This year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the Expulsion of the Asians from Uganda, an event whose massive and multifaceted significance could not have been imagined at the time. A number of books and hundreds of interviews are being conducted globally; but very few books capture as succinctly and methodically the enormous contribution of the Asian community as the yet unpublished encyclopaedic work of Dr Vali Jamal who passed away in Kampala on July 11, 2021.
No doubt Vali’s voluminous tome entitled, ‘Ugandan Asians: Then and Now, Here And There, We Contributed, We Contribute’ is not only a chronicle of the Expulsion, but captures the history of the Asian settlement in Uganda and the monumental contribution it has made over the many decades.
Vali Jamal was eminently suited to undertake such a task. Born in Mombasa, Kenya he came to Uganda in 1946 with his father a pioneer from the leading Jamal family. One of its scions Amir Jamal was an MP for Kisumu in the Kenya Parliament when Kenya gained Independence from British rule. Vali’s father came to establish the first branch of the Diamond Jubilee Investment Trust (today’s Diamond Trust Bank, a leading economic institution of the Aga Khan Development Network). After his schooling in Kampala, Vali went to study at Trinity College at Cambridge University and completed his Doctorate in Economics from Stanford University.
By profession, Vali trained as an economist. He was an expert in conceptualizing and discussing policies impacting on social justice, poverty, income inequality, employment and skills training. He was the Senior Economist at the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) for 25 years. During his professional life, he was also affiliated with the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) based in Addis Ababa where he engaged in child policy and advocacy work.
However, Vali’s heart lay in research, writing and documenting the Asian narrative in Uganda which he pursued with a passion for twelve years.
Vali was obsessed with the story of the Ugandan Asian Expulsion. He was teaching at Makerere University when the announcement of the Expulsion was made.Through interviews, archival records, press cuttings and rigorous probing, Vali managed to put together a manuscript which consisted of about 2 million words for a book reaching a page count of almost 3000, and containing thousands of images. His key objective was to provide a ‘voice’ and document meticulously the pain, hardship and displacement that occurred as thousands of Asian Ugandans, many of them Ugandan citizens, were airlifted to Western countries such as Germany, Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Vali’s book besides capturing the history, Expulsion memories and post Expulsion contribution of the Asians of Uganda also highlights the significant role played by His Highness the Aga Khan in the settlement of some 6,000 Ismailis in Canada and the part played to resettle thousands of displaced refugees by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan who was then the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Today some 80,000 Ugandan Asian expellees have their children and grandchildren living in a number of countries of the world having produced some outstanding professionals, civic leaders and entrepreneurs who are contributing towards a pluralistic culture wherever they have settled.
Vali’s work which can only be described as a labour of love aims to capture the diasporic history of this large group which has gone into the world to make yet another significant contribution through their hard work and enterprise. He passed away just when his book was being prepared for publication. President Museveni refers to this book as a ‘national asset in Uganda’s commercial diplomacy’.
Vali chronicles fascinating stories in his monumental work. For example, he reveals that about 100 Asians never left Uganda despite the Expulsion order. He even has several chapters on the early Ugandan Asian pioneers who traded in the late 20th Century such as the ‘uncrowned King of Uganda’ Alidina Visram, who built a trans-East African business empire with a significant presence in agriculture in Uganda. In fact, Vali’s grandfather was an agent of Alidina Visram in 1903.
With his ready wit and frank descriptions, Vali brought to bear on this narrative a realistic dimension highlighting the unique contribution of the Asians to the development of Uganda. It was a contribution based on hard work, courage, and enterprise – attributes they carried with them and which helped them to find a meaningful place in the economies of the various countries in which they resettled.
Vali will be missed! He is survived by his wife Ziabun-Nissa (nee Mitha), son Arafat, Representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the Republic is South Sudan and grandchildren, Afsanah and Neha-Malaika studying in the UK and Switzerland respectively.