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Xenophobia against Ugandans in India

By Hussein Lumumba Amin

Historically, Uganda has had a long undercurrent of strained relations with the Asian community

I have been following with serious concern the story that appeared in The New Vision newspaper of Jan.20 under the title: “Four Ugandan Women Assaulted in India”.

The incident first came to my attention on Jan.17 when it was reported in an Indian newspaper that a senior Indian minister led a xenophobic group of Indians to ransack houses of Africans living in India and attack the four Ugandan ladies who happened to be travelling in a taxi.

Obviously, this has led to an uproar on social media by Ugandans at home and abroad plus other Africans who have been angrily discussing the ill-treatment meted out at them by Indians.

Recently, a Digital Television provider almost got a serious backlash when it posted a job announcement that it was looking to hire a Sales/Business Development manager specifically of Indian origin.

Ugandans who saw this job announcement were outraged and rightly called it racist with many starting to point fingers at the “so-called investors who bring upon the citizens repeated humiliating discourtesies”.

The company that I will not mention in order to help keep the peace quickly withdrew the announcement and we are lucky that the incident did not go any further.

Historically, Uganda has had a long undercurrent of strained relations with the Asian community. With the most notable event being the deportation of Asians decreed on August 4, 1972.

In his speech explaining the reasons for the deportation, my father, former Preside Idi Amin Dada said;

“The Asians have businesses in Uganda and all the money they make is kept in British Banks. The act of making money in Uganda and banking it in Britain is like milking the cow that you do not feed”.

“Many Asians have denounced their Ugandan citizenship in preference for the British nationality”. He urged them to “return to their Ugandan citizenship within 90 days” and directed that “all those who would not comply with this announcement would be deported to their country of nationality”.

This announcement was obviously a drastic attempt to handle an economic and citizenship problem that Uganda had inherited from the British colonialists.

However because of its drastic deadline nature, the geo-politics of the time and the way it affected the thousands of Asians from Uganda, it was understandably met by an international outcry.

However, faced with the choice that Idi Amin had given them, the deported Asians preferred to be British rather than Ugandan.

On the other hand Ugandans were happy with the event because after political independence from the United Kingdom, the country was now achieving some level of economic independence.

Not achieving economic independence for the citizens of South Africa after uprooting Apartheid is something that many scholars and prominent Pan-Africanists today have noted as the late former president Nelson Mandela’s biggest failure.

The point I would like to make here is that we are all quietly aware of the sometimes strained relations between native and Asian Ugandans ever since Asians were initially enabled by the colonial master’s governance strategies to exclusively take-over the Ugandan economy and purposely classifying all Ugandan citizens as the “work force”.

When events as the one we see today occur, the first thing I always hear native Ugandans say is “I wish someone like Amin could come and chase them again”.

That should be a telling sign of where a crisis is looming if not addressed adequately by community leaders because it would be a sad turn of events to see Ugandans turn violent in groups that attack Asians.

I have previously written that it would be easier for Asian community leaders to simply say “we are aware of some of these frictions between our communities and we are doing everything we can to see that our members are respectful in their work relations”.

And in the incident that happened last week, it is commendable that the Indian government and police refused to be part of the illegal actions of the mob led by one of their ministers against Africans.

In regards to fostering good relations, I would like to hereby apologise on behalf of the Amin family for any undue suffering Asians have had to bear during the historic events of 1972 that saw thousands of Asians flee to Europe and America.

However, wouldn’t it be even more useful as we move forward for Asian community leaders to publicly recognise these submerged causes of tension and also offer some apology to the millions of Ugandans who know there is a problem?

I say this purely in a spirit of constructive criticism.

Remember that it is native Ugandans who complained and exerted pressure on my father about the situation back then; an occurrence that was happening to all the East African Community governments at that same time.

If one has suffered prejudice, he or she should be the last one to let the situation worsen.

I today have good relations with some sons and daughters of departed Asians. I even assisted one family to identify the home where they grew up.

Luck had it that we met abroad and became good friends to the level of regularly being invited to their home for any family event or just to enjoy an evening after work.

They are good family friends now living in Saudi Arabia with some relatives enjoying the life they were accorded in Canada.  I wish Ugandans, residents and foreign investors could share the mutual respect we have in our relationship. But at this level, the task is for community leaders on all sides.

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