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Despite dislocations: Uganda's Indians remaking home

  • Savita Nair

The distinctive migration history of Uganda's Indians allows us to rethink diaspora identities and memory in forming translocal communities. Settlement, citizenship and displacement created a postcolonial order of overlapping allegiances and multiple, mobile identities. ‘Home’ had been extended and thus connected to sites in India and East Africa, yet the 1972 expulsion called into question the ways in which Uganda's Indians recalled the very idea of home. While expulsion was a momentous crescendo to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century migrations, it did not put an end to the history of Uganda's Indians. This article focuses on the life histories of diverse Indian migrants: an industrialist's multi-local legacy, the post-expulsion return of Indians to two Ahmedabad (Gujarat, India) neighbourhoods, the repatriation of former residents back to Uganda in the 1980s and 1990s, and a brand-new generation of Indians coming to Uganda. By tracing these movements, I examine Indian migrants’ articulations of identity, investment and interaction vis-à-vis East Africa and India. How do experiences of rejection and return factor into (multi)national loyalties, notions of home and diaspora identities? How does an autobiography, a built structure or a neighbourhood construct and complicate both memories of migration and a migrant community's identity? I place India and Africa on the same historical map, and, by doing so, offer a way to include Indians in the framework of African political economy and society.

L'histoire migratoire particulière des Indiens d'Ouganda nous permet de repenser les identités et la mémoire de la diaspora dans la formation de communautés translocales. L'installation, la citoyenneté et le déplacement ont créé un ordre postcolonial d'allégeances imbriquées et d'identités mobiles multiples. Malgré l'extension de la notion de pays d'appartenance (« Home ») et par là-même son lien à des lieux en Inde et en Afrique de l'Est, l'expulsion de 1972 a remis en question la manière dont les Indiens d'Ouganda se sont rappelés l'idée-même de pays d'appartenance. Cette expulsion a marqué un crescendo important dans les migrations du dix-neuvième siècle et du début du vingtième, mais elle n'a pas mis fin à l'histoire des Indiens d'Ouganda. Cet article met l'accent sur les récits de vie de migrants indiens divers : l'héritage multilocal d'un industrialiste, le retour d'Indiens dans deux quartiers d'Ahmedabad (Gujarat, Inde) après leur expulsion, le retour en Ouganda d'anciens résidents rapatriés dans les années 1980 et 1990, et une toute nouvelle génération d'Indiens arrivés en Ouganda. En retraçant ces mouvements, l'auteur examine les articulations d'identité, d'investissement et d'interaction des migrants indiens vis-à-vis de l'Afrique de l'Est et de l'Inde. Comment ces expériences de rejet et de retour s'intègrent-elles dans les loyautés (multi)nationales, les notions de pays d'appartenance et les identités diasporiques ? Comment une autobiographie, une structure construite ou un quartier peut-il construire et compliquer les mémoires de migration et l'identité d'une communauté de migrants ? L'auteur place l'Inde et l'Afrique sur la même carte historique et, ce faisant, offre un moyen d'inclure les Indiens dans le cadre de l’économie politique et de la société africaines.

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This article focuses only on Kampala and Jinja in Uganda, and Porbandar and Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

The 1969 census numbered the Asian population in Uganda at about 70,000. Asians were officially considered foreigners despite the fact that more than 50% of them had been born in Uganda. By the 1970s South Asians had gained control of the retail and wholesale trade, cotton ginning, coffee and sugar processing, and other segments of commerce. President Amin deported about 70,000 Asians in 1972, and only a few returned to Uganda in the 1980s to claim compensation for their expropriated land, buildings, factories, and estates. In 1989 the Asian population in Uganda was estimated at only about 10,000. (<>, accessed 11 May 2015)

Over 15,000 of those expelled returned to reclaim properties (Selva 2005).

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