In his own words: Why Idi Amin Expelled Indians from Uganda

Letter from New Delhi

Ugandan dictator Idi Amin said that he had a dream in which God told him to order the expulsion. But here is the official signed letter from the Dictator Idi Amin explaining the economic reasons why he expelled Indians from Uganda.

Most overseas Indians know about the expulsion of Indians from Uganda on 4 August 1972, over 40 years ago. This was a major shock and disaster for 60,000 Uganda Indians who were told to leave within 90 days with almost nothing more than the clothes they wore. The country’s Indian population, mostly Indian Gujaratis, had lived in the East African country for more than 100 years.

Before the expulsion, Asians owned many large businesses in Uganda but the purge of Asians from Uganda’s economy was virtually total. In total, some 5,655 firms, ranches, farms, and agricultural estates were reallocated, along with cars, homes and other household goods.

For political reasons, most businesses around 5,500, were reallocated to individuals, with 176 going to government bodies, 33 to semi-state organisations and 2 going to charities.

Most of the Ugandan Indians refugees went to Britain, which took around 27,200 refugees. The Gujaratis mostly settled in Leicester. The second highest number over 6,000, mostly Ismailis, went to Canada. They have done well in Vancouver, Toronto and other places.

So Amin wrote a formal letter to the Canadian Prime Minister explaining in diplomatic language why he expelled the Indians and ended the three-page letter by asking for his help! The letter is due to be published by Dr Vali Jamal in his forthcoming book,

‘UGANDA ASIANS: Then and Now, Here and There’.

Amin does not mention about his divine insight to get rid of Indians but gives economic reasons for his action. Comments Dr Jamal, “He was not the buffoon people tried to make out once he repudiated their support. Foreign Minister Wanume Kibedi quite likely drafted this letter.”

About 4,500 Indians settled in India and 2,500 went to neighbouring Kenya. Smaller numbers went to Pakistan, West Germany, United States and Australia. Most arrived virtually penniless having been expelled without compensation for businesses and property. Some were also robbed by troops en route to the airport.

Back in Uganda, the Africans suffered Idi Amin’s rule, one of Uganda’s most brutal

periods. Amin committed unlimited atrocities during his bloody rule of Uganda, including the mass murder of up to 300,000 of his own people. In that respect, the expulsion of Asians could be seen as a blessing for they got out alive. His horror stories of savage murders and torture were made into Hollywood films like Rise and Fall of Idi Amin and The Last King of Scotland. He was overthrown in 1979 and lived in exile in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003.

The Indian expulsion from Uganda is largely forgotten today as the current President Y. Museveni invited them back towards the end of the last century and many returned to reclaim their properties and businesses. The ones who settled in the West have prospered.

After their struggles in the UK, one ex-Uganda Indian confided in me, “Amin did the best thing for my family. Look, after these 40 years, I have a big home, my children have had university education and are well settled and I am happy.”

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

* Published in print edition on 12 September 2014

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