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Rupture: Community in Crisis - Forced Migration

Image 2.1 Map East Africa. Wikimedia Commons © November 9, 2011.

Fear and Turmoil: Tensions in East Africa

A wave of independent movements throughout Africa led to the fall of colonial empires throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The transition from colony to independent state was a chaotic and difficult time for all previously colonized African nations. For the countries in East Africa, the change led to conflict between ethnic groups, the disintegration of proper government function, and the emergence of repressive regimes. These conflicts sometimes resulted in large-scale violence and genocide, creating an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and panic throughout East Africa.

Indians were a minority in East Africa between the British elites and the African majority. After independence, many Africans felt resentment towards the economic success of the Indians. As a visible minority that had a separate community based on their cultural customs, Indian-Kenyans were targeted as scapegoats for East Africa’s problems. This intensified an Africanization of policies in Kenya and East Africa, which originally came out of a need to build a national identity post-independence. This process brought up questions of who did and did not belong, and quite often, minorities were a casualty of this. The Indian-Kenyan community therefore became a target of discriminatory legislation enacted by the ruling elite.

2.2.President Idi Amin
Image 2.2 President Idi Amin.  Archives New Zealand. Wikimedia Commons © August 1973.

Expulsion – 90 Days

This regional phenomenon affected other British colonies in the area. Some were more radicalized than others. In 1972, President Amin of Uganda announced that Indian-Kenyans had 90 days to leave the country or they would be placed in camps. Fearing for their safety, the majority of Indian-Africans fled Uganda. This mass migration created tensions in other East African countries, triggering Indian-Kenyans to flee as well. Many left their country with only what they could carry and were permitted to bring only £55 in cash. Unable to sell their properties and businesses, they migrated to the UK and Canada with very little to restart their lives.

The abrupt nature of this shift caused an already diasporic and hybrid community to re-establish its identity once again through movement.

Consider:

In an effort to re-define identity, how does the policy of Africanization make Indian-Kenyans feel like outsiders in their own country? Who gets included in this re-definition and who gets excluded? Who makes these decisions?

The Africanization of policies was implemented by governments with the intended purpose of ensuring that the African majority population acquired greater control over key areas of the economy and the government. Countries that gained independence were faced with the need to create solidarity and a strong national identity, which often meant excluding minority communities. For example, some countries passed laws that placed restrictions on choice of residence, trade and employment for ‘non-citizens’. In East Africa, these policies were often aimed at Indian-Africans who controlled a large portion of the economy.

Genocide involves the murder of a large group of people based on their belonging to an identified group such as ethnicity or religion. A recent example of genocide in East Africa occurred in Rwanda during 1994 when the Hutu (ethnic group) majority government killed mass numbers of Tutsi (ethnic group).

A diaspora is a group of people who live outside the area in which they have lived for a long time or in which their ancestors lived.

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