When Idi Amin expelled 50,000 ‘Asians’ from Uganda

Idi Amin, military dictator of Uganda, was as mad as a hatter. He'd deposed President Obote when he discovered that Uganda's leader was about to arrest him for misappropriating army funds. This was in 1971, but 18 months later his murderous spree was well under way, with thousands killed from ethnic groups he disliked, plus religious leaders and journalists, judges and lawyers, students and intellectuals, among many others. He declared economic war on the tens of thousands of people whose forebears had come from the Indian subcontinent, confiscating their property and businesses.

On August 4th, 1972, Amin ordered the expulsion from the country of some 50,000 of these who held British passports. For some strange reason, in Britain people from the Indian subcontinent are usually called "Asians," which doesn't leave a word to cover those from farther East. These Ugandan "Asians" were entrepreneurial, talented and hard-working people, skilled in business, and they formed the backbone of the economy. However, Idi Amin favoured people from his own ethnic background, and arbitrarily expelled them anyway, giving their property and businesses to his cronies, who promptly ran them into the ground through incompetence and mismanagement.

Amin declared that he had beaten the British Empire, and awarded himself a CBE, "Conqueror of the British Empire." He went on to style himself, "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular." This was in addition to his claim to be the uncrowned King of Scotland. The "VC" stood for "Victorious Cross," which he had made to imitate the VC medal.

Amin's mad exploits continued. He confessed to cannibalism after human heads were seen in his refrigerator. "I have eaten human meat," he said in 1976. "It is very salty, even more salty than leopard meat." He had 4,000 disabled people, together with several of his own ministers, thrown into the Nile to be dismembered and eaten by crocodiles. Among the 300,000 – 500,000 of his countrymen he had killed was the Anglican bishop of Kampala, his body dumped by the roadside.

The "Asians" he deported in tens of thousands after his decree that August day 47 years ago were lucky that they were merely deported, rather than butchered. I was  student at St Andrews at the time, and joined a campaign to persuade the UK government to allow them to settle in Britain. We were successful, in that 30,000 were allowed in, and the remainder were helped to get into Commonwealth countries and the US.

They prospered. The ones who came to the UK set up businesses and ran small shops. Some went from running street stalls to become proprietors of multi-million pound grocery chains. They have been a success story contributing to Britain's economy and society. People of Ugandan ‘Asian’ descent feature among Britain's high achievers and celebrities, including Priti Patel, the new Home Secretary.

As for Idi Amin, it finally took an invasion from Tanzania early in 1979 to bring his bloody reign to an end. He was given exile in Saudi Arabia, where he lived the remainder of his life. Asked by a journalist if he had any regrets about his time as dictator, he replied with a smile, "Only nostalgia."