synthroid 75 mcg ingredients

Ugandan Asians: The doctor Amin could neither ignore nor expel

Dr Mukhtar Ahmad in his office. The doctor died last November. Courtesy photo./dailyMonitor.


In the 14th part of our series, Vali Jamal in his book on Uganda Asians features Dr Mukhtar Ahmad, one of the Asians who remained in Uganda even when they were expelled by President Amin in 1972. The president recognised that his services to the country were far more useful than his citizenship, and exempted him. His wife is a social organiser whose contribution has been commended by even First Lady Janet Museveni and their children are doing as much in US and Pakistan.

Based on a number of interviews and written submissions in September and November 2007

My father Dr Lal Din Ahmad came to Uganda in 1926 and embarked on his practice almost immediately. We were a medical family, with two of my brothers and a sister qualifying as doctors. We loved the outdoors, which almost always included hunting wild animals.

At the start of my own practice from my father I used to spend almost half of my time in nearby villages. On some occasions I even stayed out the whole day in far-flung villages. Bombo, Nandere, Goma, Wobulenzi, Luweero, Nakasongola – these are all very familiar places to me. Most patients I treated gratis as they were simply too poor.

In all these villages of course, there were Asian traders with their families and my visits were eagerly anticipated for me to tend to their everyday ailments. Malaria was very prevalent then, but also dudus (earth worms) that bore into your skin and caused you acute discomfort. In the absence of the doctor, the houseboy would know how to dig in with a needle that had been sterilised over a flame!

In 1954, I helped in the expansion of Rubaga Hospital to 200 beds. Three doctors were brought in from Germany with the help of the German embassy. About the same time, I was asked by the Chief Secretary to organise the St John’s Ambulance service. From rented space, I trained over three hundred volunteers, who in turn trained others.

I was appointed the Divisional Surgeon to St John’s Ambulance Brigade, Kampala, and awarded the Associate Brother of the Order of St John by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the certificate and medal handed over by the Governor, Sir Fredrick Crawford.

Fleeing Uganda 
Fast forward to 1972. Of course, like all Asians, our family was traumatised by the expulsion notice. We looked at our options, but almost immediately I got a letter from the President that our family were exempted in view of our “services to the country.” So I continued running my practice – and yes, I never left for even a day. Those were difficult times but we survived. From 1973, I was the official doctor to the UN community which afforded me some protection.

People just abandoned their possessions – sometimes literally on the street. We saw lights on at daytime in houses and later we’d learn that the owner had fled overnight. Cars were left parked in the yard, ignition-key in. On my street, Summit View, lived the Jamal Ramji family. They had bought the house just that year from Sherali Bandali Jaffer. When they left, they just left their three brand-new Mercedes Benzes in the yard. The next morning they were gone. All abandoned cars were taken to the Kololo airstrip for “safe-keeping”. A decision was made to auction them off. An Italian friend of mine bought a Jaguar for just Shs1,000 – count that as $125, even at the official rate of July 1972; on the black market a dollar fetched Shs12 by then, so the Jaguar was well within three US dollars figures. Its market price in 1972 – pre-expulsion! – would have been 10 times as much.

Cars were left at Entebbe Airport as people boarded planes. In some countries, cars are parked at the airport on a business trip ready to drive back home. Here, there was no expectation of ever coming back home. I received a call from a Kampala friend from Nairobi. He was Ramji Ladha Dalal’s eldest son, Kanti Lal. He said he was sending his car keys back with a British pilot; I should pick them up and take possession of a car of his, a green Mercedes, and that I should have no difficulty finding it at the airport, just that I should hurry. I went to the airport as instructed and took possession of the keys from the pilot, but as I approached the car, a security man came towards me, rather apologetically, actually. He said I should leave immediately as the compound was under surveillance. I went back there a week later, but the car was nowhere to be seen. A couple of years after the expulsion I ran into Kanti Dalal in London. “Dr Ahmad,” he greeted me, “I have to apologise to you. That car I asked you to retrieve from the airport? Well, it was loaded – with family jewellery. All the panels and all the upholstery.” Lucky man who got the car – and realised that the rattling noise was from jewels! Many people – even men – wore as much jewellery as they could and still walk. Often the jewellery was confiscated by the customs people at the airport. Many people buried their heirloom in their gardens. No, I can’t say I got any mysterious requests asking me to dig at a particular spot in someone’s garden!

My own problem was that in 1970 I had purchased a Cessna plane to take me to villages to tend to patients and use it at weekends on pleasure trips. I paid quite a sum for it – $27,000 (now about $350,000). I already had a pilot’s licence for two years before that. Gasoline was duty-free and cost just one shilling fifty cents per gallon. Once I took the plane to Chobe Lodge for a fishing competition. Twelve other planes were cramped on the tarmac there. I caught a 45 kg Nile Perch which took two hours to haul in. After the exodus, I couldn’t use the plane much as there were restrictions about the use of the airspace. Eventually I sold it off in Nairobi.

Those who never left
On the very next day after the departure deadline, all remaining Asians were asked to assemble at the airstrip to validate their residency status. Between 6,000 and 7,000 people turned up. These were mostly people whose Ugandan citizenship had been confirmed by the Immigration Department during that three-month verification exercise. They were the ones who had opted to stay on – well, momentarily, because Amin came out with all his threats of the past three months in his address: “Good you want to live here as citizens of Uganda, then you should be prepared to live as Ugandans; you will not be allowed to operate businesses in big cities. I shall send you to cultivate the soil in Karamoja!” Haji Maki (Haji Adam’s son) Abdurahman fainted on hearing this and I had to administer first aid to him. Eventually he managed to get himself to England via “the refugee route” and I met him once on Edgware Road in London where he was running a shoe store called Maksons, a derivative from his name Maki.

Some people who were not happy to be accorded the favour to live in Uganda as “citizens” went to the UNDP for help. Mr Prattley was the Resident Representative. He advised them that if they were stateless, they could be helped as refugees. They took this hint and threw away their Uganda passport, thereby becoming “stateless”. At least five thousand people did this. Refugee camps were set up for them at the Gurdwara and Patidhar Samaj. The UNHCR came in. Within a few weeks various countries in Europe – Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Malta and Spain – agreed to take a thousand each of these refugees. They were taken to camps in those countries. Some were absorbed there but for most it was a staging post for dispersion to more familiar countries. Many were accepted by Australia and New Zealand. The British relented and allowed those with family members to join them in Britain.

With the three months drama and the trauma of the verification exercise at the airstrip behind us, we girdled ourselves to face up to a new Uganda, without grocery stores, barbers, and padlocks to lock ourselves in. Kampala was eerily quiet, like a ghost town. All the shops were shuttered down. The lights still worked but fear pervaded the place. We used to see Idi Amin driving a yellow Beetle and sometimes even riding a bike on Kampala Road. On Sundays, my family and friends went to the Drive-in Cinema, just like in the glory days. They put on the “movies” for us – two or more: When one reel finished, the next one was quite likely from another movie, sometimes even cross-racial, as when Mumtaz, the Indian-screen heroine of the time, got displaced by Audrey Hepburn! We laughed.

The allocation of shops began in February 1973, or so. The proceedings were televised, and broadcast, although not live. Major General Maliyamungu, Major Gowan and Col Ozo were in charge. It was a haphazard process that favoured the northerners.

Let me tell you about the allocation of Fazal Abdullah’s store on Kampala Road, near Diamond Bakery, now taken over by Biplous. It was allocated to Amin’s brother, Haji Adam. As a young boy of 10-12 years old, he had worked in the basement of that shop beating ginned cotton to fluff it up for stuffing into mattresses. He contracted asthma in consequence. My father treated him, which included a strict order to his father to take him back to Arua if he was ever to recover, and never to come back to Kampala. My father provided him with the transport back, a monthly milk allowance and school fees. In 1974, my wife was looking at the Fazal Abdullah shop window, when out stepped a huge figure, a duplicate of Idi Amin Dada. He politely invited my wife to come in and look inside. After some initial hesitation she did step in. The man started talking: “You don’t know me, madame, but I know you and your family very well, so don’t be afraid. You see your father-in-law rescued me from this very store when I was just a teenager suffering from asthma. He provided for my education. Not all Asians were bad people, but I am pleased I have the chance to run this store which was denied to us when Asians were here. Look around, my store is full!” Indeed, my wife told me, he even had silk carpets from China! So some Africans were managing to run their newly acquired businesses.

In 1974, I went to drop off a friend at Entebbe Airport called Mr Jagani. I saw an Asian man being dragged towards the aeroplane. He was protesting quite loudly that he was a Ugandan citizen and they couldn’t “deport” him. On reaching the steps of the plane, he simply sat down on the tarmac and refused to budge. The commotion led the press to the scene, and even in those days the government cared about publicity, so the man was led back but locked up for nine months. His name was Nandlal Karia. I see from the drafts that he and his son have spoken about this incident in their accounts. This sort of extra-judicial action happened all the time.

Meeting President Amin
In 1976, I, my wife and the High Commissioners of India and Pakistan were asked by the President to officiate at the wedding of a “citizen” Indian girl to Captain Bashiri Juma (later the governor of Mbarara District). The bride was called Noorjehan, the daughter of Badru who used to ply buses between Gulu and Kampala. We were asked to give some dignity to this important cross-race event. In the middle of the ceremony, a helicopter landed and out stepped Idi Amin Dada himself. And not just him but also President Mobutu Seseseko of Zaire (now Congo)! At the end of the festivities, Amin invited us to join them at Chobe Lodge about 40 miles away for the night. We followed and found Idi Amin was waiting for us at the airstrip with President Mobutu. By then, he was ready to move on, so he invited us to join him at Paraa Lodge, another 50 miles away. We politely declined.

As the UN’s doctor, I had free access to travel in Uganda and was able to go up-country to see patients. In 1977, Zul Thobhani (late) asked me to go to Entebbe Airport to receive “an important person.”

He was then the nominal head of the Ismaili community and he was asking me to go with him as one of the leaders of the Muslim community – but also because my car had UN plates which afforded some security on the notorious Kampala-Entebbe Road. We took along my wife and Haji Musa Kasule. We drove the car right up to the tarmac. A private jet landed. Out stepped the important person – Prince Karim al-Husseini Aga Khan, but not just him, but also his brother Prince Amyn Aga. They had come to do the opening of the IPS building.

Family background
My own family consists of my wife, son Musawir and daughter Hummaa. It was because of the strength of my wife that we stayed on in Uganda, despite witnessing constant turmoil, wars and coups. She is a social worker, and a founder member of International Women’s Organisation (IWO). She was awarded a certificate for her work for the blind by Dr Milton Obote. The current first Lady, Janet Museveni, has also recognised and awarded her for her services to Uweso and Women International Maternity Aid (Wima). My son is a dental surgeon qualified in the US where he lived for 15 years before joining my practice. He too is recognised for his services to the community. He represented Uganda in shooting at the 2003 Manchester Commonwealth Games. My daughter is a journalist. She was until recently the executive editor of News International, a Pakistan daily. She was awarded an Excellence in Media award by the Governor of Sindh, Dr Ishrat-ul-Ibad.

People often ask me why did Idi Amin expel the Asians. I have to remind them that the policy of Ugandanisation was started by President Obote in 1969. He had wanted clerks to leave in one year, businessmen in two, and professionals in three. Idi Amin did all that in one go and paid the price of it in terms of a collapsed economy.

Within a short time, he was recruiting professionals from the Indian subcontinent to keep the essential social services running! These people mostly had to flee when Amin was overthrown in 1979. This was a full-scale war, with rocket-propelled guns and grenades being thrown as the Tanzanian forces advanced towards Kampala under the command of Colonel Musuya, along with Ugandan exiles. In the emergency situation, I myself at personal risk organised a train-load of 350 families of various Asian nationalities to escape via Malaba border as the station master was a patient and friend of mine. From there, he assembled 35 coaches to take them out. Sadly, the East German Ambassador and his wife who too were personal friends were killed as they tried to hurry home in their car on Acacia Avenue. A tank fired on their vehicle and blew it up.

Dr Mukhtar Ahmad passed away on 11/11/2011.


Kismaayodaily On September - 27 - 2012

Leave a Reply

  • RSS
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Youtube

Somali Rowing and Ca

Somali Rowing and Canoeing federation sacks president, interim committee appointed [caption ...






HARGAYSA OO LAGU ARKAY KOOX DAACISH AH [caption id="attachment_12599" align="alignright" width="300"] ...


DIYAAR GARAWGII U DAMBEEYAY EE MAGAALADA CADAADO May 29, 2017 [caption id="attachment_13622" ...