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Immigration and Emigration
Ugandan Asians leaving the planes at Stansted
Uganda's loss, Britain's gain

Asian skills

Asians, largely Indian, had been migrating to East Africa for generations, but a mass influx occurred in the late 19th Century. They were employed by both the Indian and British governments to construct and maintain what became 1,286 miles of rail network in the then, British protectorate, Uganda.

After their work was completed, many Indians remained and became extremely important to the Ugandan economy, some occupying management positions that most indigenous Ugandans could only dream of, in sectors such as banking, insurance and industry.
Idi Amin
Amin swiftly ejected the Ugandan Asians
Many of the immigrants demonstrated entrepreneurial business skills which proved beneficial to the Ugandan economy as a whole, making the country one of the richest in Africa. However, like many immigrant communities, their contributions to the countries wealth went unnoticed and actually caused friction between them and the native population.

In August 1972, Amin condemned the entire Ugandan Asian population as 'bloodsuckers' and 48 hours later, issued a decree of expulsion for all 60,000 Asians, regardless if they held Ugandan passports or not. However a second decree was also issued, this dictated that all the professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers should not leave the country, in an attempt to retain an intellectual and professional base, it also stated that if they tried to leave it would be considered treason.

Sham Karnik, now settled in Ipswich, was a young head-teacher in the Ugandan capital, Kampala with a wife and two young daughters. He recalls the decree and the fear that struck all
Map of the Ugandan Asians' flight
Asians prior to the journey out, "My wife, two daughters and my sister had to buy our tickets out of the country, and were only allowed to leave with £54 in our pockets - there was no free exit.

"We could see soldiers all around our house, it was very frightening. We drove to Entebbe airport at night, and managed to avoid the police checkpoints, because if they had discovered me leaving, I would have been detained, as I was considered one of the professional classes.

"We left our car at the airport and boarded our British Caledonian flight at about 11 o'clock at night and it was only when we were flying over Kenyan airspace that we drew a sigh of relief. We were happy to leave, but very sad to leave in such a way."


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Your comments

1 Doreen lwanga from - 18 December 2003
"As a Ugandan, who has listened to, viewed, read and researched Ugandan-Asian and the Idi Amin era - I have to say that this statement is not correct representation of Idi Amin (as many other Ugandan nationals) concerns with the Indians or Asian population at that time and even to date (2003) "

"While it may be true that the economy was developing...sure, many of them were banking monnies abroad, capital repatriation was high, back to india or pakistan. In addition, they imported most skilled (and unskilled) labour from their home country or country of ancestry rather than hiring local Ugandan labor. This problem goes back to the British Colonial administration in Uganda and elsewhere which preferred to hire labor from other places rather than hire local labor. "

"Concerns that I have heard is because local labor is corrupt, lazy and unproductive...my question is; why would anyone want to invest in an area or country where you don't trust its people unless your benefits exceed what your costs and what you return (investment) to that economy? We also know that countries of Europe and North America and Asia have been proven to corrupt or bribe heads of state or politicians as well as aid them stay in power and bank their monnies in Europe and others. "

"I think N.Americans and Europeans working in pseudo-humanitarian organizations, or private investment need to re-think and review their ethical obligations to the host nationals. As it stands right now, many of them import not only technology but also labour, pencils, pens, "stickies", pencil sharpners that could be available at the local market...but also if purchased in the local market would boost those economies. Many times, the persons brought in from these countries do not know a thing but given geographical place of birth, they receive privilege over Ugandan graduates (for example)who could do the work very effectively at a cheaper (not exploitative) wage rate. "

"There are many culprits here but in my experience, the biggest is the U.S. And let me tell you that DFID is in serious need of reviewing its seniority titles to its nationals because - I've met with lots of them while fundraising who simply don't know a thing, but because they are white English. "

"I support Mwai Kibaki, Kenyan president who wants to revamp the who immigration and migrant workers (from North American and Europe) projects in Kenya, such that unless the labor is indeed required and not available within the country's nationals, provision of work permits to foreign nationals should be reviewed and curtailed. Ironically, the world calls him the "re-incarnate" Idi Amin. "

"Absolutely, no hard feelings, it is just that this is a topic so dear to me. As a Ugandan woman who had to go and study in Europe or North America in order to get an opportunity to be recognised as "learned" and also be able to apply for jobs in Uganda dispensed by US, Canada or Europeans, partly, because the role of the nation state has been "hijacked" by "international organizations" and their governments at the state "excuse" from meeting social/economic rights of its nationals by the so-called development partners. I apologize for this long comment. I can go on forever."




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