50 years after Ugandan Asian expulsion, survivors applaud the resilience of the refugees and hope to see an Asian origin man as the Prime Minister of the UK with roots in East Africa.

Shefali Saxena Tuesday 02nd August 2022 11:23 EDT

In the uneventful year 1972, on 4th August, 80,000 Ugandan Asians were given 90 days to leave the country (Uganda) by dictator Idi Amin. As they grappled to find shelter after being ousted from their own homes by violence, over 28,000 Ugandan Asians came to Britain to start a new life. Most left all their wealth behind, with just a few pounds in their pockets, to start a new life in a place they would be able to call home. If you happen to even take a cursory glance at the personal accounts shared by Ugandan Asians in Britain about the 1972 expulsion, heart-wrenching stories of a two-bed, one-bath home housing 40 refugees from Uganda come up in search. 


Noticeably, some of the most important politicians and members of the Asian community have roots in Uganda and now serve in positions of power. Home Secretary Priti Patel was born in London to a Ugandan-Indian family. Her paternal grandparents were born in Gujarat, India, before emigrating to Uganda and running a convenience store in Kampala. Both of Rishi Sunak’s grandfathers were born in Punjab and later moved to East Africa. His parents, Yashvir Sunak and Usha Sunak were born in Kenya and Tanganyika respectively. Rishi’s maternal grandfather received an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) “after decades and decades” of working for Inland Revenue, the tax office. In the 1960s, his grandparents moved to the United Kingdom from East Africa with their children.


Ugandan Asians - exemplars of hard work


Sharing his sentiment on this anniversary, Lord Bilimoria CBE DL told Asian Voice, “I remember as a boy arriving in the UK with my father, Lieutenant General FN Bilimoria, who at that time was a Lieutenant Colonel posted from the Indian Army to the UK and the Asian refugees from Uganda had just arrived; literally thrown out of the country they considered their home by the brutal dictator Idi Amin. I remember hearing the stories of wealthy individuals who had to leave everything and flee, many of whom came to England with just a few pounds in their pocket.


“Over the decades, since I returned to the UK as a student in the early 1980s, I have seen first-hand the success and accomplishments of the Ugandan Asians in the UK and the immense contribution they have made to British life in virtually every field. Many of these individuals I count as my dear friends. They are an exemplar of hard work, the importance of family, the importance of education, entrepreneurship and enterprise. Many of them and their descendants have now reached the very top including holding the great offices of State as Cabinet Members, like Priti Patel and achieving huge success in business. I can give two shining examples out of many; one is my friend Lord Popat who is the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The other is also my friend and Cambridge University contemporary, Lord Gadhia, who came to the UK from Uganda as a 2-year-old and is now a fellow member of the House of Lords and a Board Member of Rolls Royce.


“As a fellow Asian, I will always be so proud of and inspired by the Ugandan Asians in the UK, hats off to them!”



Contribution to economy


A Daily Mail article from 11 February 1976, titled ‘Service with a smile back in Britain’, estimated that Ugandan Asians had taken over 4,000 grocery stores, 1,000 newsagents, 500 sub-post offices and 300 pharmacies with young Ugandan Asians forming a ‘rising generation’ who were winning a substantial amount of university places and figuring prominently in GCSE results.


Ugandan Asians have risen to great heights in every walk of life in the last five decades. At that time, Uganda had a substantial minority population of ethnic Gujaratis from the Indian sub-continent, who had enjoyed great success in the country as traders and businessmen. While the Ugandan economy suffered badly as a result of the expulsion of the Gujarati community, this group transplanted their entrepreneurial talents to Great Britain and the other countries in which they settled, and become one of the most highly successful ethnic minorities. Ugandan Asians in Britain have dominated certain sectors of the retail trade, prospered in a range of business activities, and have been instrumental in helping to regenerate inner city areas.


Sudhir Ruperalia is one of the richest men in Uganda, with an estimated fortune of $800m in 2016. Despite making up less than 1% of the population, they are estimated to contribute up to 65% of Uganda's tax revenues. One of those who came back is today the country's richest man, Sudhir Ruperalia, worth an estimated $800m. He spent time in Britain in the 1970s, where he says he worked a series of menial jobs before saving enough money to return to Uganda.


In 2022, Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty were ranked at 222nd position with a net worth of 730 million pounds on the Sunday Times Rich List, and his wife was termed richer than the Queen. Amid continued debate over race relations, an immigrant won the race after all. 


‘Rivers of blood’ 


Enoch Powell, a Conservative Member of Parliament and then Opposition spokesperson on defence, stood before an audience at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham to deliver a speech whose shadow has continued to hover over Britain made a chilling attack on post-war immigration, and announced support for those who backed racial divisions, warnings of future racial strife and of being “filled with foreboding like a Roman: seeing the River Tiber foaming with much blood”. His speech is infamously termed as the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that called for a tougher immigration regime when the Labour government was preparing to bring in a key piece of equality legislation, the Race Relations Act. 


‘Racism was there’


Every time one reminisces the expulsion, the infamous incident of Leicester City Council placing an advert in a Ugandan newspaper telling them not to come to the city still leaves many in tears. Vinay Patel told us in a previous interaction, “Not everyone was happy about the arrival of the Ugandan Asians. The Leicester Mercury and The National Front were against immigrants. They believed there were already too many Asians in Leicester. They were afraid of becoming overwhelmed and British culture being lost.”


Damini Rayvadera, a Ugandan Asian who settled in Leicester had recently told Asian Voice journalist Kartik Kavi that everyone wanted to settle in Leicester because it was populated by Asians. However, “Racism was there. Some people would refer to us as Pakis whilst others would be less obvious about it,” she told the newsweekly. As a mark of how Britain is a product of multiculturalism and how refugees have kept the economy afloat, Mrs Rayvadera also shared her account of being looked down upon as an Asian while she worked as a trainee nurse. She said, “In Newcastle Upon Tyne, where I did my training, I was the only Indian in the class. One manager referred to me as a unique person. Others didn't like me being in charge. It was something that wouldn't be allowed now.”


Recently Lord Rami Ranger CBE said that Britain will get a "bad name" and be "perceived as racist" if Rishi Sunak doesn’t win. "If people reject him, it will be a bad name for the party and the country because this will be perceived as racist," Ranger said. "And so there is pressure on them to prove that here race does not matter. Calibre matters and Rishi's calibre is above everyone."He added: "I am optimistic that people here will be fair and will not reject anyone on the basis of race."


However, Sunak told The Daily Telegraph in an interview, "I absolutely don't think that's a factor in anyone's decision. I just don't think that's right.”


As the Tory party is on the verge of choosing between a person of colour and a native British citizen, it is imperative that we recognise Sunak’s roots in East Africa, it is debatable whether his Asian heritage will be a hindrance to the race to leadership as the PM of Britain or not. More importantly, it raises the question of whether Britain will elect an Asian PM in 2024 or not. 


‘We will make history ‘


Speaking to the newsweekly on 50 years of the expulsion, Lord Dolar Popat, Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Rwanda, Uganda and DRC said, “Rishi Sunak has been underestimated in politics ever since he went for the selection to be a parliamentary candidate. However, when people have the opportunity to hear about his journey as well as what he has done, they tend to lend their support to him. The majority of Tory MPs favour Mr Sunak as they have worked with him and have seen first-hand what he is able to deliver. Whether that be creating a furlough scheme within weeks or creating support packages for the cost-of-living crisis, Mr Sunak strikes the balance between helping those who need it most whilst recognising that any money spent belongs to hard-working taxpayers.


“If Mr Sunak becomes Prime Minister, we can expect him to govern based on conservative values. Many Indians have joined the Conservative Party over the last two decades as they share the values of hard work, care for family and a strong sense of community. These values are shared by Mr Sunak and will be the foundation of his premiership.


“I hope as people get the opportunity to hear Mr Sunak’s vision at hustings and the news, they consider lending their support to him. Not only because we will make history by electing the first British Asian Prime Minister but also because we will be electing someone who will lead the country based on the values that made many of us join in the first place.”


Furthering Lord Popat’s trust in Sunak, Councillor Ameet Jogia MBE told Asian Voice, “Ugandan Asians have made a tremendous contribution to the UK – not just economically, but also culturally. Former Prime Minister David Cameron referred to Ugandan Asians, as the most successful immigrant groups in history. They have demonstrated great versatility and the merits of integrating into society. The UK has come a long way since the Rivers of Blood speech. We are witnessing the most diverse leadership contest in history, which is on the verge of electing the UK’s first person of colour Prime Minister in Rishi Sunak – also of East African heritage. This reflects the inclusivity of the UK in welcoming different backgrounds and providing them with an opportunity to excel. Ugandan Asians are one such group.”


Labour MP Virendra Sharma has a different point of view. He told us, “The Tory Party membership gets to choose the leader from the two options Tory MPs give them. Each debate has shown Tory members prefer Liz Truss, as a Labour MP I don’t know how Tory members will ultimately vote, but it looks like an uphill struggle for Rishi. His pitch as the voice of moderation has not gone down particularly well with members, and I expect we’ll see him pull further to the populist right as we began to see in the most recent debate. Liz has successfully painted him as the continuity candidate and I suspect to some extent a Sunak government would follow many of the same policies as Johnson did since Rishi was Chancellor for most of it. The Tory Government has increased taxes in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis and tinkered at the edges, doing practically nothing, we need a government with new ideas and new energy. Both Rishi and Liz stood by Boris Johnson for years, they all own the same legacy as Prime Minister Johnson.”


‘Finding Home: Leicester’s Ugandan Asian Story at 50’ 


To mark the 50th anniversary, Leicester’s Curve theatre is showcasing ‘Finding Home: Leicester’s Ugandan Asian Story at 50’ and will see over 40 community members taking to the stage in Curve’s Studio Theatre.


An exhibition will mark 50 years since Ugandan Asians began arriving in Leicester after being expelled by dictator Idi Amin. The exhibition will also celebrate the contribution the Asian community has made to the city's culture, said the council.

It is due to open at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery in July.


Leicester-based arts organisation Navrang has been awarded about £102,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a programme of regional events, including the exhibition. The exhibition itself has also received a £10,000 contribution from the city council's Museums and Galleries Services. 


Industrialist Manubhai Madhvani, who died in 2011 aged 81, was a regular in the annual Rich Lists. He lost everything in 1972 but his business empire had interests in sugar, brewing and tourism. He once said ‘you can take someone's money, but you cannot take their know-how.' 


His saying sums up the past, present and future of the exemplary and resilient Ugandan Asians who made and continue to make Britain ‘great’. 

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