Professor Mahmood Mamdani who until February this year was the Director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research-MISR has questioned the motivation of Prof. Samwiri Lwanga-Lunyiigo to title his latest book; Uganda; An Indian Colony.
Speaking today at the weekly Misr seminar, Mamdani who was discussing Lunyiigo’s submissions on the book, said the title of the book misrepresented its content.
"The title is a stunner; it provokes and almost compels the passer-by to buy. Most of us used to think about Uganda as a British colony but an Indian colony; I said this is a commercial ploy,” Mamdani said before delving into areas he fundamentally disagrees with Lunyiigo.
In his submission before Mamdani’s response, Lunyiigo argued that India qualified to be Uganda’s coloniser because it overwhelmingly dominated the economic aspect of the country.
"One of the definitions I have for colonialism is that it’s an economic enterprise that’s why I was attracted to this title. The British wanted to establish plantations in Uganda but when they failed, the Indians filled the spaces and from that time they never looked back. They went into cotton ginning and all the rich Indians made their fortune from cotton yet they never grew even an acre of cotton,” Lunyiigo said.
He added that while Indians understood Uganda very well, Ugandans on the contrary never understood them. They remained a secluded community that only cared about themselves.
"The Indians back home have a caste system; if this was the case between Indians what caste did the African belong to? It was a clear indication that racism had to take root. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the so-called great icon was racist to the core. He only cared about the Indian condition which was slightly better than the African condition. Many natives have joined foreign religions but they have never understood the Indian religions to join it,” he said.
Lunyiigo who for a long time served as a history professor at Makerere University argued further that Africans were left out of the financial sector by having all the banks owned by foreigners especially the British who gave credit to majorly Indian traders and industrialists.
On the expulsion of the Asians in 1972 by President Idi Amin, Lunyiigo argued that many welcomed it because they had already expatriated their money to the United Kingdom where they eventually ended.
“From the 1950s, they began taking away the money because they feared what the new leaders would do. But that was before the World Bank came in to say we should have a liberal foreign exchange regime. A lot of money was taken away from East Africa, by the time Amin said goodbye, they had accumulated 340million US Dollars in British banks. This is the money that Indians used to establish themselves in Britain and yet claim that they walked away penniless. Amin did them a favour by asking them to leave and join their money,” Lunyiigo said.
He added that many people had underestimated the intelligence of President Amin. Unlike Obote who had passed a policy of expelling 1200 Indians every year which had a devastating impact on the economy, Amin’s decision to expel them en mass saved the economy from totally collapsing.
“There is a thinking that when you don’t speak good English then you are not intelligent. Amin showed that he was very intelligent than many of those fellow thought," he stated.
In response to Lunyiigo’s submission, Mamdani disputed the assertion that Indians were colonizers. Instead, he argued that they were privileged workers of the colonizers.
"The claim of sub imperialism was first made in regards to Buganda which was vital to the conquest of Uganda. There were two sides to the debate; was Buganda imperialist or was Buganda also colonised; in short, were the Baganda part of the colony or they were part of the colonised people of Uganda? Why has Prof. Lunyiigo resurrected the sub-imperialism debate going so far as to call Uganda an Indian colony? Is the motivation intellectual or political?” Mamdani said.
He also disagreed with defining colonialism through economic lenses arguing that political power is far more important than economic independence.
“I don’t think it would be productive to ask which one comes first; the political or the economy; all those who were focused on the economic you will never be able to solve the political. It’s political that is paramount as the only way to change dominant economic powers,” Mamdani said.
The two professors are expected to have a rematch; this time, Mamdani presenting a paper on the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of the Asians which then Lunyiigo together with Prof. Sylvia Tamale, and former Minister Betty Bigombe, will discuss. The public lecture will take place on Friday at Makerere University.