4 decades after being expelled, Ugandan Asians are back, bigger and better and run the show in Uganda

They have invested heavily in a range of industries from manufacturing, textiles, agriculture and construction and mining.


Flip through the country’s newspaper to see who is the richest person in Uganda and you will be met with names like Madhvani, Hirji and Ruparelia.

Although they represent less than 1 percent of the country's population, Ugandans of Asians origin now own some of the biggest banks, hotels and foreign exchange bureaus.

Four decades later after being expelled by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin who accused them of “milking the economy”, Asians are back, some may even say stronger and better as they run the show and economy of the East African Nation.

According to the Uganda Investment Authority, a semi-autonomous investment promotion and facilitation organisation owned by the government, Asians now contribute in excess of 65% of Uganda’s tax revenues.

More than 70% of the top taxpayers of the country are businesses owned or managed by Asians.

In 1972 Asians living in Uganda were given a ninety-day ultimatum to leave the country and their properties confiscated.

At the time, they ran 90 percent of the country’s businesses and accounted for 90 percent of tax revenues.

About 50,000 Asians left the country and got scattered all over the world, some never recovered from the abrupt disruption.

When President Yoweri Museveni, however, came into power in January 1986, he encouraged the exiles to return and help grow the economy.

The government even promised to return some of their properties as an incentive and so far almost half of them have been returned back to their owners.

There are an estimated 15,000 Asians living in Uganda today, far fewer than the 80,000 or so, mostly Indians and Pakistanis, during Mr. Amin's time.

Among those who returned is Sudhir Ruperalia, Uganda’s richest man with an estimated value of $ 1.12 billion.

“I started my business from scratch with $25,000 and since then, we have built up into seven different sectors. We employ more than 8,000 people,” Ruperalia said.

Since coming back, Asians have been smart and have diversified their investments in different sectors of the economy including textiles, agriculture, manufacturing, construction and mining.

The Ruperalia Group, for instance, is in banking, insurance, hospitality, real estate, education, broadcasting and floriculture.

while the racial scars are yet to heal fully and will take possibly another decade before it does, Ugandans today feel closer to south Asians

According to Chris Musiime, a campaigner, many Ugandans are more worried about the Chinese, who are heavily involved in infrastructure projects than South Asians.

“Some Ugandans complain that the Chinese bring in their workforce rather than employ and train locals,” he said.

Others, who have worked for the Chinese in unskilled capacity, speak of poor treatment and communication problems.

“They complain that some Chinese treat Africans much worse than the Indians ever did in the 1960s and 1970s,” Mr. Musiime added.


Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or:

Email: news@pulselive.co.ke