Expulsion of Asians from Uganda

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In early August 1972, the President of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of his country's Asian minority, giving them 90 days to leave the country.[1]


Former British colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa have many citizens of South Asian descent. They were brought there by the British Empire from British India to do clerical work in Imperial service, or unskilled/semi-skilled manual labour such as construction or farm work. In the 1890s, 32,000 labourers from British India were brought to Southeast Africa under indentured labour contracts to work on the construction of the Uganda Railway. Most of the surviving Indians returned home, but 6,724 individuals decided to remain in the African Great Lakes after the line's completion.[citation needed] At the time of the expulsion, there were approximately 80,000 individuals of Indian descent in Uganda, of whom 50,000 were British passport holders.[1]

Many Indians in Southeast Africa and Uganda were in the sartorial and banking businesses, where they were employed by the British. Since the representation of Indians in these occupations was high, stereotyping of Indians in Uganda as tailors or bankers was common. South Asians had significant influence on the economy, constituting 1% of the population while receiving a fifth of the national income. Gated ethnic communities served elite healthcare and schooling services. Additionally, the tariff system in Uganda had historically been oriented toward the economic interests of South Asian traders.[2]

The ethnic cleansing of Indians in Uganda was conducted in a climate of Indophobia, in which the Ugandan government claimed that the Indians were hoarding wealth and goods to the detriment of indigenous Ugandans and "sabotaging" the Ugandan economy.[3] Indophobia in Uganda pre-dated Amin. The 1968 Committee on "Africanisation in Commerce and Industry" in Uganda made far-reaching Indophobic proposals. A system of work permits and trade licenses was introduced in 1969 to restrict the role of Indians in economic and professional activities. Indians were segregated and discriminated against in all walks of life.[4] After Idi Amin came to power, he exploited this and spread propaganda against Indians involving stereotyping and scapegoating the Indian minority. Indians were stereotyped as "only traders" and "inbred" to their profession. Indians were labelled as "dukawallas" (an occupational term that degenerated into an anti-Indian slur during Amin's time), and stereotyped as "greedy, conniving", without any racial identity or loyalty but "always cheating, conspiring and plotting" to subvert Uganda. Amin used this propaganda to justify a campaign of "de-Indianization", eventually resulting in the expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Uganda's Indian minority.[4]

This expulsion of an ethnic minority was not the first in Uganda's history, the country's Kenyan minority, numbering approximately 30,000 having been expelled in 1969–70.[5][6]

The expulsion[edit]

Idi Amin

In August 1971, Amin announced a review of the citizenship status awarded to Uganda's Asian community, followed by the announcement of census in October that year.[6] In December the same year, he announced that all outstanding applications for citizenship would be put on hold pending the outcome of the review. On 4 August 1972, Amin declared that Britain would need to take on responsibility for British subjects of Asian origin.[6] The deadline for British subjects to leave was confirmed as three months, which came to mean 8 November. On 9 August, the policy was expanded to include citizens of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.[6] The position of the 23,000 Asians who had been granted Ugandan citizenship (and in particular those who held no other citizenship) was less clear. Not originally included, on 19 August, they were added to the list, before being re-exempted three days later following international protest. Many chose to leave rather than endure further intimidation, with only 4,000 known to have stayed.[6]

The precise motivation for the expulsion remains unclear. Some of his former supporters suggest 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.[7] Amin defended the expulsion by arguing that he was giving 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.

— Idi Amin, quoted in Uganda: a modern history.[6]

Ugandan soldiers during this period engaged in theft and physical and sexual violence against the Asians with impunity.[citation needed]


Following the expulsion of Indians in 1972, India severed diplomatic relations with Uganda. The Indian government warned Uganda of dire consequences, but took no action when Amin's government ignored the ultimatum.[8] Many of the Indians were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and 27,200 refugees subsequently emigrated to the United Kingdom. Of the other refugees who were accounted for, 6,000 refugees went to Canada, 4,500 refugees ended up in India and 2,500 refugees went to nearby Kenya. Malawi, Pakistan, West Germany and the United States took 1,000 refugees each, with smaller numbers emigrating to Australia, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Mauritius and New Zealand. About 20,000 refugees were unaccounted for.[6][9] Reluctant to expand its immigration quota, the British government had sought agreement from its British overseas territories to resettle them; however, only the Falkland Islands responded positively.[10][11]

Some of those expelled were Nizari Ismaili Muslims. The Aga Khan, the Imam of Nizari Ismailis phoned his long-time friend Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau's government agreed to allow thousands of Nizari Ismailis to immigrate to Canada.[12]

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.[6] For political reasons, most (5,443) were reallocated to individuals, with 176 going to government bodies, 33 being reallocated to semi-state organisations and 2 going to charities. Possibly the biggest winner was the state-owned Uganda Development Corporation, which gained control over some of the largest enterprises, 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 1974–5.[6] "The Ugandan economy fell deep into a crisis under the strain of civil wars, the nationalization of certain industries and the expulsion of the Asians... By 1987, President Yoweri Museveni had inherited an economy that suffered the poorest growth rate in Africa."[13]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "1972: Asians given 90 days to leave Uganda". British Broadcasting Corporation. 7 August 1972. Retrieved 29 October 2016. 
  2. ^ JSTOR. <Expulsion of a minority: essays on Ugandan Asians.>
  3. ^ Henckaerts, Jean-Marie; Sohn, Louis B. (1995). Mass Expulsion in Modern International Law and Practice. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff. p. 22. ISBN 90-411-00725. 
  4. ^ a b Patel, Hasu H. (1972). "General Amin and the Indian Exodus from Uganda". Issue: A Journal of Opinion. 2 (4): 12–22. doi:10.2307/1166488. 
  5. ^ Phares Mukasa Mutibwa (1992). Uganda since independence: a story of unfulfilled hopes. United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co. p. 67. ISBN 1-85065-066-7. Retrieved 17 August 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jørgensen, Jan Jelmert (1981). Uganda: a modern history. Taylor & Francis. pp. 285–290. ISBN 978-0-85664-643-0. Retrieved 12 August 2010. 
  7. ^ "Idi Amin had targeted Indians in 70s". The Times Of India. 15 April 2007. 
  8. ^ "Idia Amin Biography". Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2016. 
  9. ^ Kasozi, Abdu Basajabaka Kawalya; Musisi, Nakanyike; Sejjengo, James Mukooza (1994). The Social Origins of Violence in Uganda, 1964–1985. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 119. ISBN 0-7735-1218-7. 
  10. ^ "Immigration and emigration: Uganda's loss, Britain's gain". Legacies. BBC Suffolk. Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  11. ^ Travis, Alan (1 January 2003). "Ministers hunted for island to house Asians". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  12. ^ Geddes, John (27 October 2010). "A holy man with an eye for connections". Macleans. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  13. ^ Samani, Vishva. Interview in the International Business Times, August 6, 2012. http://www.ibtimes.com/uganda-forty-years-after-idi-amin-expelled-asians-739228

External links[edit]