international media, for the benefit of his long time friend, Obote?

3- What about Mahmud Mamdani? Should we trust his assessment of the situation considering that he was an Asian himself? In his article,”The Asian Questions Again: A reflection,” published in the Sunday Vision of 28th April 2007, he mentions: ”………it was painful for me to realise that if Amin was originally popular because he had removed the Obote dictatorship, the reason for his continued popularity had to do with the fact that he, more than any other leader, had put the Asian question at the forefront of the political agenda. Every Ugandan understood in his or her guts that the secret of Asian business success lay not just in hard work, but also in a racially unjust colonial system which made it difficult for black people to enter trade, thereby confirming Asian dominance in trade.”

I have coped the professor this message, and hopefully, we shall get to hear from him inishallah.

4- Is there a big possibility that the economy was eventually crippled, not because of the expulsion of the Asians but other factors? Let us remember that the Asians were expelled in 1972 but the the impact of Amin’s economic war on the country was not felt immediately, as the nation’s main export, coffee, continued to do well on the international market.

That said,I heartily agree that Amin shouldn’t have expelled the Uganda Asians but we should also agree that any leader who has got Uganda at heart, had to do something about the Asian question in Uganda then. Something needed to be done, and to be done urgently. The Asian community itself was also partly to blame for what later happened to them. They should have immediately gone into dialogue with Amin and found a way of correcting their past mistakes after that famous conference, but they didnt or put in less efforts. You know Asians are very proud people………..I have learnt this from my interaction with them here in the UK.

Unfortunately,NRM is actually making the same mistakes as the colonialists did in 1950s-60s,and it looks like the Mabira saga never taught them any lesson. As prof Mamdan pointed out:

‘The number of Asian residents of Uganda began to multiply, from less than 5,000 when the NRM came to power to an estimated 20,000 today(2007). Of these, only 2,000 came from the pre-1972 generation’

So basically, as you can see, we have got a big problem on our hands. A lot of Asians are being used by those in power as fronts for their businesses, at the expense of the common man.People aren’t happy and that is very worrying. In Busoga alone, I think they are taking advantage of the small scale sugarcane growers there, by paying them peanuts for their harvests. Believe me, Uganda is a time bomb on so many fronts especially the Asian issue, just like South Africa.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba´╗┐




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Semuwemba is a Ugandan residing in the UK

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"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. "~ Martin Luther King Jr. ~

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