Indians have legitimate claim to being a tribe in Uganda

Saturday December 7 2019

Ugandans.  President Museveni (2nd right)

Ugandans. President Museveni (2nd right) admires a painting that members of the Indian community gave him during a dinner he hosted for them to mark Dewali Day at State House Entebbe on Friday November 8. PPU photo  

By Kaboggoza Kibudde

Indians/Asians first came to Uganda in the 1890s as immigrant workers of the then British Empire. Whereas some eventually returned to India, others chose to stay and start families here. With each passing day, they struggled, like all humans, to exist, survive and have a sense of belonging. Faced with rejection and hostility from other people, they worried about their safety and the future of their children.
As they struggled to improve their lives, Indians/Asians engaged in trade and introduced to this territory, the tradition of dukaan (having a small shop/duuka), a concept that feeds many Black Ugandans and is central to Uganda’s informal sector. Despite that fundamental contribution to this land and all its people, Indians were never fully accepted.
Hostility towards Indians peaked in 1972, when president Idi Amin expelled them from Uganda. Some of them had nowhere else to go since Uganda was all they knew. Later, after Amin was overthrown, Indians were encouraged to return and help revive Uganda’s economy, given their entrepreneurial spirit and competence.
Many of them could not risk returning to Uganda and stayed in the diaspora. However, a few returned home. However, Uganda did not fully accept them.
The 1995 Constitution of Uganda considers indigenous communities as those that existed within the territory of Uganda as of February 1, 1926. But in spelling out those communities, the Constitution excluded the Indian community, which had already been established in Uganda by that date. In doing so, Black Ugandans were sending a message to Indians that “we shall never fully accept you as one of us.”
Some people argue that Uganda should not recognise Indians as an indigenous community because they are from India, not Uganda.
Secondly, they argue that Indians do not have a territorial base in Uganda and they do not fully integrate with Blacks.
Some people also argue that Indians are few, mistreat Black people and that India cannot recognise Ugandans as an Indian tribe.
Originating from India
Despite initially coming from India, Indians still qualify as natives of Uganda because other native Ugandans also migrated from elsewhere. For instance, the Bantu came from West Africa. Would that mean the Baganda, for instance, are not natives of Uganda?
The original inhabitants of ‘Uganda’ were African Pygmies (such as the Batwa). However, it would be unjust for the Batwa to send the Baganda back to West Africa. Similarly, it is unfair to demand a community that left India many generations ago to go back to a place they barely know. As far as the history of migration goes, a time always comes when we can no longer move backward.
The US can no longer demand descendants of Black slaves to go back to Africa. That ship has sailed. In Uganda’s case, it sailed on February 1, 1926, which is the last time the Ugandan border was adjusted. Any distinct community, irrespective of colour that existed in the territory of Uganda by that date, qualifies as a native community.
Population size
The nativeness of a community doesn’t depend on population size. Already, Uganda recognises ethnicities that are smaller than the Indian community. Examples include the Mening, Mvuba, and Vonoma, who number less than 3,000 people each. In principle, the fluctuation of population size should not affect the nativeness of a community.

Social integration with Black Ugandans
Indeed, Indians fraternise mostly among themselves, but so do other Ugandans. Naturally, people associate with those who are similar to them in terms of ethnicity, religion, culture, or social standing. Like Indians, Black Ugandans either resent marrying from other ethnicities or consider it more desirable for one to marry within their ethnicity (for convenience or preservation of culture).
This is evident throughout Uganda, from the remotest part of the country to State House. It is also true elsewhere in the world. Even in more developed countries such as the US, Black people mostly marry Black people, and White people marry White people.
The same applies to social mingling; in that, people associate more with those who share their religion, race, ethnicity, or class. So, we should not condemn Indians for ‘a sin’ we all commit. Besides, it isn’t a ‘sin’ since the Constitution accords us the right of freedom of association.

Protected.  The Indian government currently
Protected. The Indian government currently protects an indigenous Black community known as the Jarawa from extinction and exploitation. PHOTOS BY AGENCIES.

Mistreatment of Black Ugandans
The nativeness of people should not depend on how they treat others. Let us imagine that in the future, most perpetrators of violence in Uganda are from a certain community, would that community cease being natives? Besides, it is immoral to ascribe the sins of an individual to an entire community. The misdeeds of a single Indian should not be attributed to that Indian, not to the whole Indian population. That said, it is Black Ugandans, not Indians, who mistreat Black Ugandans the most. A look at Uganda’s prisons can confirm that Indians are significantly underrepresented both in terms of proportion and absolute numbers.
In other words, Black Ugandans are not any more righteous and have no moral authority to vilify Indian Ugandans.
Can Ugandans be recognized as a tribe in India?
Uganda doing the right thing should not depend on other countries doing the right thing. We must do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. That said, Indians are not against dark skin. First, some of their gods, such as Krishna, are Black. Secondly, Dravidian Indians who occupy southern India are dark-skinned.
Furthermore, one of the officially recognised tribes in India is the Siddi, who are Bantu that migrated from East Africa centuries ago. Indeed, there are more Bantu in India and Pakistan than there are Indians in East Africa. Uganda, being a a country with a significant Bantu population too, shares in this justice.
In addition, the Indian government currently protects an indigenous Black community known as the Jarawa from extinction and exploitation.
Why Indians think they deserve recognition
Indians argue that they should be recognized as a Ugandan tribe because they contribute about 65 per cent of tax revenues, and seem to suggest that without them, Uganda’s economy would collapse. That assertion is both unnecessary and false. The recognition Indians seek is their sovereign right, which is inherent. It is not subject to the popular will or economic contribution. Wakiso District, (by proxy Baganda) contributes more tax than Karamoja (by proxy Karimojong), but this does not make Baganda more native/Ugandan than Karamojong.
Therefore, Indians should not base their nativeness on economic contributions.

The danger in recognising Indians as a Ugandan tribe
There is no cause for worry. Indians are already citizens of Uganda, which gives them the legal right to enjoy all the rights and privileges accorded to a Ugandan citizen. Becoming a tribe will not give them any additional rights or privileges. All it will do is give them a psychological boost and a sense of acceptance. Where is the harm in that?

Lacking territorial base
Whereas it is easy to believe, a territorial base is not a requirement for a community to be considered indigenous, and it should not be. Let us take an example of the Baganda. In 1900, the Baganda owned virtually all the land in Buganda.
Over time, many non-Baganda, through rural-urban migration, moved to Buganda and bought land from the Baganda. As a result, the proportion of Buganda land owned by Baganda has steadily decreased and will continue to do so. Now, let us imagine that this continues until the Baganda hardly own land in Buganda. Will that make the Baganda less indigenous to Buganda? No. Why? Because the historical claim of Baganda to the territory of Buganda does not depend on land ownership.
The morality of this matter was seen by the drafters of the 1995 Constitution, who recognised tribes such as the Banyarwanda and Barundi, who, just like Indians, lack a territorial base in Uganda and exist in other countries.
Therefore, we should not demand Indians to live only in Uganda or to have a territorial base here before officially recognising them as a Ugandan ethnicity.
Recognition Vs nonrecognition
The danger in recognising Indians as a Ugandan tribe
There is no cause for worry. Indians are already citizens of Uganda, which gives them the legal right to enjoy all the rights and privileges accorded to a Ugandan citizen. Becoming a tribe will not give them any additional rights or privileges. All it will do is give them a psychological boost and a sense of acceptance. Where is the harm in that?

The danger in not recognising Indians as a Ugandan tribe
History has shown us what eventually happens when people exclude, vilify, and persecute another group of people. Already, some politicians are pandering to public sentiment and driving up racial divides. Such politics is dangerous and must cease immediately. The mark of great leadership is the ability to rise above the raw emotions of the everyday man and focus on what is legitimate and right.
To develop Uganda, we must cultivate an environment where our different peoples co-exist in harmony and contribute their unique competencies towards national development. Every Ugandan, irrespective of colour, should feel at home and not live in constant fear of being uprooted. Such fear prevents many Indians from making long-term investments and sacrifices for Uganda. In the new Uganda, a Ugandan of Indian origin should be able to willingly pick up arms and risk his or her life to defend this land. That will not happen if we keep making Indians feel like outcasts.

The writer is a sociopolitical thinker and a member of The High Council, a political think tank.

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