It has been forty years since Idi Amin expelled all the Asians living in Uganda. Some of those who were expelled were born and brought up in Uganda – they were Ugandan citizens – and did not know have a sense of belonging to any other country. The trauma and upheaval experienced by these Asians are heart-wrenching in many cases but what is remarkable is the success that many have achieved in the countries that received them.

What happened to the Indians in Uganda cannot accurately be described as a “pogrom” since that word connotes a massacre or organized violence against an ethnic group. This did not happen for the most part ….. but what did happen was a government sanctioned expulsion of an ethnic group for no other reason than the fact that they belonged to that group. It was indiscriminate and failure to comply with the expulsion order would have resulted in dire consequences – a warning that was specifically communicated by the Ugandan government. In the process, the possessions of those expelled were confiscated with no compensation.

Many of the Indians were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and subsequently emigrated to the United Kingdom. Others became stateless after being stripped of Ugandan citizenship. Most of the Ugandan Indians, who were accounted for, went to Britain, which took around 27,200. 6,000 went to Canada, 4,500 ended up in India and 2,500 went to nearby Kenya. Malawi, Pakistan, West Germany and the United States took 1,000 each with smaller numbers emigrating to Australia, Austria, Sweden, Mauritius and New Zealand. About 20,000 were unaccounted for.

Reasons given for Amin’s action in expelling the Indians ranged from his having a dream in which God told him to do so to attempting to gain popularity with African inhabitants in Uganda by demonizing Indians who were viewed as being exploitative and viewing Africans in Uganda as being inferior. There have also been suggestions that Amin was spurned by an Indian woman who refused to marry him and others have suggested that he was mentally unbalanced. Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, the reality is that tens of thousands of Indians were literally thrown out of Uganda – for many of whom it was the only country they had ever known – with just 90 days notice.

Uganda, like Kenya where I lived until 1962, was a segregated society but it was a segregation that most Indians who lived there were quite comfortable with since most social interaction was within the Indian community and more specifically within the specific sub-group the belonged to – so Gujaratis, Punjabis, etc usually socialized within their own community for the most part. If Uganda was anything like Kenya, Indians did not socialize with whites (referred to as Europeans irrespective of where they may actually have come from) and certainly did not do so with Africans who were considered socially inferior to them. For most Indians the only interaction they would have with Africans was in the roles they played as domestic help.

However, despite the attitude of Indians to Africans in Uganda, they played a major role in the economy of the country and after their expulsion the chaos that resulted took its toll on the Ugandan economy. Years later, the new president of Uganda sought to reverse Amin’s policies and invited those Indians who were expelled to return to Uganda and even promised to return property that was confiscated by Amin at the time of their expulsion.

There are some remarkable stories of the trials and tribulations that these Indians went through after their expulsion as they tried to make a new life in the countries that accepted them. Some of these stories are chronicled in various memoirs and articles written by the children and grandchildren of those who were expelled. They make for fascinating reading both in terms of their memories of the lives they enjoyed in Uganda, the fear and trepidation they faced when they knew they were to be expelled, the uncertainty of which countries would accept them and the lives they made for themselves in the new adopted countries.

What prompted me to write this specific post, was a comment left by Urmila & Chetan on another posting on this blog pertaining to voyages that I took between Mombasa and Bombay. Both commented on a ship, the SS Haryana, and how they had not been able to find anything more about what happened to that particular ship and the passengers who sailed on it. I was not successful finding any information about it either but did come across an interesting picture – the original was being auctioned on eBay of all places!!

I don’t know any of those in the image above but it shows Indians expelled from Uganda boarding the SS Haryana at Mombasa on their way to Bombay. Their papers are being scrutinized by an officer of the ship before being allowed to board. Perhaps it will interest others who may recognize individuals in the picture.

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5 Responses to “A modern day “pogrom” – the expulsion of Indians from Uganda”

  1. Chetan R. says:

    Hi Thomas,thanks for the post.My name is Chetan Ruparelia.I left the comment regarding SS Haryana.

    My mother,me and my siblings were in the ship Haryana in 1972.The voyage was from Mombasa to Mumbai,then called Bombay.After spending 8 years in Gujarat,we relocated in Canada.The photo above looks familiar in a general sense.

    I currently live in Toronto,Canada.The city has large number of South Asians.

  2. TJ says:

    Chetan, good to hear from you. I was of course aware of the Indian exodus from Uganda at the time but it was after the 40th anniversary of the event that I read various articles about those who were affected. It made one aware of the challenges that you and others in your predicament faced and how many overcame adversity and bettered themselves in their new abodes.

  3. Hansa Patel says:

    Being One of 65,000 or so Ugandan refugee.

    Individuals who had to travel by steamers from Mombasa, Kenya had to travel via train from Kampala to Mombasa in locked up trains. They had to undergo horrific acts by Idi Amin’s army guarding these passengers. Atrocities were committed against girls, women and young men killed who were trying to protect these girls and women! I had seen news paper photos and TV. radio news. I was not on this train.

    Indian Uganda’s and African Ugandan’s relationship was not just of worker and employer, but many had caring helping mutual welfare commitments.

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  5. Parul Jani says:

    I was only 6 y/o and arrived to Mombasa from Bombay with my mom and younger brother on the S s Haryana and 3 years later was traveling out of Mombasa back to Bombay, classified as a “refugee” with a yellow ribbon given to us! My father came to USA we joined him a year later…. Yes very traumatic I still recall the tension!

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