Samwiri Lwanga-Lunyiigo’s new book Uganda an Indian Colony 1897-1972 is a revelation to many Ugandans who do not know much about international capital movements and enjoy the illusion of economic independence.
The well-researched, provocative book is being published to mark the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of the Indians in Uganda. Many people still debate whether this was a foolish act or the act of a brave man.
The book explains how this minority group, as sub-colonialists, dominated the country’s economy until they were expelled. It also ignites a debate about their return.
Professor Lunyiigo, arguably Uganda’s leading historian, provides insights into commercial life during the colonial era, when Uganda’s indigenous people were structurally trapped in poverty and as 50 Indians by taxes and labor were milked families – whose descendants came to East Africa as poor – benefited from their sweat.
With evidence, the book shows how the Indians, who were only one percent of the then eight million people in Uganda lived, controlled 75 per cent of the economy but paid only 5.4 per cent in taxes and repatriated all their profits.
The author points out that between 1955 and 1972 there was a capital outflow from Uganda of around £12 million per year, peaking at £17.2 million in 1958.
But how did the Indians manage it all? Did they have a special business genius, as is commonly said? Lunyiigo simply states that the Indians, with legal backing from the British, seized opportunities, perhaps as a reward for fighting alongside them in the Middle East, Sudan and Ethiopia.
The author writes that the Indians came with the promise that East Africa would become their colony. When the promise was rejected, the British instead created a system that favored Native American allies.
The colonial authority repressed and eliminated indigenous socioeconomic systems that existed long before colonization, ensuring that Africans no such education received could help them learn a trade that would earn them a living.
The book also includes evidence-based cases of Native Americans stealing native products. The Ugandans attempted to fight for ownership of their economy by establishing cooperatives, but their efforts were thwarted by the Indians. In the story, British Governor Sir Andrew Cohen and then-President Idi Amin are heroes who offered authoritative resistance to Indian dominance.
Cohen created a suitable environment for Africans to engage in economic activities and Amin went to extremes and drove them out altogether.
The book also questions the question of ownership. Some Indians were expelled without compensation in Kenya and Tanzania, but in Uganda the government paid them off. However, many returned and claimed ownership. Some criminally claim what never belonged to them or their families.
By 1993, Indians were returning and are currently the main movers and shakers of the Ugandan economy. They have settled for the last three decades and are now pushing to be recognized as a Ugandan tribe.