In 1972, Uganda’s President Idi Amin exiled Ugandan Asians from the country, who left behind most of their belongings and lives for new ones in other countries—particularly Great Britain:
Dr. Mumtaz Kassam was only 16 when, stateless, she arrived at a reception centre in Leamington Spa – one of several across the country. Her parents and siblings were shunted elsewhere before being admitted to Britain. Yugoslavia, Norway, Malta and South Carolina were some of the stopovers for such ‘shuttlecock Asians’. Kassam became a lawyer in the early 1980s and in 1998, with Museveni’s blessing, set up a practice in Uganda to work for repossession of assets and compensation for the departed Asians. As deputy high commissioner for Uganda, she now represents the nation that rejected her.
Broken lives were restored with extraordinary determination, says Kassam: ‘They worked hard, maintained their dignity, educated their children, never gave up.’ The Tory MP Shailesh Vara, whose father migrated from Uganda in the early 1960s, concurs: ‘Rather than looking at their expulsion as life-destroying, they saw it as a setback. They didn’t stay downcast, got up, and started over again.’ I remember Ugandan Asian men laughing because English businesses closed at 5pm, had weekends off even. They opened shops that never shut and transformed consumer expectations across Britain.