On 4 August 1972, the then President of Uganda Idi Amin Dada ordered the expulsion of his country’s Asian minority, giving them 90 days to leave the country. At the time of the expulsion, there were about 80,000 individuals of Indian descent in Uganda, of whom 23,000 had their applications for citizenship both processed and accepted.
“I have dreamt that unless I take action, our economy will be taken over. The people who are not Ugandans should leave,” these were Idi Amin’s words, the former president of Uganda, fifty (50) years ago told a gathering in Karamoja.
The expulsion took place against the backdrop of Anti-Indian sentiment in Uganda, with Amin accusing a minority of the Asians of disloyalty, non-integration, and commercial malpractice claims that Indian leaders disputed. Amin defended the expulsion by arguing that he was “giving Uganda back to ethnic Ugandans”
Amin thought the Ugandan Asians were dominating the economy in the face of his attempts to ‘Africanize’ the economy.
Many of those who were expelled were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and 27,200 emigrated to the United Kingdom. Of the other refugees who were accounted for, 6,000 went to Canada, 4,500 refugees ended up in India and 2,500 went to nearby Kenya or Pakistan. In total, some 5,655 firms, ranches, farms, and agricultural estates were reallocated, along with cars, homes and other household goods.
Sudhir recounts the memories as a bitter-sweet story which in turn shaped his mindset and turned him into a now richest man in Uganda, and the first to earn a billionaire mark.
As the country marks 50 years of the incident, hundreds of entrepreneurs from across a score of destinations from Canada, Australia, Europe, and the Bahamas will fly into Uganda between August 2 and 4 in commemoration of the anniversary in the luxury Speke Hotel, one of the properties owned by the Ugandan-Asian billionaire Sudhir Ruparelia, chairman Ruparelia Group of Companies.
Dr. Ruparelia, a philanthropist and one of the organisers became a refugee overnight as a young teenager in Kampala back in 1972. His parents flew to Britain soon after the decree from President Amin, but the young Ruparelia stayed behind in Kampala with his friends. He was young, he said, and the nightlife was good.
Yet the days grew ever more dangerous. The police would stop Ruparelia and his friends on the streets in the night to ask what they were still doing in Uganda.
In an interview with Billionaire Tomorrow, Ruparelia says as matters got worse in Kampala, he prepared for a day when he left the land of his birth and all he knew – November 5, 1972.
It was an Alitalia flight to Rome and then on to London Heathrow and uncertainty. He landed at Heathrow at 3 o’clock in the depths of a misty and cold Monday morning. Conservative Edward Heath was Prime Minister; My Ding-a-ling by Chuck Berry was number one; people were listening to music on increasingly popular cassette tapes, on TV was Steptoe and Son and Upstairs and Downstairs. Across the pond, Richard Nixon was entering his final years in power in the White House US president.
“I had never put on a sweater in Africa and here I was; I didn’t have one!. So I was freezing by the time we landed and we see all this mist and dark. You get in the coach and you are so tired already. In the first place, we were in an RAF camp – at four o’clock in the morning, they gave us a room. I didn’t even bother to get undressed, I just went to sleep,” recalls Ruparelia half a century on from the warmth of Kampala.
“In the morning, when we got up, the social services people and NGOs came and they gave me an overcoat, one of those woolen ones. It was so heavy that my shoulders could not carry it,” he told Billionaire Tomorrow.
Ruparelia left the refugee camp, after one day, and went on the hunt for his parents. There was no internet in those days and through the grapevine, he managed to track his parents down living in Scunthorpe on the Lincolnshire coast. He worked a number of jobs – including driving a taxi and making jam doughnuts – before making the foundation of his fortune buying and selling houses in London. He returned to Kampala to become an entrepreneur – starting out selling beer- and the rest of the way to a billion-dollar fortune is history.
Looking back, he is ambivalent about the long-term impact of the 1972 expulsion.
“On the positive side, in Uganda, when these Asians left, they created a vacuum, enabling the process whereby indigenous Ugandans the opportunity to cover those gaps I could cover those gaps and so today Uganda and its economy is not controlled by any certain race, or caste or whatever you want to call it. In this country, we have what you could call a mixed economy – everybody has a stake. In this country, if you fail it is not because business is controlled by one community – it is because you are not good investors or you had some bad decision making,” he says.
“It was harsh for a lot of people, including my father and my mum, the lives they had lived had gone. However, lots and lots of Asians, on those days you would have somebody with five children and there is only one breadwinner. So those kind of people went to Europe, England, America, Canada and you can find there are five and six people working in one family. In the second generation over there, most of the children are all professionals. We have a huge generation of Asians born out of this country who have done extremely well. You will not find a poor Ugandan Asian anywhere in the world.”
ABOUT THE RUPARELIA GROUP
The Ruparelia Group of Companies; founded by Dr. Ruparelia, is a privately owned Ugandan company. As the largest home-grown business in Uganda, its boundary-pushing market leadership began in the 1980s.
Grown through years of painstaking adherence to excellence, the Ruparelia Group is responsible for the ownership of companies that feature unique brands which provide services to the Real Estate, Hospitality & Tourism, Education, Insurance, Agriculture, Financial Services, Media and Advertising in Uganda. Our growth is down to a number of factors, one of which is the re-investment of profits and pioneering new and innovative products and services for the market.
Ruparelia Group is one of the biggest income taxpayers in Uganda. It greatly contributes to the 7.5% of Uganda’s real estate sector and as a result, to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Much of this revenue has been donated to various charities through the Ruparelia Foundation.
The Group’s award-winning performance in hospitality has led to Speke Resort and Conference Centre being named Africa’s best Luxury Lakeside Resort in 2019. World Luxury Hotel Awards, while Kabira Country Club bagged the award for Best Luxury Boutique Hotel.
Dr. Ruparelia, the Group’s founder and Chairman, is the majority shareholder in the companies that comprise the group. Through his business vision, The Ruparelia Group instituted an exemplary set of operating standards and expectations that are the same for each subsidiary within the conglomerate.
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