First Indian prime minister to visit Uganda

Inder Kumar Gujral

What you need to know:

  • Mr Gujral who was accompanied by his wife, Sheila Gujral, arrived at Entebbe airport on Saturday, October 4, 1997 for a two-day State visit.

Inder Kumar Gujral was the first prime minister of India to visit Uganda since 1947 when the former British colony attained her independence.

Mr Gujral who was accompanied by his wife, Sheila Gujral, arrived at Entebbe airport on Saturday, October 4, 1997 for a two-day State visit.

The prime minister was invited to Uganda by President Museveni to concretise the Indo-Uganda relations, which had soured in 1972 when despot Idi Amin expelled Ugandan Asians.

The Air India Boeing 747 carrying the Indian leader touched down at Entebbe airport at 2:04 pm in the afternoon. A 21-gun salute roared as Mr Gujral inspected a guard of honour by the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces.

The Indian prime minister’s historic visit came 11 years after the National Resistance Movement (NRM) led by President Museveni had ascended to power following a five-year guerilla in the jungles of Luweero District.

On Sunday, October 5, 1997, President Museveni and Mr Gujral held a joint news conference hosted at the International Conference Centre, now Serena Hotel, Kampala where they signed a joint communique and agreement to boost Indo-Uganda relations.

In the agreement, the states agreed to reinvigorate the Joint Committee on Economic, Technical, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation to engender sectors such as agriculture, education, energy, environment, investment, trade and tourism in Uganda. The prime minister applauded President Museveni for what he called the historic act of inviting Indians to repossess their properties.

“He [Museveni] had both the vision and courage to hand back the properties. This is one of the greatest shows of reconciliation. I warn the Indian community against disloyalty to Uganda,” Mr Gujral said.

He promised that India would undertake a feasibility study for setting up a small-scale industrial estate in Jinja District. Mr Gujral also donated 25 tonnes of high-yielding maize seed, 100 agricultural pumps and a demonstration set of solar energy equipment.

The prime minister also launched postal stamps produced in Uganda to commemorate the iconic freedom fighter, Mahatma Ghandi and India’s 50th independence anniversary.

Mr Gujral dispensed an olive-branch revealing: “The question of Amin or Uganda apologising does not arise. My visit opens a new era in our relations. The past has been corrected.”

In response, President Museveni said: “By the way, our giving the 4,000 properties was not…merely an act of righting a wrong. It was also in our interest. In economics, there are two measures. One is the Gross National Product (GNP), which takes into account all the wealth of our nationals. [The other is] Gross Domestic Product, which takes into account all the wealth produced by all the people living in our country. The Indian community have contributed a lot to our GDP.”

During the news conference, President Museveni invited Indian investors to exploit phosphates, hydrocarbons and iron ore deposits in Kabale District.

“These might not be necessarily for export to India, but can be produced for this region of a population of more than 300 million organised in the Common Market for East and Southern Africa,” he said.

Mr Gujral was a hybrid character in the politics of India and the world at large. A  Pakistani-born of 1920, his family immigrated to India in 1947. Seven months after, India was partitioned to create Pakistan.

Mr Gujral was among the more than six million Pakistani refugees India assimilated. Because of his charisma, he was in the 1980s appointed the Indian ambassador to Russia. 

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