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For Uganda’s NRIs, a reminder of Amin’s days


he worst NRI nightmare is Idi Amin’s Uganda,” recalled Shanti Lakhani in Leicester, U.K. “A glimpse of the same horror was repeated last week.” No matter where they live, all non-resident Indians (NRIs) recoil at the brutal treatment by the Ugandan despot Amin. The recent violent demonstrations near Jinja and in the capital Kampala were a reminder of the dark days of the Amin era from 1971-1979 during which the dictator ordered all Indians to leave Uganda in 1972. This mass expulsion from their homes and businesses without taking any assets remains the ultimate disaster for all NRIs. Lakhani should know. He and his family came with just 50 pounds to Britain 35 years ago as “Ugandan Refugees”. Before he flew out, he buried his gold ornaments in a secret spot in his Ugandan dictator Idi Amin on a visit to Britain in 1971. home. Moving to Leicester where other Ugandan Indians were days later, the mob attack that saw Indians being dragged off converging, he started from scratch as a petrol station atten- motorbikes and beaten, their shops looted and a Hindu temdant. Working almost round the clock, he bought the business ple attacked, revived bitter memories of virulent anti-Indian a few years later with a bank loan. It took some more years to bashing by former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin who expelled repay this loan. By then, the new Uganda President Yoweri nearly 75,000 Asians in 1972,” wrote the Hindustan Times. Leading Ugandan newspaper New Vision editorialised: Museveni invited the Ugandan Indians back to Uganda “to re“The violence against the Asian community, resulting in one construct” their former homeland. Lakhani went back, but Asian killed, is unforgivable. It has only to dig up his ornaments from his led to the loss of life and the destruchome now taken over by Africans. COMMENTARY tion of property of innocent people. Other Indian traders, including the It has diverted a noble cause into a racial one.” two major Indian business groups, the Madhvanis and the After the Indian government expressed concern over the Mehtas, returned to restart operations and prospered again. safety of Indians in Uganda, the Ugandan government assured And now, 35 years after this exodus that grabbed world that no harm will be done to Indians in Uganda. President headlines, the anger against Indians in Uganda resurfaced in Museveni promised, “Such hooliganism will not be allowed all its ugliness when Indians were attacked, forced to close to happen again.” their shops and a young Indian was lynched to death. He added: “Ugandans need ‘foreigners’ to develop our It all started with a protest by environmentalists who wantcountry. They bring their savings here, their technology, their ed to save part of a forest that the government wanted to hand management skills and buy what we produce. Others come over to the Mehta Group for developing a sugarcane plantahere as tourists and bring money. How can anybody claim to tion. “Save the forest” protest by the opposition morphed into be pro-Uganda and be anti-foreigners, who are contributing an anti-Indian diatribe. From Jinja, trouble spread to Kampala. to our prosperity?” Indians hurriedly downed their shop shutters to save them But the incident shows how quickly the hatred against the from being ransacked. Indian banks also closed down. Some immigrants flares up when peaceful protestors become hysIndians sought refuge in a temple that was attacked. And an terical attackers. Indian, Devang Rawal, was stoned and beaten to death by a As a witness to the Amin era, I have observed all this at close vicious mob during a protest. A day after his death, oblivious quarters from Kenya and reported on the plight of Ugandan of what had happened in Kampala, Devang’s mother in refugees in Britain. Visiting Kampala a year after Amin took Ahmedabad was joyfully informing friends of her son’s return over, it was clear that the richly-endowed country was on a in May and his wedding preparations. When his body arrived steep slide into the poverty and anarchy that ensued. in Ahmedabad, his mother and family were inconsolable. –– Kul Bhushan “Although Indian shops in Kampala opened a couple of

February-April 2007



February 2007-April 2007