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50 Years Ago, Uganda Ordered Its Entire Asian Population to Leave

| Aug. 05, 2022

A new data set explores mass expulsions around the world

Fifty years ago, on Aug. 4, 1972, Ugandan President Idi Amin ordered the expulsion of the country's entire Asian population, giving them just 90 days to leave. Amin accused Asians of refusing to integrate, evading taxes, discriminating against African traders and encouraging corruption. Like nationalist mantras we hear around the world today, he declared that the economy should be in the hands of Indigenous African Ugandans.

In 1970s East Africa, "Asians" referred to a broad spectrum of people with origins in the Indian subcontinent. They arrived in Uganda with British colonization — first as indentured laborers, and later as immigrants from British-controlled India. Preferential colonial policies helped this group dominate retail trade, commerce and the skilled professions. After Ugandan independence in 1962, Asian "middlemen" were a daily reminder to Africans of the legacy of colonial rule — and the exclusion of the Indigenous population in the management of their own economy.

Many of the over 50,000 Asians expelled were British nationals, but they had restricted passports that did not grant automatic entry to Britain. But nearly 20,000 were Ugandan citizens. They became stateless with the expulsion decree — denied their Ugandan nationality and not considered nationals of any other country. Expelled Asians could depart with just $120 and a maximum of 485 lbs. of personal effects. Nearly all fled to distant countries they had never known, from Britain and India to Austria, MoroccoCanada and even Latin American countries.

This wasn't an isolated incident

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2021 nearly 90 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide. What makes Uganda's expulsion of 50,000 Asians distinct? Unlike most displaced people, the Asians expelled from Uganda weren't fleeing conflict or natural disasters.

Instead, the forced displacement that year is what political scientists call a mass expulsion. That's when a government implements an ethnically targeted policy to remove a group of people, en masse, without individual legal evaluations and refuses to allow them to return. Although mass expulsions are rare, they continue to happen....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Garrity, Meghan.“50 Years Ago, Uganda Ordered Its Entire Asian Population to Leave.” The Washington Post, August 5, 2022.