Concordia Winter 2023

Fifty Years Ago

Zakiy Manji (2005-2010) is the Director of Parliamentary Relations at BAE Systems. He recalls the journey of his family from Uganda and reflects on the contribution of the Ismaili community to the United Kingdom.


refugee agency and representatives of the AKDN (including Prince Sadruddin, the Aga Khan’s uncle), he finally arrived in London. The horrors of that period were recounted to me and my sisters and cousins as children, like folklore, something from a distant past, but they were memories that still sent shivers down the spines of my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Those who dared to defy the troops who were sent in Amin’s name had the skin of their stomachs sliced open, and chilli powder and salt rubbed into the wounds, causing agony. Friends, family, anyone who was of Indian descent was to be imprisoned. Families were torn apart. While we might think it unimaginable today, it is sadly still a reality for many across the world. My late grandmother, ten years after arriving in the UK, wrote a short piece describing her arrival in this country, a place that would be her home for the rest of her life. I copy out a short extract on my laptop, while hers was written, I think, on a word-processor of some sort. “Marianne Faithfull’s song reminds me of my past when I was in Uganda. I had to come to Britain leaving all my things behind. I wasn’t allowed to come with all my family – only my two small daughters joined me. […] We landed at Stansted Airport and were taken to an army camp. Our plane was the first one there, and it was very cold in September, 1972. We had just one bag of clothes between three of us as we came as refugees.” I am incredibly proud of my heritage, my family, and everything they have achieved, and I have never lost the humility that was instilled in me when my family arrived in the UK as refugees – the word implies something dirty, an other, something to regard perhaps with disdain or pity. My grandmother who, until the moment she stepped foot on British soil, had never worked a day in her life, did what she had to do to survive

Fifty years ago. September 1972. Two buses are making their way from Kampala to Entebbe Airport, each tightly packed with families, young children, all desperate to escape the atrocities being committed. The bus in front is halted by a group of soldiers at a checkpoint, and a family is forcibly removed. A ten-year-old girl recalls seeing the family taken away, and then the haunting sound of gunshots. That ten-year-old girl was my mother, and her story is one that is familiar to Ismailis dotted around the world. In that year Idi Amin, the self bestowed President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular, took everything from my family. Several weeks earlier, my late grandfather, Nanabapa (or Bapsi, as he became), smuggled suitcases for my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother to the house of Emmanuel Blayo Wakhweya, Idi Amin’s Finance Minister – a close friend of the family. Miraculously, those suitcases met the fleeing trio at the airport, although soldiers quickly saw to it that they were confiscated. My mother sits next to me as I write and describes how she was dressed in what she calls a velvet sack, with some money and jewellery sewn into the hem, to try and leave with something. My grandfather, who helped so many get out, made sure that the family’s beloved African Grey parrots, Romeo and Juliet, were duly cared for, too – he paid for full-price seats for them to travel to London (in comfort), and an additional fee to some friendly British Airways pilots to ensure they would look after them in quarantine. Six months later, after he had travelled to Italy to support others, and work with the UNHCR

Made with FlippingBook Online newsletter creator