African-Asians Worldwide (USA, Canada, NZ, South Africa)

Establishment in Uganda

 

http://www.asiansfromuganda.org/asians/establishment/establishment.html

 

 

 

 

British East Africa - Zanzibar British Protectorate

British colonization of Uganda began around 1860. By 1866 East Africa came under the jurisdiction of the British. The port of Zanzibar at this time proudly flew the 84 flags of all the ports of the world. In 1886 the balance of the Kutchi trading firm, Ebji Shivji and Jayaram Shivji, stood at 65,000. Its kitchens were in action 24 hours a day for people coming and going between India and Africa, both merchants and passengers. When Jayaram Shivji died the flag on the British Consulate building was flown at half-mast and homage was paid to him with a 21-gun salute.

In 1888 Britain assigned political and economic power over the region to the British East Africa Company by royal charter.

The British Government in India sent Captain Smee as an emissary to East Africa. He wrote in his report of the far-reaching effects of the prosperous Indian trading firms that had penetrated right into the African interior.

In 1883 the ruler of Kutch visited Zanzibar. He requested the Viceroy of India to look after the interests of his people in Zanzibar and to stand by them in times of difficulty.

In the 1880's when the European Imperial powers began carving up Africa into colonies, it was the Indians with Zanzibari experience who moved into British East Africa. The Imperial British East Africa Company relied heavily on British Indian administrators. From 1888 onwards, Indian soldiers were used in expeditions and military operations in East Africa. (Pryor, K., 12/04/94)

Sultan Baragash completely transformed this island town by introducing electric light, wide roads and modern buildings.

In 1893 Mahatma Gandhi stopped in Zanzibar on his way to South Africa by ship from India. He found a community of Indians living there and advised them to live in harmony.

In the last decade of the 19th century most of the trading communities were in the coastal cities of Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Pemba in Zanzibar. The extension of the railway from Kisumu to Kampala opened up Uganda. In 1887 the total population of Asians in East Africa was 6345, which had increased to 30,000 by 1921.

 

Asian Population of East Africa in 1887

Zanzibar Town

3086

Mombasa

533

Bagamoyo

493

Jumba

373

Kilwa

252

Lamu

230

Kwale

184

Pemba

133

Tanga

127

Pangani

123

Dar es Salaam

107

Malindi

82

Other places

622

Total

6,345


Uganda Railway

A conference was held in Brussels in 1890 whose object was the suppression of slavery. To that end a general Act was promulgated in which the world powers, including America, practically all European nations, Persia, Zanzibar and the Congo, were signatories. One idea of this Act was that transport by manpower would be replaced by economical and rapid transport with the construction of roads and railways.

Steamboats were to be established on navigable rivers and also on the lakes. Uganda was in the control of the British and so they had responsibility for establishing a railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria, with steamers sailing from the proposed railway terminus on Lake Victoria. When the Brussels Act came into effect it was the Imperial British East Africa Company, under its 1888 Charter, that was the authority exercising jurisdiction in Kenya and Uganda. The first survey for this project was made in 1891-2 by a team of Royal Engineers at a cost of 18,856. Starting in December 1891 the survey was carried out very speedily. By the autumn of 1892 a cable was sent to the British Government estimating the cost of construction at 2,500,00

African railway gauges

A problem arose over the choice of one metre gauge for this British railway heading west from Mombasa. The Germans followed suit, as did the Belgians in the choice of one metre gauge. An immense railway system of one metre gauge spread east and west across Africa. The Railway Committee sitting at the Foreign Office had been informed that the proposed railway system in Sudan was to be of one metre gauge. So they chose one metre gauge for Mombasa to Lake Victoria. When the decision was taken to adopt 3'6" gauge for the Sudan railway the Foreign Office was not informed. The end result was 3'6" gauge running south to north from the Cape to Cairo and one metre gauge running east to west!

At the same time the withdrawal of the Imperial East Africa Company was being negotiated. Following a change of government the Foreign Minister sent a Government Mission to Uganda. This was led by Sir G Portal. He was accompanied by, amongst others, Colonel Frank Rhodes who was the brother of Cecil Rhodes. In 1892, much broken down in health Sir G. Portal returned to England. He died in January 1893 and his report was made public in March 1893. This report recommended the retention of Uganda. The outcome was that in 1894 Uganda and its neighbouring territories were taken over by the Crown as the Uganda Protectorate. The Company was dissolved.

Initially the British treaty was with the Kingdom of Buganda alone. By 1896 it was extended to include the Kingdoms of Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole and Busoga. The British at all times preferred Buganda and the Bugandans and made their administrative base at Entebbe.

In 1896 the biggest influx of Indians to East Africa began. In 1895 the Government of India had agreed that Indians could be employed in 3-year contracts (i.e. as indentured labourers) to work on building the Uganda Railway, which was to run from Mombasa on the coast to the shores of Lake Victoria. In January 1896 the first 1000 Indian labourers arrived at Mombasa. They were followed in February by a batch of Indian draughtsmen, surveyors, accountants, clerks and overseers. There were only a few English officers; the Uganda Railway, which opened up East Africa to the rest of the world, was built overwhelmingly by Indian labour and expertise. (Pryor, K., 12/04/94)

The general impression given by many historians is that most of the Indians came from India in order to build this railway from Mombasa to Kisumu. Actually all these workers came on contract. Between 1895-1914 the British brought in 37,477 Asians who came mostly from the Punjab and UP. Out of those 37,477 contract workers I would say that about 700 remained. Also about 200 Goans remained in East Africa with the majority returning to India. In Tanganyika the Germans utilized local labour.

As the railway was built Indian traders followed its route and opened up stores along the way. The British Government of East Africa increasingly relied on Indian clerks and administrators; the laws and postal service, currency system and police force of British India were soon there fore a part of the official East African administration. (Pryor, K., 12/04/94)

20th Century

Before the First World War Kenya was a British Colony and Uganda was a Protectorate and Tanganyika was under German rule. With Germany's defeat Tanganyika ceded to the British and Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika were collectively known as British East Africa.

After World War I, Indians continued to migrate to East Africa. Many of came from northwest India with the majority coming from Punjab, Gujarat, Kathiawar, Saurashtra, Kutch and Portuguese Goa. (See map)

Throughout Kenya and Uganda Indian traders were well placed to encourage the growth of raw cotton because of their connections with the huge Bombay cotton industry. By 1919 Indians were buying and exporting 50% of Uganda's cotton crop to Bombay mills. In the period between World War I and II, enterprising Indians laid the foundations of the 20th century industrial empires starting with the agricultural processing of sugar, tea, coffee and cotton ginning and expanding into basic manufacturing. Two of these were Nanji Kalidas Mehta and Muljibhai Prabhudas Madhvani who went on to build the Mehta Group and the Madhvani Group respectively.

Asian Population of East Africa 1921 - 1962

 

1921

1931

1939

1962

Kenya

23,253

43,623

48,897

176,613

Tanganyika

10,209

25,144

25,000

92,000

Uganda

5,200

14,150

17,300

77,400

Zanzibar

13,772

15,247

15,500

20,000

Totals

54,434

98,164

104,697

366,013

 

The Asians had suffered increasing prejudice during the inter war years both from the white settlers, who thought that only Europeans should be allowed to exploit the commercial opportunities of the colonies, and from Africans who often resented their success. Although some Indian entrepreneurs, such as Muljibhai Madhvani, were active philanthropists and worked hard to alleviate the economic conditions for Africans, there was little social contact between Africans and Indians, which gave rise to further mistrust and resentment on the part of the Africans.  

Sheth Allidina Visram Lalji, an Ismaili merchant born in 1851 in the village of Khera in Kutch, India was one of the first successful Indian businessmen in Zanzibar. He went to East Africa in 1863 at the age of 12 and worked for other traders in Bagamoyo until 1877 when he decided to open his own shop in Bagamoyo. Bagamoyo was under German administration at the time. Being the first Indian to open up his own trade routes deep into Africa, Allidina Visram was the true original entrepreneur of East Africa. He opened his outlets on the tracks of the new railway being built and offered services like clothing and food. His trading empire spanned the whole of East Africa, from the coast into Tanganyika and Uganda, and from Rhodesia in the south to Southern Sudan.

Throughout Kenya and Uganda, Indian traders were well placed to encourage the growth of raw cotton because of their connections with the huge Bombay cotton industry. By 1919 Indians were buying and exporting 50% of Uganda's cotton crop to Bombay mills. In the period between World War I and II enterprising Indians laid the foundations of 20th Century industrial empires starting with agricultural processing of sugar, tea and coffee and cotton ginning and expanding into basic manufacturing. Two of these were Nanji Kalidas Mehta and Muljibhai Prabudas Madhvani who went on to build the Mehta Group and the Madhvani Group respectively (MMM notes; Pryor, K. mimeo, 12/04/94).

After World War I, Gujaratis and Punjabis continued to migrate to East Africa and by the end of World War II the Indians in Kenya numbered 98,000, in Uganda 35,000, in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) 46,000 and in Zanzibar 16,000. However in the inter-war years they had suffered increasing prejudice both from the white settlers, who thought that only Europeans should be allowed to exploit the commercial opportunities of the colonies, and from Africans who often resented their success. Although some Indian entrepreneurs were active philanthropists and worked hard to alleviate the economic conditions for the Africans, there was little social contact between Africans and Indians, which gave rise to further mistrust and resentment on the Africans' part. In the 1960's, as independence became a reality for the East African colonies, many Indian residents were uncertain of their political allegiance and of their future once the British left. Although the sun was setting on the British Empire, Britain still offered British Nationality to the Indians and many opted for British Protected status and British Nationality. (Pryor, K., mimeo, 12/04/94). This was to have serious consequences for the Indians.
 

In Kenya, Indian traders had begun trading as early as 1890. They sold most of their goods in tents and later corrugated iron ships. Their clients were usually Europeans who came on hunting trips. The Europeans eventually returned to farm land and settled in the country. They had the important backing of the Colonial government. The land was available on a 99 year lease at the rent of half pence and acre per annum. The land being extremely fertile was like gold, good for grazing, perfect for farming and most of all cheap. The news of this scheme spread to other parts of the continent and England, and soon there were nearly 3000 white farmers who owned the best lands. The Asians provided valuable services to the European farmers, helping them build fences, their handywork and delivering their goods. They were called 'fundis', a Swahili word for carpenters, plumbers, tailors and mechanics.


In Uganda, when the 2nd World War began most activities were restricted. Later, after the war, upto the l950s the British were busy establishing trade links and making agreements with African Kings and Chiefs. Manufactured goods were supplied to Uganda in exchange for agricultural crops like tea, coffee and cotton. In 1952 the Uganda National Congress was formed by I. K. Mwazi and it had close links with the Indian Congress Party. Among the leaders of the UNC were Abu Mayanja and John who had studied in India. In 1958 the UNC became the Uganda People's Congress and Milton Obote became its leader.

Prominent Indians involved in public life and politics the 1950s and 1960s were Sir Amar Maini, Dr. Muljibhai Patel, C. K. Patel. In the 1970s they were followed by a younger generation that included people like Gurdial Singh, Shafiq Arain and Rajat Neogy. Some of them formed the Asian Action Group which affiliated itself with the UPC.

About the same time in Buganda a pro-Catholic party was formed. The Democratic Party included Benedicto Kiwanuka who was imprisoned by Obote, released by Amin and made the Chief Justice. He later spoke up for the rights of those Asians who were Uganda Citizens and this led to his murder by Amin in September 1972. Prominent Indians associated with the DP were C. K. Patel, Dayabhai Patel. One prominent Indian lady in Uganda politics was Sugraben Allidina Vishram, who had married the great grand son of Sheth Allidina Vishram mentioned above. She associated herself with the Kabaka Yekka (Kabaka First) political party formed by Baganda who wanted to avoid the King of Buganda being marginalised by the UPC and DP political parties.

Some Asians were involved in politics in Uganda but the majority were apolitical preferring to concentrate on manufacturing, trading, the professions and other business related services. The UPC was more popular among the Asians. It was more socialistic in its policies. In 1962 the UPC won the elections and formed a coalition government with Kabaka Yekka to take Uganda to independence on the 9th October 1962. President Obote gradually established a one-party state and by 1970 he declared the Common Man's Charter which essentially was the nationalisation of 60% of all businesses. This was very similar to the 'Arusha Declaration' in Tanzania by President Nyerere in which a 100% of many Asian properties and businesses were nationalized.
 

 

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