Wednesday, September 26, 2012
REMEMBERING THE EXPULSION OF ASIANS IN 1972
In August 1972 my friends and I had just returned from a driving holiday in neighbouring Kenya. Cynthia, my girlfriend (and future wife) had a few days earlier left on a holiday to the UK. We were still in a holiday spirit returning from Jinja from a birthday party in Jinja when we caught a snippet on the radio "President Amin has a dream ... Asians are to be expelled from Uganda". We don't think much of it - must be some joke. But as the days passed it slowly sank in. I was working for the Ministry of Finance and Planning as a Statistician. At a young age I was in charge of collecting and publishing Uganda's trade statistics, preparing background to the national Annual Budget; it was a great job and times were good. I was contributing to my country in a way I did not think possible. I was a first class citizen with no complaints. Socially, life was also good. I was the Sports Secretary and Hockey Captain of the Entebbe [formerly "Goan"] Institute. Everything centred around the Club. We were still primarily involved with Goans, but Uganda was integrating. I had studied at an African high school (St Mary's College Kisubi) run by Canadian missionaries, and attended Makerere University there with African colleagues. Africans members constituted 30% of the Entebbe Institute - primarily Civil Servants as Entebbe was the centre of the government. In addition to Goans, we had every kind of members: every tribe of Uganda (Baganda, Basoga, Luo, etc), all types of other Indians (Ismailis, Boras, Gujaratis, Sikhs, etc.), and others (British, Israelis, ...) Friendship was quickly becoming raceless. Indeed, the newly elected President of the club, Dr Peter Tukei, would have been elected regardless of the Expulsion; he was a very popular person and had previously been Vice-President. Life during the Expulsion turned upside down. Times were tough; but we found joy in small things - we truly lived like there was no tomorrow. As most of my family members were Uganda citizens, we thought we would be staying. My mother, my aunt and many other, however, would be leaving. (My mum and dad had always thought that they were "too old" to be taking on a new citizenship, not fully realizing then the implications). And for citizens, we still had to go through the process of verifying our citizenship. The Uganda government used every technicality to take away our citizenship. I remember queuing outside the Immigration department, sleeping on the streets for 36 hours with my two brothers and sister, brother-in-law, and thousands of other Asians. My brother Peter was subdued. His Renunciation of British Citizenship had been mishandled by the Uganda government several years ago as he had been one of the first to become Ugandan. He expected trouble, and was right; his citizenship was withdrawn. My sister Ruth lost her citizenship on some pretext. I almost lost mine because I only had a photocopy of my citizenship, and the officer almost tore it up. I pleaded for time to find the original, noticing from the corner of my eye an old classmate from St. Mary’s College as immigration officer two booths down. I rushed over to him: "Hey Katabula, are you there". "Hey Nazareth, throw it over." Stamp! Stamp! My brother David and I were verified. Peter was subsequently exempted from the Expulsion as he held a senior government post, also in the Ministry of Finance. Ruth could stay as her husband Cyril had his citizenship verified, but she had to resign from her job. Given that I had thrown in my lot with Uganda, this was heartbreak. And so it went with everyone. And the deadline approached. If it were not so serious the Expulsion could be funny. President Amin would one day be expelling more and more categories of people, and the next day his ministers would be exempting more and more subcategories, being horrified at the loss to the country. One day it was British Asians, another day all Asians - citizens included. Several Ugandans implored President Amin not to expel citizens. President Nyerere of Tanzania offered to take in any Ugandan citizen who was expelled. President Amin relented and we were allowed to stay. Then in September 1972 the UN came to take stateless people, and Canada to take anybody (ie regardless of citizenship) who wanted to leave and who qualified. All of a sudden there was a new game in town. Everybody was going to leave now. Well almost everybody. My family stubbornly decided to stay put. Meanwhile my Permanent Secretary I.K. Kabanda called me to his office and said "John, I want you to know that not all Africans hate you. We hope and pray that this will soon be all over so that you can lead a normal life. You can come in to work when you wish, and leave when you wish." I will never forget his graciousness (and made it a point to seek him out when I returned to Uganda 21 years later). Young as I was (25 years) I ended up being the Club volunteer barman, together with Claude De Souza. The bar - the centre of stories. Chris Ssengendo was there one night with his cousin visiting from Kampala. His cousin's eyes were red. I inquire with Chris. "Don't ask. He works at the dreaded Makindye Prison. He had orders to spend all of last night executing [political] prisoners with a hammer to the head." We Asians were being expelled, but African Ugandans were being slaughtered. Past the Deadline, a strange calm has descended. There are still around 5000 Asians left in Uganda who have been exempted or have decided to stay. The Africans have a quiet admiration for those who stay behind in spite of all the harassment. But now is when the killing of African Ugandans starts in earnest. One gets used to seeing bodies by the roadside every day. A friend, Godfrey Kiggala is killed because President Amin likes his girlfriend. In early 1973 my brother Peter left to take up a Fellowship at Yale; my brother David realized he couldn’t live without his girlfriend Lydia and impulsively left to marry her in Canada; sister Ruth left to join my mother (now in London) ahead of Cyril. In September 1973 I left Uganda, taking a two-year of Leave of Absence to do postgraduate studies – hoping that while I was away, Amin would be overthrown. I went through Goa, getting married to Cynthia at St. Jerome’s Church in Mapusa. We then proceeded to the UK where I studied for a year at the London School of Economics and obtained a Post-graduate Diploma in Statistics and then did my Masters in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Toronto. It is now later in 1975 and as my studies at the U of T are at an end I realize that President Amin is there to stay. With a heavy heart I finally send in my letter of resignation to the Ministry of Finance, thanking them for giving me an opportunity to serve my country. A tear rolled down my cheek. Written by John H. Nazareth in Toronto, 1994 To be published in Val Jamal’s forth-coming book: “Uganda Asians: Then and Now, Here and There, We Contributed, We Contribute”.