Academic recounts how Indians controlled Uganda’s economy
The new book by Samwiri Lwanga-Lunyiigo, Uganda an Indian colony 1897-1972is a revelation to many Ugandans who know little about international capital movements and enjoy the illusion of economic independence.
The well-researched and provocative book comes as Uganda marks 50 years since the expulsion of the Indians. Many people still wonder if it was an act of a fool or the actions of a brave man.
The book explains how this minority group dominated the country’s economy as sub-colonialists until their expulsion. It also sparks a debate about their return.
Arguably the leading scholar of Ugandan history, Professor Lunyiigo provides an insight into commercial life in the colonial era when native Ugandans were structurally locked into poverty and riddled with taxes and labor while the 50 Indian families – whose descendants arrived in East Africa as poor people – have benefited from their sweat.
With evidence, the book shows how Indians, who made up just one percent of Uganda’s eight million people, controlled 75 percent of the economy but paid just 5.4 percent in taxes and repatriated all their profits.
The author points out that between 1955 and 1972 there was an outflow of capital from Uganda of around £12 million per year, reaching a peak of £17.2 million in 1958.
But how did the Indians do all this? Did they have a particular commercial genius as we often say? Lunyiigo simply states that the Indians seized opportunities with the legal backing of the British, perhaps as a reward for fighting alongside them in the Middle East, Sudan and Ethiopia.
The author writes that the Indians had come on the promise that East Africa was going to be their colony. When the promise was rejected, the British instead created a system that benefited Indian associates.
The colonial authority suppressed and eliminated the indigenous socio-economic systems that existed long before colonization and ensured that Africans did not receive any education that could help them learn a trade by which they could earn a living.
The book also gives evidence-based cases in which Indians stole the products of the natives. The Ugandans tried to fight for ownership of their economy by creating cooperative societies, but their efforts were thwarted by the Indians. In the story, British Governor Sir Andrew Cohen and later President Idi Amin are heroes who put up authoritarian resistance to Indian rule.
Cohen created an enabling environment for Africans to engage in economic activities, and Amin went to extremes and kicked them out altogether.
The book also questions the question of properties. Some Indians were deported without compensation in Kenya and Tanzania, but in Uganda the government paid them. However, many returned and claimed properties. Some criminally claim what never belonged to them or their family.
In 1993 the Indians returned and are currently the main drivers of Uganda’s economy. Over the past three decades they have settled and are now growing to be recognized as a Ugandan tribe.