The Despot’s Debtors

Why Uganda’s Indian-origin businessmen aid its authoritarian president

01 April 2016
Despite his undemocratic ways and charges of large-scale corruption against him, Yoweri Museveni enjoys unflinching support from many Ugandan Indians
goran tomasevic / reuters
Despite his undemocratic ways and charges of large-scale corruption against him, Yoweri Museveni enjoys unflinching support from many Ugandan Indians
goran tomasevic / reuters

On an early March afternoon, the economist and amateur historian Vali Jamal, a slight, soft-spoken Ugandan Indian in his late seventies, showed me a draft of his book—a coverless tome of thousands of pages on Indians living in Uganda. Nine years in the making, the manuscript is a comprehensive history of the people.

Hundreds of pages of the draft covered a largely forgotten event: the 1972 expulsion of the country’s Indian community by the military dictator Idi Amin. Jamal and his family were among the 60,000 Indians thrown out of the country by the strongman. The draft details the chronology of the expulsion, with Ugandan newspaper clippings and many photographs of the barrel-chested Amin. Many pages were still full of corrections made with a red pen, but Jamal hoped the book would be published in India next year.

Yet one thing that does not feature in Jamal’s book is the relationship between Uganda’s president of 30 years, Yoweri Museveni, and the country’s Indian community, especially its businessmen. Museveni, known for his undemocratic ways, has been repeatedly accused of rigging polls to extend his rule, including in a general election this February. He has also cracked down violently on Uganda’s two main opposition leaders, arresting many of their supporters. And yet, Museveni enjoys unflinching support from many Ugandan Indians.

Clair Macdougall Clair MacDougall is an independent journalist and writer who currently lives in Monrovia, Liberia. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesVogueNewsweekTimeSternAl Jazeera America, and Foreign Policy, among others. She travelled to Uganda on a fellowship with the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Keywords: Yoweri Museveni financial aid Indian businessmen Uganda
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