Concordia Winter 2023

The Remarkable Success of the East African Asians Ameer Kotecha (2005-2010) is a British diplomat, pop-up chef and writer on food, travel and culture. He outlines the trauma Ugandan Asians experienced and the success they went on to attain in so many different spheres. W hen Idi Amin’s voice crackled through the radio on 4 August 1972 with his fateful ultimatum, my family paid Reality soon dawned that Amin meant every word of his decree. He claimed the instruction had come to him from God in a dream.


little notice, save for wondering briefly why a government announcement had interrupted the blaring Bollywood tunes. My father’s two sisters were getting married the next day (both tying the knot at the same time meant half the wedding cost) and preparations were in full flow. In any case my family – like many of Uganda’s 76,000-odd Asians who were subject to Amin’s expulsion, giving them 90 days to leave the country – thought the President could hardly be serious. Despite being a small minority of the country’s population, the Asians were responsible for 90 per cent of Uganda’s tax revenues. To expel them would be madness. But madness came easily to Amin. This, after all, was the man who claimed to be the uncrowned king of Scotland (hence the 2006 film in which the dictator is played by Forest Whitaker). And this was the man who styled himself, in full: “His Excellency, 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”. So expulsion it was, and to hell with the consequences.

Asians – whom he denounced as economic “bloodsuckers” – were to leave the country with a maximum of £55 and two suitcases, a stipulation enforced at gunpoint by troops at army checkpoints where deportees were stripped of valuables. Women were sometimes raped or left for dead. My grandfather endured overnight torture before being able to prove himself innocent of anti-Amin sentiment. He ended up stateless and forced to go to India while the rest of the family headed to the UK, but he was at least thankful to live to tell the tale. Some 29,000 Ugandan Asians were granted entry to the UK by Ted Heath’s government. Crucially, the vast majority were British passport holders. Smaller numbers ended up in Canada, the USA, Europe, India or Pakistan. My father’s family landed at Stansted Airport before being given food and water and taken by coach to Heathfield Army Camp in Honiton, one of the 16 temporary centres run by the Uganda Resettlement Board. My father, an aspiring civil engineer, put his education on hold to take up work as a security guard at Heathrow to help pay the family bills.

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