AGI Top 12 in 2012: The Contribution of Ugandan Asians to the UK

AGI recaps the highlights of 2012, which we think made an impact and will continue to drive change in the coming years. These highlights and events are picked by AGI editorial team from fields of business, politics and culture across Asia.

2012 marks the 40 anniversary of the arrival of the so-called Ugandan Asians in the UK. Many of the c. 30,000 (reluctant refugees and unwanted immigrants) have gone on to lead prosperous lives in spite of arriving in Britain with few financial assets, and having to face considerable racial discrimination.

Much of the discussion about Ugandan Asian to date (both in fact or fiction) has often failed to tell the full story. A recent symposium held as part of the South Asian Literature Festival in London, started with a moving speech by the author Giles Foden, best known for his novel, now also a film, The Last King of Scotland, a portrait of Idi Amin and his regime through the eyes of his personal physician and confidant, the fictitious Dr Garrigan.

For example, it is often assumed that Asians (a catchall phrase for people originating from particular geographical locations in some part of the Indian Subcontinent, such as Panjab and Gujerat) were transported to East Africa by the British to build the railways. This may partly be true but the history of trade between the west coast of India and East Africa goes back several thousand years.

Indeed, even under the British Empire, many of the ‘Asians’ who went to settle in East Africa (not only Uganda, but also Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar – birth place of one Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury) came from professional and business backgrounds. One of participants, at the symposium mentioned above, bemoaned the fact that many of the ‘stories’ related to this ‘Exodus’ remain to be told. However, we already have interesting samples of this ‘impact of Asia’ (on the UK at least) in such fascinating books as The Settler’s Cookbook: Tales of Love, Migration and Food by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

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