For me, the expulsion by the dictator Idi Amin, became personal. He expelled my parents and my brother and I in 1972, and we arrived in September 1972to be settled in the cold in the former RAF camp at Stradishall in Surrey. Like people who were neither to be seen nor heard, we were, as Ugandan Asians, housed in these camps until we were settled into permanent addresses. It was at this time, that the rhetoric of Enoch Powell resonated in many parts of the U.K., and so being unseen and unheard was part of the political resettlement process by the Government of the time.
I arrived into the U.K. only 16 months old, a small bundle of life, looking outwards at a world that seemed cold, far from what my eyes felt safe with and into an environment that was so different. Those early marks of being in a different place have stayed with me and always shaped a longing for home.
I have finally realised that home is where people accept you, as a whole and not just as parts of identities that they recognise. To a great degree, I have found that here in the United Kingdom, though there is an eternal wanderer within me searching for nirvana and ultimately - safety. This is why this project matters deeply to me. Itis both professional and personal and encompassed the mental, emotional, and physical journeys of those of Ugandan Asian heritage.
I bring with me over 25 years of work in faith communities in the U.K. and within the voluntary and community sectors. I have developed, founded, and set up organisations such as Faith Matters, Tell MAMA, and the annual No2H8 Awards. I have also served on numerous organisations that have researched and brought forward oral histories of displaced, targeted, and traumatised communities. I have therefore served as a trustee for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for 6 years and I am currently the Chair of the national charity Alcohol Change UK, and the Manor House Counselling and Psychotherapy Centre.
I also am a trustee of the National Holocaust Museum and continue to take a keen interest on displaced communities that have suffered the trauma of persecution. Faith Matters works on developing social cohesion and in countering extremism, whilst Tell MAMA has become the national project supporting victims of anti-Muslim hatred and in monitoring the state of anti-Muslim hatred or Islamophobia across the United Kingdom. It also supports victims at courts and through casework. Finally, the annual No2H8 Awards have become an annual landmark event in honouring those within communities who have, countered or challenged hate, intolerance and prejudice, through their own volition and desire. It is now, (as of 2022), in its sixth year of operations.
Through Amin’s actions of expulsion, I ultimately found the resilience that is so much part of me.
Not being from the Ugandan Asian community myself I was unaware of the history of East African Asians and their connections to the UK until as recently as 2019, despite their story being very much a part of British history.
Growing up in London with a German mother and a British father and surrounded by the beautiful diversity of London I have always been interested in history and people’s stories. Consequently, from an early age I have been passionate about history and in particular social history, the experiences of everyday people and how events shaped their lives.
I pursued this passion with a Bachelor’s degree at Newcastle University were I wrote a dissertation focusing upon the rise of far-right extremism in former East Germany after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Partly influenced no doubt by the concurrent rise of far-right, populist, and anti-immigration politics that I have grown up seeing, I have always sought to understand what drives hate and violence towards the “other”.
I continued to pursue this passion by studying a Master’s Degree at the University of Bologna with a focus on Global Cultures. It was here that surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, I learnt more about British colonialism and the British Empire than I had during my entire secondary and tertiary education in the UK.
It was a module entitled Indian Ocean History that introduced me to the connections and rich history of this geographic area and in particular the links between the Indian subcontinent and the East African coast. The module also addressed the arrival of European colonialism in the area and how Britain began to implement a widespread system of indentured labour in order to provide cost effective labour for their “development” of their African colonies following their abolition of slavery.
I opted to explore the mass movement of Asian subjects of the British Empire in more depth, focusing on those that went to East Africa to build the railroads. It was through this research that I tracked their history up to the modern day and became aware of the 1972 expulsion and understood more about who Idi Amin was.
I decided to write a Master’s Thesis on the history of the Ugandan Asian diaspora with a focus on analysing how Britain had played a key role in this migration of people from their arrival in East Africa to their eventual expulsion and resettlement in Britain among other countries.
Unfortunately, as this Thesis was conducted during the COVID-19 Pandemic it was difficult to engage in person with the Ugandan Asian and wider East African Asian community in the UK despite online attempts.
To now be given the opportunity to work on this project and work alongside the Ugandan Asian community and its members and bring attention to their history and lived experience is a huge honour. It should truly be unthinkable that anyone in the UK should be unaware of the histories of communities such as the Ugandan Asians whose lives are so intertwined with our countries past, present, and future.
Becky Taylor is Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia where her teaching and research focusses on the relationship between minority and marginalised groups and the state.
She is the author of a number of books including Refugees in Twentieth-Century Britain. A History (Cambridge, 2021) and Another Darkness, Another Dawn: A History of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (2014); and she acts as a expert consultant to public and community history and media projects including the BBC's A Very British History series.