Conference - Expulsion: Uganda’s Asians and the Remaking of Nationality

Conference - Expulsion: Uganda’s Asians and the Remaking of Nationality

Friday, 20 May 2022 - 9:30am
Investcorp Lecture Theatre & online
Faisal Devji

To join the zoom registration is required: 
Panel 1 - History and Violence -
Panel 2 - Postcolonial Politics -
Panel 3 - Empire to Internationalism -

2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Uganda’s Asian minority. Standing at some eighty thousand individuals, the population of refugees he created was not big by today’s standards. Yet it went on to transform citizenship and national culture in countries as far apart as the United Kingdom and Canada. The Uganda Asians, as they were known, represented the first significant wave of refugees to move from the global south to the north. And in this way, they stand at the beginning of a new history of global migration, one whose crisis we are experiencing today.

Their arrival in Europe and North America prompted changes in citizenship law and the official espousal of multi-racial or multi-cultural societies there. This was not least because the Uganda Asians, along with their Kenyan and Tanzanian peers, represented a new kind of immigrant to the West, one no longer part of a post-war labour boom. More educated as professionals and businessmen, and with access to capital, they occupied different physical and social geographies than earlier South Asian labour migrants. They were also among the earliest immigrants fleeing not poverty, but the democratic failure of post-colonial states. 

What later came to be called multiculturalism in places like the United Kingdom and Canada, the two most important destinations for Uganda’s Asians, arguably descended from the colonial term multiracialism, which had been used to characterise East African societies divided hierarchically between Europeans, Asians, Arabs, and Africans. In this sense, too, Uganda remade the West through its Asian migrants. Indeed, the term Asian itself came with the immigrants and refugees from East Africa to replace the national identities of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis in the UK.  

This conference allows us, therefore, to examine a crucial founding moment in the history of decolonization and immigration connecting Africa, Europe, and North America. It will bring together scholars specialising in Ugandan and East African history, Indian migration, and the Asian expulsion, as well as the emergence of immigration as a political category in Europe and North America. Professor Mahmood Mamdani, himself a Ugandan refugee and author of one of the earliest accounts of the expulsion, will deliver the conference’s keynote lecture. 

To register or for further information please email 

The conference is generously funded by the Bapsybanoo Marchioness of Winchester Fund and the Beit Fund and the Asian Studies Centre, St Antony’s College.