THE NEW INDIAN QUESTION AND THE DEBATE AMONG THE THREE MAKERERE PROFESSORS
Senior Research Fellow
Center for Critical Thinking and Alternative Analysis (CCTAA)
Head of Research
Islamic Call University College
6th March 2023
The central focus of the new Asian debate between distinguished Professors: Lwanga Lunyiigo, Mamdani Mahmood and Sylvia Tamale was: Were Indians colonizers or sub-imperialists in Uganda? Lunyiigo and Tamale additionally argued that the second Indian expulsion was imminent and that it was a question of time before it happen again. According to Lunyiigo, Indians were colonizers for they overwhelmingly dominated all economic aspects of the country and edged out all indignant Ugandans from lawful economic participation. He argues that colonialism is more of an economic enterprise than any thing else. In this respect, Indians commandeered the agricultural trade, from which they made fortunes, yet they grew no cotton, no coffee and no tea. They primitively accumulated wealth out of the native sweat who toiled in the plantations and shambas to eke out a living. Lunyiigo, in his book, “Uganda: An Indian colony (2023)” argues that Ugandans were left out of the financial sector. The British gave credit to Indians at the expense of Ugandans, by doing so they aided Indian colonialism which, strengthened Indian traders and industrialists.
Defending the 1972 Asian expulsion, Lunyiigo contends that many Ugandans welcomed the move because of the continued Asian exploitation and repatriation of capital. He posits that from 1950s Indians began taking away their money from East Africa and by the time Amin sent them away they had accumulated US$ 340 billions in British Banks. In the words of Lunyiigo, “Amin did them a favor by asking them to leave and join their money”. By this narrative, he seems to suggest that the 1972 Asian expulsion was the second colonial liberation by Ugandans against the second category of colonialists- The Indians.
Both Lunyiigo and Tamale foretell a pending second Asian expulsion, premised on the standpoint that Indian investors are repeating the same mistakes, which made them unpopular among the Ugandan business natives. Thus to the duo, the second Indian expulsion is highly likely to occur, if the Indian domination and monopoly in the economic sector continue unabated. The niceties shown in form of subsidies, such as tax holidays, free land and special economic considerations by government have pushed out the Ugandan business communities at the expense of immigrant Indians. This creates an impression that the current government is acting like the British colonialist, which had given utmost attention and priority to Indians. Lunyiigo suggests that Ugandans should embrace the new economic philosophy of “Build Uganda, Buy Uganda”(BUBU) as the way forward, categorically calling for the second boycoting of Indian goods, as it happened in the early 1950s.
Referring to the rigid Indian caste system, Lunyiigo observes that Indians understood Ugandans but Ugandans never understood Indians. This system is a form of a social economic infrastructure that sustained the economically privileged at the expense of the wretched of the earth. It was typical with the British colonialist who did not entertain Ugandans at the center of their colonial economic enterprises unless they were compradors to the European economic subversive interests. It is therefore important to note that the Indian caste system has been critiqued as a material structure of exploitation. In this, the Indian Subalterns studies, while taking on the Brahminical hegemony and their religious superstition condemned it as a powerful social-economic undesirable system that simply milks the Indian cow without feeding it. Jawaharlal Nehru did not like the Indian caste system. Castigating it he said, “ Almost every one who knows any thing about India has heard of the caste system, almost every outsider and many people in India condemn it”. Introducing it in Uganda automatically affects both political and economic relations to the detriment of social cohesion, co-existance and balanced development.
The application of this caste system in Uganda, which saw the natives becoming the lowest in the social strata and maintaining the Indians at the highest point as the Brahminic, was simply an economic weapon for economic exploitation. Other Indian scholars have described it as a form of historical violence crucial for the construction of the Indian political state. The Indian political state is a creation of the Hindu community at the expense of the untouchable Indian underprivileged community. In essence, Hindu nationalism is largely and entirely built on the caste system in which only the Hindu believe India belongs to them and not to any other. In this context, the Hindu applies the word “Hindutva” as a political call to arms against the rest of Indians and non-Indians who are not from the favored caste. Ambedka once described the caste system as the most powerful vehicle of discrimination and ritual dominance as well as political and economic powerhouse in India. The intent of practicing the caste system rightly makes one to believe that it was a political strategy and weapon to hijack the political state of Uganda, just as it was done recently (2023) in U.K when Rishi Sunnak assumed the UK premiership. This makes it clear that the caste system is a double-sided political-economic sword.
On the contrary, Mamdani expressed a counter argument that Indians were not colonialists for they were also governed by the same western colonial hegemony, but were alternatively sub- imperialists. Meaning they were privileged workers of the colonialists. Well aware that Lunyiigo is a Muganda, Mamdani used the analogy reminiscent of Buganda position in Uganda colonial state. He asked, “ Were the Baganda imperialists or Baganda were part of the colonized? This leading question was simply meant to defend Indians as sub-imperialists and not colonialists. Whereas the question was dialectically convincing, the same asked question degenerated the discussion from a national debate to a senseless local tribal narrative. This reminds me of the debate between Wole Soyinka and Ali Mazrui, which ended up focusing on whether Ali Mazrui, was a Kenyan or an Arab. But most importantly Mamdani opened up the old economic wounds when the Baganda demonstrated and boycotted Indian shops and merchandise in the late 1950s and 60s on the argument that Indians were exploiting Buganda state as it was called then.
However, describing Indians as colonialist in Uganda was a painful scratch on the back of Mamdani whose citizenship has been withdrawn twice by Iddi Amin and Obote. More critically, he remembers what he went through as a descendant of the people of Indian origin (PIO). One sensitive question, which greatly illuminates the works of Mamdani is the Indian citizenship and their settlement in Uganda and the diaspora. It was in this respect that he combatively without remorse critiqued Lunyiigo’s book titled, “Uganda: An Indian Colony”, calling it a marketing book title. To me, the two intellectual “Generals” had both lost the debate when they descended towards racial-like ethnic arguments, just as Wole Soyinka lost it when he natively went for the form (tribalism against Mazrui) and left out the substance, the intellectual debate. Those who visibly attended the debate observe that Mamdani appeared emotional, not taking Lunyiigo’s statement lightly, though somehow tried to compose him self in public interest. One would describe his body language in the words of Andrew Rice of, “ The teeth may smile, but the heart does not forget”
That aside, I wish to extend the substantive debate further, by arguing that where the British colonialism ended, the Indian colonialism began. After Uganda’s 1962 independence, the British left and Indians began from there, they fitted in the shoes of the British. This clearly explains why the East African leaders - Kenyata, Nyerere and Obote - who assumed power after independence nursed the idea of getting rid of the Asian colonialists. In their submission to Heath, the British Colonial Secretary, they advanced the Asian question to justify the delay of independence of the three East African countries. To the trio, they were not convinced of the granted British independence not until Asians with British Passports left the region. Kwameh Nkrumah once advanced the same argument when Ghana was struggling for her independence against the colonial masters. Whereas Kenyatta and Nyerere smartly carried out the Asian exit through tough economic restrictions against the Indians, Iddi Amin rudimentary did it and became a victim. While in exile in Tanzania, Obote in appreciation observed that Amin had within a very short time done something, which he and Nyerere had taken long to achieve. This meant that the three strategists of the Asian expulsion were grateful with Amin’s initiative. By extension, it does not matter how it was done, but what matters is what was done - the end justified the means.
Mamdani further argues that colonialism was a political enterprise, not an economic activity. According to him, colonialism is more of a political question than an economic one, thus discussing colonialism from an economic point of view is to miss the point of the political vitality, which puts power at the center of hegemonic contestation. He states, “ I don’t think it would be productive which comes first, the political or the economy, all those who are focused on the economic you will never be able to solve the political”. Mamdani assumes that the political stands alone from the economic. I wish to conversely look at both the political and the economic as sides of the same coin. In this, whichever way, a coin remains a coin, it does not matter which side of the coin it is. This argument is cemented by the Indian hosting of the second African-Indian Forum Summit in Adis Ababa in May 2011, which highlighted the burgeoning political and economic ties between New Delhi and the African continent. This summit, I argue was meant to recapture the African continent for market, raw material and total political control, which India has successfully done in South Africa with the aid of the crafted BRICS organization.
At the center of Indian colonialism was the barrel of the gun, which the British used through the Indian soldiers who later became a strong pillar and battalion during the hey-days of the King African Riffles (KARs). This proves the point that the Indians were not just economic actors, but active military compradors within the British colonial project. The British brought in Indian soldiers to quell the 1896 Sudanese mutiny in Busoga, present day Mayuge District, where many Sudanese soldiers lost their lives. The imported Indian soldiers from Bombay were constituted into a British Battalion, stationed in Busoga to watch over the Sudanese to avoid the recurrence of another military episode, which had disrupted the British rule in Uganda. This incident created a silent hatred by the Sudanese against Indian settlers.
Underestimation of the economic at the expense of the political is to express ignorance of the fact that the Index of Economic Independence (IEI) is a crucial measure of a country’s ability to survive as both a political and economic entity. The political immunity of a country to stand the test of time is determined by both the political and economic parameters. The IEI demonstrates how powerful a country is or can be politically. The index thus provides a tool for governments to measure the direction and magnitude of their actions needed to improve, sustain and take the political state to greater heights. It is in this breath that Sunnak Rishi, a wealth Hindu descendant of immigrations from India and East Africa has been able to capture UK’s top political seat as the first Indian Prime Minister.
Today, we see Ugandan Asians making their imprints in every corner of the world. In British politics, we have Lord Popat and honorable members, Shailesh Vara and Priti Patel, whose parents came from Uganda. In business, with entrepreneurs such as, Zul Virani and Rumi Vergee who first established Domino’s Pizza in U.K have their origin traced to East Africa. Like wise, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Rupal Rajani in journalism; Muhamad Asif Din in sports; Tarique Ghafar in Public service; and Mahomood Mamdani, the global touring academic. This pool of proof makes Ugandans feel an endangered species. The fact that Rushi has taken over amidst UK’s racial contestations, of course under the influence of his family historical economic might, largely points to how economics facilitate the politics. This further speaks to a number of Mamdani’s own books, such as: Define and Rule (2012), Citizen and Subjects (1996), From Citizen to Refuges (1973) among others, whose main theme is to define and agitate for the citizenship of Indians and dominance of the Indian race in Uganda
Third world leaders and liberation movements have perceived economic independence as a struggle against political colonialism from the colonial powers, and as the necessary condition for any attempt to combat the economic backwardness and social injustice. The economic construct further is considered to be a sufficient condition for political establishment. This, in essence means that economics is “a push” factor and the politics is a “pull factor”. Both the push and pull factors are crucial in the creation of a political hegemony. Indeed, if not in fact, the British colonialists and later Indian colonialist primarily pushed, if not used economic reasons to colonize the Ugandan political State. The economic factor was simply the means through which the political was realized. So economic colonialism stands at the pinnacle of the political colonialism. This argument reminds us that the early voyage of Indians, through the Indian Ocean was basically meant for trade, which was fundamentally forerunner for economic colonialism. Pre- colonial Indian history demonstrates that Indians came to East Africa much earlier than the British, with an economic mission to colonize the region. It was for the very reason that when they conquered trade, they settled on land, and controlled African labor through participation in slave trade. However, when they lacked political power, they borrowed it from the British. Upon the invitation of the powerful British, they established themselves, and upon the British exit at a later stage, they took over the new political mantle as the second colonial masters. Had their political lifespan not cut short by Iddi Amin, Uganda would be a colony of India.
Economic colonialism is not totally confined to economic trajectories; it extends to certain social systems and pursues all goals, political colonialism inclusive. The mode of economic production, the conditions and strategies in economic independence, all derive their origin, motive and mission from economic manipulation, maneuvers, domination and primitive accumulation of resources. This means that the power center of colonialism is economic. In this dispensation, economics becomes the push factor- motive and politics becomes the consequence. In this, the economic factor is accepted as a priority political economic goal. The power to control one’s economic destiny is based on the assumption that only political citizens, interest native groups, and governments of a particular country are ever concerned with their collective economic welfare. The welfare concept is more economic than political, although it’s primarily reflected through the political lens. Altering the division of economic gains and opportunities from natives to settler beneficiaries is a sensitive yet important aspect, which should not only be relegated to economics, but politics as well. If anything, its more political than economic, just as colonialism has more to do with economic than political. Structural changes in the pattern of production, resource allocation and institutional structuring is a political question, which, if not handled with public concern and interest might spark off the looming second Asian expulsion. The preposition, as advanced by Mamdani, which views colonialism as more of a political question rather than an economic one assumes that there is no any asymmetrical relationship between the two trajectories to the colonial discourse. Thus, the argument that colonialism is political and not economic undervalues the very fact that politics survives on economics.
Mamdani looks at Indians as purely economic actors than political activist in Uganda. I wish to note that by 1952 Indians had penetrated Uganda’s active politics. The Uganda National Congress (UNC), which later became Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) had links with the Indian National Congress political party. These links were forged by Abu Mayanja and John Kakonge who had studied in India and later served as political agents. Prominent Indians involved in Ugandan politics. In the 1950s and 60s there were: Sir Amar Maini and Dr. Muljibhai Patel. In the 1970s, they were followed by a young Indian generation that included: Gurdial Singh, Shafiq Arain and Rajat Neogy, who formed the Asian Action Group (AAG), which affiliated itself with UPC and its related atrocities. About the same time in Buganda, a pro-catholic political party was formed- The Democratic Party (DP) whose leader-Benedict Kiwanuka spoke up for the rights of Asians, who were Ugandan citizens, which was to lead to his murder in 1972 by Iddi Amin. Some of the prominent Indians who associated themselves with DP were: C.K Patel and Dayabhai Patel. One Indian prominent lady in Uganda’s politics was Sugraben Alidina Vishram, who associated herself with Kabaka Yeeka Political Party. I wish to passionately add that the UPC was more popular among the Asians not only because of its link with the Indian party, but also for the socialistic worldview.
No Ugandan would wish to rewind the clock back to colonialism or sub-imperialism. Whoever advocates for the former or the latter sets a precedent, which African countries would not wish to get back to. In 1993, Kenya experienced the second wave of attempted violent Indian expulsion, in which an organization called “sons of liberty” warned Asians to leave Kenya for Kenyans. By 1997, Kenya had remained with only 70,000 People of Indian Origins-PIOs. Kenyans accused Indians of involving in many financial scandals that rocked the Kenyan economy. In the early 2007, there were attempts to violently exit Indians during the popular Uganda Mabira campaign. The 2009 Kabaka/Buganda riots in Buganda region, which culminated into looting Indian shops, should not be taken lightly but given the attention it deserves. This confirms that what happened in 1972 can re-occur again.
It is not in doubt that Indians (as called by natives- Bayindi) are an embodiment of a political power by virtue of the fact that they are protected by the political State. It is public knowledge that they use soft political power, through financing political campaigns, and promoting political activisms, therefore their political leaning is publically known. It is upon the Indian Association in Uganda to revisit their social, economic and political position and re-direct it to the satisfaction of the natives to avoid unbecoming occurrences that may not favor the community. Time seems to be running out for Indian acceptability. Social integration, cohesion, and economic partnership with natives seem to be the way out for social harmony between the settler communities and natives.
Postcolonial Uganda is much more interested in a balanced, all embracing social economic setting, which accommodates all actors. Repeating the unfavorable economic privileges by the current regime at the expense of Ugandan nationals might, if not well-handled re-awaken the economic revolution of 1972. This is highly probable because the current elders who spearheaded the expulsion are still at large and the present generation seems to be pointing towards the revival of the 1972 expulsion, as they seriously take notes of the current situation for their future.
Certainly, the Indian business community in Uganda needs a national dialogue with Ugandans more than Ugandans need it. Ugandans, not the regime, can only guarantee the future of Indians in the country, for the 1972 Asian expulsion started with Ugandans in Buganda before the Idi Amin regime officialized it. Colonialism or sub-imperialism is an outdated concept as that of whites being superior to blacks and should not be reiterated. Indians in Uganda should heed to what Mahtma Gandhi once told them in 1893, on his way to South Africa, that they must live in harmony and peace with the hosting communities.