Forty Four years ago today,4 August 1972, the then President of Uganda, President Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of Asians from Uganda within 90 days. This was viewed as ethnic cleansing of Indians in Uganda by the international media, in a climate of Indophobia, some media houses put it. Amin rightly observed that the Indians were hoarding wealth and goods to the detriment of indigenous Ugandans and “sabotaging” the Ugandan economy.
Amin’s and Uganda’s adversaries explain the expulsion of Indians from Uganda however they like. Some say his former supporters suggested that it followed a dream in which, he claimed, Allah had told him to expel them, as well as plot vengeance against the British government for refusing to provide him with arms to invade Tanzania. Whatever the case, Amin maintained that the expulsion of Asians was to give Uganda back to the ethnic Ugandans:
“We are determined to make the ordinary Ugandan master of his own destiny, and above all to see that he enjoys the wealth of his country. Our deliberate policy is to transfer the economic control of Uganda into the hands of Ugandans, for the first time in our country’s history.”
It must be noted that before the expulsion, Asians owned many large businesses in Uganda and in total, some 5,655 firms, ranches, farms, and agricultural estates were reallocated, along with cars, homes and other household goods to individuals and the state. For political reasons, almost 5,443 were reallocated to individuals, with 176 going to government bodies, 33 being reallocated to semi-state organizations and 2 going to charities.
The practice of bending government policy towards inclusion of Africans in the economic affairs of their own country was started earlier under President Milton Obote. The 1968 Committee on “Africanisation in Commerce and Industry” in Uganda made far-reaching proposals to Africanise the economy. A system of work permits and trade licenses was introduced in 1969 to check the role of foreigners and Indians in economic and professional activities of Uganda – a practice that exists in almost all developed countries today.
Amin in a sense was only reading into the desires of his countymen, the only difference is that he did not follow the text book rules which in any case would deliver similar consequences.
The biggest winner therefore was the state-owned Uganda Development Corporation, which gained control over some of the largest enterprises up for grabs, though both the rapid nature of the growth and the sudden lack of experienced technicians and managers proved a challenge for the corporation, resulting in a restructuring of the sector in 1974-75.
It turns out that some of these state owned companies are the ones President Museveni has helped himself with giving it to his cronies at give away prices under the guise of privatisation in the 1990s,many of whom still want bailout monies from the state today. You will want to know that the very same Museveni, a few days ago while giving an award to governor of bank of Uganda claims that Amin was to blame for the poor performance of the Uganda economy in the 1990s till now.
True there was economic decline under African ownership of business but how would Uganda be had Amin not expelled the Asians. Ugandans would be visiting Kampala to Admire an Indian city in the heart of Buganda as they enjoyed poverty in the country side. I have met Indians who off the record, admit that Amin inspite of himself was arguably the wisest president Uganda has ever had.
I mean after nearly 70 years of colonial rule and a decade at that time, of independence,what did Ugandans have to show for it, except exploitation and apisement of a previledged minority just as it was under colonial rule.Indeed of the expelled indians, majority of whom had British Passports only 20000 were given refugee status in Britain.The rest were autioned by the British to her former colonies.why???.Even India took back less than 5000.
We must learn to appreciate former presidents if this union of many nations called Uganda is to survive and stay together.My name begins with letter O,i should have so many genuine reasons to detest Amin.Yet i think you and i are lucky that today we stand grateful of African positions in the economy of Uganda.We cannot be on the lamenting side of historical injustices all the way.From Leopold and Belgian robbery in the Congo,white farmers of Zimbabwe,appartheid South Africa and 400 years of black slavery in the Americas.