Flag of Uganda Credit: Public Domain image

It remains a bitter memory for Asians, some life-long and others more recent residents of Uganda, of their sudden, unexpected expulsion from the African country they called home 50 years ago this month. 

They had just 90 days to pack up and leave, then President Idi Amin declared in a televised speech. For now, he was “giving Uganda back to ethnic Ugandans.”

In a recorded video from the Command Post in Kololo on Aug. 6, Idi Amin unleashed a torrent of charges—that the Asians refused to integrate, that their main interest was to exploit the economy of Uganda and the Ugandan Africans. “They have been milking the economy of the country,” he declared.

He made no distinction between Asians born in the U.K., born in India or born in Uganda.

Properties left behind were taken over by the ‘Departed Asians Custodial Board,’ which soon became Uganda’s biggest landlord. 

For Amin, the ‘Economic War’ was an enduring victory. Throughout the 1970s his government commemorated the expulsion of August 1972 with military parades and popular celebrations.

But the Indians weren’t new arrivals in Africa. In the 1890s, around 40,000 Indians, mostly Punjabis, were brought in as immigrant workers to build the Uganda Railway connecting Mombasa in Kenya to Kampala in Uganda. The 600 mile railway took more than 30,000 laborers six years to build, and cost over 2,000 lives. It has since been replaced by the Chinese.

Many of the expelled Asians fled to the U.K. and concentrated in the area known as Leicester.

A major exhibit Rebuilding Lives: 50 Years of Ugandan Asians in Leicester at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery will recognize for the first time those who fled the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

“We’re so grateful to the Ugandan community here in Leicester and across the U.K. for sharing their stories and items with us,” said project director Nisha Popat. “We’ve also managed to reunite long lost friends and family—it’s been amazing.”

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